I’ve been fortunate enough to go skiing in Whistler-Blackcomb a few times, always impressed with the quality of slopes that are provided for hundreds of skiboot-clonking, slightly-burnt members of the ski-entele. Next month, after seven years of preparation and slope-grooming, the Olympic Games shall make their presence known in Vancouver and the fastest, fittest and finest will slide, fly or glide to first, second, third or the rest. These athletes should bring a touch of class to the same hectares of mountain that beginners and experts alike have negotiated and gone back to attack year after year.
The Paralympic games run in March with five events including wheelchair curling and sledge hockey should you pang for more, but the eyes of the world will focus on the global hootenanny where dreams are made medal.
There are fifteen disciplines contested in the last seventeen days of next month on the glorious snow or its trickier equivalent, ice. For those seeking cool runnings down a slippery slope, the luge, skeleton bob and bobsleigh all offer different variety of sliding with style. ‘Dancing on Ice’ admirers, whether celeb-reality show or nostalgic parents recalling a British ‘Bolero’, will attend to the figure skating and, though disappointed the choreography is not put together by Will Ferrell’s fantastic Chad Michael Michaels, will nonetheless be dazzled by the stylish swoops and balletic lifts. Ice hockey, too, is a perennial favourite from success on the silver screen and the US has named Bobby Ryan of the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim as a forward; Sweden are the current gold-medal holders, but Russia and the Czechs threaten in equal measure. Elsewhere, the ski-and-shoot biathlon is a high-octane, red-blooded nerve test, and cross-country skiing is, from personal experience, the tortoise to the hare-quick slalom— it’s a lot harder on the joints and the mind to go across and along than down and still further down. Satirist Stephen Colbert has bankrolled the US speed skating team, but Americans will hope they won’t be laughed out of the event, truly the sardines-go-Speedway of the Winter Olympics.
The candy store of snowsport is eternally the molehill-shaped moguls and the aerial-trickshot one-upmanship found in the Freestyle events. Debuting in Whistler in addition to these ‘wow!’ sports is the ski cross, a fast-paced knockout contest which tests balance and expertise as well as the strength of mind to stay upright and advance to the next round. One hopes it will successfully return in the 2014 games in Russia. For ski and board, however, the 100m-style events remain, respectively, the slalom and the halfpipe: Bode Miller and Ben Raich are the grandstand names for the relatively-local US ski team, but world champion Aksel Svindal has Norway’s hopes pinned to his skisuit, and might bring them douze points in Olympic form. There are worries over the danger of the courses— and those harsh, Whistling winds will be to their detriment too— but it makes for gripping sport where fractions of seconds separate men from supermen.
But what of Team GB and its platoon of midnight-oil-burning cheerleaders? Skijumping returns, of course, but there is more reason than eagle-eyed nostalgia to look out for the British women’s curlers, who led the ‘curling’s coming home’ chants in Salt Lake City in 2002. This year’s skip Eve Muirhead is as good a golfer as she is a curler, and for once we should pray a Scot does get the yips, and she calls the winning stones, preferably before bedtime, with that very sound. With Britain being so cold, perhaps the equivalent of Wimbledon fortnight (where Britons come out and play tennis for two weeks then put the racquets away) will usher in child-curlers yipping along the frozen streets. A nation will shiver in harmony.