Pyeongchang plays host, with an all-Korea women’s ice hockey team, a possible German answer to Michael Phelps, a Nigerian bobsleigh team and the likely swansong of Lindsey Vonn.
1) The unified Korean ice hockey team
The Olympic movement has taken a deserved mauling over the past year, with various corruption scandals ongoing and the reaction to Russian doping seen as desperately weak. But getting a combined Korean women’s ice hockey team to compete is a bona fide triumph. True, there have been teething problems – the North Koreans use different terms for pass and block, for instance – and the team are likely to lose all three of their matches, starting against Switzerland on Saturday. But after 70 years of tensions, why fret about the small stuff? Incidentally 10 other North Korean athletes will compete under their country’s own flag.
2) British athletes winning medals
No, it’s not a misprint: Team GB believe they can win between five and 10, which would make these Games their most successful Winter Games ever – surpassing the four achieved in Sochi. Hopes are particularly high for Elise Christie, who has three chances in short-track speed skating, and Lizzy Yarnold and Laura Deas in the skeleton. Meanwhile many of the ski and snowboard squad – including James Woods, Dave Ryding and Izzy Atkin – should go close too.
3) Russia (again)
The question of whether Russia should have been banned dominated the build-up to these Games, and the issue is likely to stew repeatedly over the next fortnight. Officially Russia is banned as a punishment for state-sponsored doping in Sochi. However, its athletes who are considered clean – around 168 or so at the current count – will compete under the Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) banner. Expect more drama, and anger from other countries when OAR claims eight to 10 medals here.
4) The Nigerian “Super Eagles” bobsleigh team
Every Winter Olympics needs a tale to burnish the heart and it’s hard to look past Nigeria’s women’s bobsleighers this time. Three years ago Seun Adigun, who competed as a hurdler at London 2012, decided to build a wooden sled and started practising in Houston, without snow. Now she and her team-mates have a new sled thanks to a $75,000 crowdfunding campaign – and are about to became the first African bobsleigh team to compete at a Winter Olympics.
5) Russian figure skaters going head to head
Evgenia Medvedeva should be one of the stars of the Games, having already been twice world champion before her 18th birthday. But after breaking a bone in her right foot last October she no longer seems quite so invincible. To add to the drama her training partner Alina Zagitova, 15, beat her at the European championships in January – Medvedeva’s first defeat since November 2015. Who will win the rematch in Pyeongchang?
6) Lindsey Vonn’s last hurrah
Lindsey Vonn is not only the greatest skier in US history but also one of the few global winter sport celebrities. Yet despite winning four overall World Cup titles over a stellar career, injuries and bad luck have seen her Olympic medal tally stand at a solitary gold and bronze. At 33, this is surely her last Games. But she is favourite in the downhill and could up her tally in other events too.
7) A German making history
Don’t be surprised if Laura Dahlmeier becomes the Winter Olympics’ answer to Michael Phelps. The 24-year-old from Germany is forecast to win six gold medals: the 7.5km sprint, 10km pursuit, 12.5km mass start, 15km individual, 4x6km, 2×6+2×7.5km relay making her the Games most successful athlete. Dahlmeier loves climbing mountains – including two peaks in Nepal over 6,000m. For now, though, she has her feet firmly on the ground.
8) A Tongan cross-country skiier
You may remember Pita Taufatofua, whose oiled and muscular body made a worldwide splash when he appeared half naked at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, before representing Tonga in taekwondo. Incredibly he is back – as a cross-country skier. Remarkably he only took up the sport in late 2016, yet he qualified for the Games last month.
9) The thrill of the new
The most exciting new event is Big Air – which involves competitors (including several British medal chances) riding a snowboard down a steep slope, flying off a large ramp and performing various tricks. Elsewhere speed skating has been jazzed up with the introduction of a mass-start format – with 24 athletes lining up for gold. Mixed curling has also been introduced although Britain did not qualify a team.
10) A fresh name on top of the medal table
The last two medal tables have been topped by the hosts – with Canada winning in 2010 and Russia finishing first in Sochi (although that success should really carry an asterisk). This time Norway and Germany are expected to fight it out, with the data company Gracenote forecasting Norway to win an Olympic record of 41 medals with the Germans on 39.
SOURCE: The Guardian, UK