Sochi 2014 – The Winter Olympics

Team GB and the winter Olympics in Sochi

It might not have the glamour or the perceived prestige of the Summer Olympics, but the Winter Olympics, starting on Friday in Sochi (Russia) are just as important.

President Vladimir Putin has wanted to get the world talking about his country, and that is something that he has done putting Russia back at the centre of the world stage.

The budget for the Games has been spectacular.  The original estimate for the cost of staging the Games was $12 billion, already $4 billion more than was spent on hosting the previous Olympiad in Vancouver in 2010.  In the end, the rumoured cost is $51 billion, making it the most expensive Olympic Games in history, even surpassing the amount that was spent on the Beijing games in 2008.  The costs spent on these games surpass the combined costs of all previous 21 Winter Olympics.

This extravagant cost has focused the eyes of the world on Russia, and the lead-up to the Olympics has been marred by plenty of controversy.  Be it security concerns that have led to the area around Sochi being described as a “ring of steel”; expensive contracts being offered to construction companies with close links to the government; or the treatment of the LGBT population following the passing of a highly controversial law banning distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” among minors.

In addition to this, US President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are not planning to attend the 2014 Winter Olympics, joining Canadian PM Stephen Harper, French President François Hollande and some other western leaders, while more than 50 Olympians (mainly from US, Canada and Australia, and also Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden) have been vocal in telling the Russian authorities to repeal the anti-gay laws.

All of which have seen plenty of negative attention focused on the Winter Olympics and have already put the games on the back foot ahead of its beginning with a negative perception.

But for Team GB, amidst all the controversies about Russia, this has the potential to be one of the most, if not the most, successful winter games in our history, with the team of 56 athletes the largest that have been taken to the Olympics. In addition to this, the target for medals at the Olympics have been set at between 3-7 medals, with a medal expected to be gained in Curling, Skeleton, and in either Freestyle Skiing or Snowboarding. If even the minimum target is achieved, it would the most successful games for GB since the original games back in 1924 in Chamonix where we won four medals.

The best medal hopes come in the ladies Skeleton event, with both Shelly Rudman and Lizzie Yarnold hoping to succeed Amy Williams as the Olympic champion, with Rudman, as current world champion, and Yarnold, as current world cup champion, both genuine contenders to win a gold medal.

Other contenders include Elise Christie in Short Track Speedskating, who is the current European champion over 1000m and also claimed a bronze medal in this event in the last World Championships.

Both men’s and women’s curling teams are expected to be in medal contention as well, with David Murdoch’s team former two-time world champions, and Eve Muirhead’s team the current world champions – both will be looking to join Rhona Martin’s 2002 winning team as gold medalists in the event.

Furthermore, there are genuine chances for team GB to make history and win their first ever Olympic medal on snow, with freestyle skiers Katie Summerhayes and James Woods both fancying their chances of medaling following medals on the world cup circuit, while snowboarder Jamie Nicholls have already qualified for the Slopestyle final, with Billy Morgan, Jenny Jones and Aimee Fuller poised to join him if they can progress through their semi-finals.

All of which means that for Team GB, they will be able to build on their record breaking performance at London 2012, and they will hope to match that with an effort of their own.

Of course, the Winter Olympics has its own set of set of problems, particularly with our climate meaning a lack of any real facilities for training, which in turn has led to having no pedigree in the majority of the Olympic sports. And there will also be problems trying to build on the games with a legacy of participation, as the majority of the British population would, even if they felt inspired to take on one of the Olympic sports, struggle to find the facilities or the coaching needed to take on any sport.

But as a sporting spectacle, the Winter Olympics has and will provide spectacular and unforgettable moments. Torvill and Dean’s Bolero routine is still remembered today, while Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards has stayed in the public consciousness long after his ability has suggested he should do.

So sit back and enjoy the Winter Olympics.  I know I will be…

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