Jonathan Edwards' guide to the Sochi Winter Olympics
Jonathan Edwards' guide to the Sochi Winter Olympics
"Because it could be Great Britain's most successful Winter Olympics. Ever." And that, according to former Olympian Jonathan Edwards, is why you should be paying attention to Team GB at Sochi 2014.
With the Great Britain's athletes having been set a record-equalling target of three medals (last achieved in 1936 when we picked up a gold, silver and bronze), the murmurs are that seven could be snatched from the snow, ice and sleet of Sochi.
Having stoked our interest, Edwards gave ShortList.com an overview of the British athletes most likely to bag a medal at the Winter Games.
Who to watch
Event: Skeleton (the one where you run 30 metres with your sledge, plummet down a narrow track head-first at speeds of around 80mph, and pray you don't fall off)
If Team GB are to get gold, it'll most likely be found hanging round the neck of Lizzie Yarnold. "She’s just won another world cup event, and leads the overall series this year," says Edwards. "A former heptathlete, former world junior champion – she’s just been outstanding. She’s our best bet at gold."
Despite winning the silver medal in Turin 2006 and claiming a world championship title, Shelley won't go to Sochi as the favourite for gold. "If you’d asked a year ago who would win in the skeleton it would have been Shelley, but now Yarnold has had an unbelievable season. The two of them are very strong."
Event: Cross country skiing
Remember the name Andrew Musgrave. "He’s been described as the best British cross country skier in history," says Edwards. "...though that might not actually be saying a lot."
A university student in Trondheim, Norway, this 22-year-old stunned the nation of cross country addicts when he came from nowhere (Scotland) to win their national championship "Cross country skiers are like premiership footballers in Norway," explains Edwards. "Musgrave beat a significant number of Norwegian skiers who were competing for selection for Sochi. Can he repeat it? I don’t know. It’s a knockout event when it comes to the game itself, so it’ll be hard to reach the quarter finals. One of the Norwegian coaches said that after that performance he could potentially win a gold."
Event: Short track speed skating (four to six athletes skate round an oval track on razor-sharp skates, seemingly defying the laws of physics)
Despite having a disappointing 1,500m and 500m at the most recent world championship, Christie retained her 1,000m title. "The positive news for her is that the Chinese reigning Olympic and World Champion has broken her ankle in training. [Elise's] coach has been trying to take the pressure off her – she’s still tactically naive in races despite being a great athlete. How she deals with the pressure will be interesting, but she’s certainly one of our top chances of a medal."
John Jackson and GB1
Event: Four-man Bobsleigh (four athletes in a bath tub on skates. It's all about the sprint start, avoiding walls and having hoping your pilot has memorised all the corners in the right order)
Team GB have managed to qualify two crews for the four-man bobsleigh event, but all eyes will be on John Jackson and the team of GB1. "Jackson has made a remarkable injury comeback to get to the games," explains Edwards. "He had an Achilles problem, everyone thought he’d be out for the year - but he’s going incredibly well."
Eve Muirhead and the Women's Curling team
Having won the world title back in March, the march of the Scots is set to continue. Captain Eve Muirhead is coached by Rhona Martin, the gold medal winner at 2002's Salt Lake City (the one who kept the nation up till the early hours with her remarkable shouts and cries). "It'll get a lot of attention as it runs throughout the games," says Edwards. "The Swedes are their big rivals, but they're on for a medal finish."
Dave Murdoch and the Men's Curling team
It's a case of now or never for Dave Murdoch, the talented Scot having managed to win every curling prize other than an Olympic medal. "Murdoch and the team have been doing well in their build up to Sochi. The men's team have never won a curling medal, so it’s hopefully this is their time."
James Woods (no, not that James Woods)
Event: Freestyle skiing slopestyle (like Tony Hawks for skiing)
"Woodsie they call him - he's bit of a character," says Edwards. "He got silver in the world championship last year. I don’t think he’s been doing amazingly well on the circuit this year but it’s the sort of event that sees people up their game for the occasion – you’ll see the showman come out in him."
While hurling support at your TV for Team GB's record medal haul attempts, Edwards was keen to highlight some other events you should tune into over the course of Sochi.
Shaun White and his new trick
While Team USA isn't the force it once was, there's no question that Shaun White is going to produce something special on the slopes of Sochi. Going for double gold in the snowboard slopestyle and halfpipe, White has a new trick for the games - a frontside double-cork 1440, for which White takes his Double McTwist 1260 (the hardest trick on the halfpipe) and adds an extra half twist. "It's going to be incredible to see", says Edwards.
Russia in the Ice Hockey
"This is the big one for the Russians. They've got the dream team for their home games, a whole bunch of NHL stars including Washington Capital's Alexander Ovechkin. Russia has never won the ice hockey as an individual nation. This could be the event that captures the public's imagination - with a strong challenge coming from both the USA and Canada."
Vanessa Mae in the Alpine Skiing
If this goes ahead, it could match the exploits of Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards or the Jamaican Bobsleigh team (though the current Jamaican Bobsleigh team might have something to say about that). World-renowned violinist Vanessa Mae recently posted a time at a Slovenian alpine skiing event that sees her eligible to represent Thailand in the giant slalom event.
"The rules work like a development scheme," explains Edwards. If a nation doesn't have an athlete in the world's top 500, they can send a man or woman to compete in the slalom and giant slalom, so long as they post a qualifying time. "It can generally be inspirational to the fans back home in that country if they don’t usually get to take part. Mae will attract a lot of attention if she’s selected." She'll be racing as Vanessa Vanakorn, using her father's surname.
Jonathan Edwards is part of the BBC presenting team for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Live from Sochi across the BBC on TV, Radio and online from 7th February
(Images: BBC, Rex, AllStar, YouTube)