1 week in, 6 talking points from PyeongChang 2018
The week-1 stories shaping PyeongChang 2018.
It has been an eventful opening week in PyeongChang, with a number of stories taking shape that may well go down in Olympic folklore. We’ve picked six of the major talking points from the Games so far, and now turn our eyes to an exciting week two.
Sadly, the PyeongChang Olympics may well be remembered for putting the “Winter” in Winter Olympics. Blistering cold temps and strong winds have caused havoc for event organisers, prompting regular changes to the schedule and as well as discontent amongst athletes hoping for conditions better suited to showcasing the world’s best.
For the most part athletes have grinned and bared it. However, if there is one event with the potential to put a permanent stain on the legacy of these games, it will be the women’s snowboard slopestyle, which was run in almost farcical conditions.
With qualifications having already been cancelled on the day earlier, organisers – presumably with input from athletes and coaches – decided that the final would run. In the first round, just 5 of 25 competitors landed their runs, and not a single athlete completed their two runs without falling at least once.
It was a disappointing scenario, failing to showcase the talent of the athletes that have pushed the event so far forward since Sochi 2014. Organisers will be thankful that no one was seriously injured, but they will continue to face scrutiny from athletes and pundits, who have been virtually unanimous in their opposition to the decision.
Yes, there have been upsets. Czech skier Ester Ledecka’s stunning gold medal in the women’s super G, racing out of 26th position and on borrowed skis (Mikaela Shiffrin’s, no less), is one such example.
For the most part, though, the stars of PyeongChang have shone brightly. Mikael Kingsbury’s gold in the men’s moguls was nothing short of dominant. Shaun White overcame young guns Ayumu Hirano and Scotty James to take top spot in the men’s halfpipe. Crowd favourite Chloe Kim did the same in the women’s event. Aksel Lund Svindal turned back the clock for an impressive gold medal in the downhill. And Mikaela Shiffrin claimed gold in the giant slalom, though she admittedly fell short in her favoured slalom event days later. There are many more examples.
The Olympic pressure cooker has a way of producing results that are not always expected. But it has been turned down just a touch this time around.
The North Koreans
North Korea stole many of the headlines in the lead up to the Games. First, there was the very real issue of athlete and spectator safety amidst an ever present nuclear threat from North Korea. The conversation then quickly turned to participation, as North Korean negotiators accepted South Korea’s invitation to send a delegation to PyeongChang.
North Korea’s arrival at PyeongChang 2018 been met with a mixed response; on the one hand, it has been a symbolic breakthrough in relations between North and South, on the other, it has been a giant distraction from humanitarian atrocities and an advancing nuclear weapons program. Only weeks ago were Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump trading jibes about the size of their nuclear launch buttons.
Amidst a lot of political discussion and speculation, there have been handful of images from the first week of the Games that have stood out. North Korea’s “army of beauties” have been the most conspicuous of all – a North Korean cheer squad comprising 229 women, chosen based on their height (they must be at least 163 cm tall), beauty, family connections and loyalty to the ruling Workers’ Party. They have drawn the attention of media outlets around the world for their perfectly choreographed routines, matching red tracksuits and woolly hats, and even scheduled bathroom breaks (the women are monitored by minders at all times).
Other memorable scenes have included North and South Koreans marching under a single flag at the Opening Ceremony, and the appearance of Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
It remains to be seen whether this will be a pivotal moment in North and South Korean relations, but there is no doubt that North Korea’s presence at these games has been larger than its team of 22 athletes (so far without a medal) would suggest.
Our favourite story of the Games so far has been Red Gerard’s win in the men’s snowboard slopestyle. The 17-year-old American almost missed his event completely, oversleeping his alarm and losing his jacket before causally taking gold later that day. In his post-event interview, he dropped an F-bomb on live TV.
In the age of professionalism, corporate sponsorship and scripted media statements, Red’s teenage antics are a breath of fresh air. Red will compete in the Big Air event in two days’ time, and we suspect he’ll be setting more than one alarm this time around.
The skiing snowboarder
Ester Ledecka arrived at the bottom of the women’s super-G course and couldn’t believe what she was seeing on the screen. The young Czech athlete, who had never finished better than 19th in World Cup competition, assumed that a mistake was responsible for showing her in first place, just 1/100th of a second ahead of Austria’s Anna Veith.
But there was no mistake, and Ledecka was later standing on top of the podium in one of the most unlikely results in Olympic history, with Lindsey Vonn – who had made a critical error late in her run – a conspicuous absence.
What makes the result all the more remarkable is that Ledecka’s preferred event is the snowboard parallel giant slalom, an event in which she has a World Cup win. She is the only athlete in the Games competing in both skiing and snowboarding disciplines and, remarkably, was on borrowed skis for her Gold medal run.
“Until today,” Ledecka said in an interview, “I thought I was a better snowboarder.” If there was ever an event to put an end to the long running feud between skiers and snowboarders, this might just be it!
The Jamaican bobsled team
Beer is rarely an athlete’s best friend, but in the case of the Jamaican women’s bobsled team, it is about to save them from an almost certain Olympic hangover. The team were left without a coach and a sled just one week before the Olympics (read more about the drama here), before an unlikely saviour came forward in the form of Red Stripe, a Jamaican beer company.
A Twitter message from Redstripe read: “No bobsled, no problem. If you need a new ride @Jambobsled, put it on @RedStripe’s tab. DM us and we’ll be in touch.”
The women are now the beneficiaries of a brand new bobsled, courtesy of Red Stripe, and will go into Wednesday’s event with the confidence of a man on his eighth frothy beverage. If all goes according to plan, we have a feeling we know what the celebratory drink of choice will be.