The XXIII Olympic Games 2018 in Pyeonchang, South Korea, got underway on Saturday after Friday’s extravagant opening ceremony. In a two-week festival of skiing, sliding, sweeping and skating, Team GB have been tipped for their most successful Winter Games ever and UK Sport have set the GB team a target of five medals. But which sports should you look out for? Here are Imperium’s top five sports to watch over the next 14 days.
This event is always one of the most hotly anticipated of any Winter Olympics and one of the top sports in terms of attendances. There are five disciplines for the men and five for women: parallel giant slalom, halfpipe, slopestyle, snowboard cross and – for its Games debut this year – big air. These events test a variety of abilities in the competitiors: balance, speed, timing, endurance, and spatial awareness. Big air sees competitors launch off a man made ramp and perform a certain number of tricks whilst airbourne, whilst ensuring a clean landing. The snowboard cross is the only one of the disciplines to feature more than one athlete at a time, and – as its every man (or woman) for themselves in a thrills and spills race, it’s the event which is always the most exciting and unpredictable. One of Team GB’s main medal hopes – Katie Ormerod – was ruled out with injury on the eve of the Games, but Aimee Fuller, Jamie Nicholls and Southampton’s Billy Morgan represent strong British interest in this event.
One of the most popular sports from the last winter Games in Sochi, Britain have enjoyed curling success in the past and will be expected to challenge again here. After GB famously won gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, the men won silver in Sochi four years ago and Eve Muirhead’s women’s side took bronze. An unusual but compelling sport, it’s like lawn bowls on ice, and one that requires immense concentration, focus, tactical nous and a cool head. A rock – or stone as it’s called, weighing roughly 42 pound, is pushed down the ice, helped on its way by two teams members who sweep the ice in front of it to speed up and change the direction of the stone. Points are scored by getting the stone closest to the target ,or house, and this is measured on distance. The team with the most points at the end wins. Muirhead again spearheads the British team as skip, with the new look men’s side led by Kyle Smith and also including Muirhead’s brother Thomas. Pyeonchang features mixed doubles in the curling for the first time ever.
World champion Elise Christie leads the British charge in this most harum-scarum of sports, in which competitors race against each other over different distances – 500 metres, 1,000 metres and 1,500 metres for both men and women. There are ever-exciting relays too, 5,000 metres for the men and 3,000 metres for the women, so action,drama and thrills and spills aplenty are always a certainty. Christie suffered a triple disqualification in Sochi so will be busting a gut to exorcise those demons here. Speed skating usually produces unpredictable nail biting excitement so it’s a must watch.
This is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. The competition consists of a race across a variety of different distances, divided into either two or four rounds of shooting. Depending on the shooting performance, extra distance or time is added to the athlete’s total and the athlete with the shortest total combined time wins. In Pyeongchang, there will be eleven events contested: men and women will compete in sprint, pursuit, individual, mass start and a relay. There will also be a mixed relay. Amanda Lightfoot is Team GB’s sole competitor in this event. It’s an early one to watch out for, with the first events starting over the next few days.
Britain have a rich Winter Games history in this event, having won a medal in the women’s event at the last four Winter Games, with bronze in 2002, silver in 2006 and gold in both Vancouver and Sochi, courtesy of Amy Williams and Lizzy Yarnold respectively. As a result, its Great Britain’s most successful Winter Olympics sport ever – this despite not having a single track anywhere in the country on which to practice. Yarnold will defend her title in Pyeonchang, one of four Team GB athletes bidding to slide for glory. Unlike other similar sports such as bobsleigh or luge, a skeleton race always involves a single rider lying face down on the ‘skeleton bobsleigh’, so called because of its appearance, and begins with a running start at the top of the track. Riders can hit speeds of up to 80 mph during their race. It’s fast, it’s furious and – hopefully – will end with British success again.