Six Winter Olympics storylines to follow
The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang officially gets underway ton Friday. If you’re interested but don’t know whether to start with slaloms or skeletons, these are the storylines you'll want to be following.
The Korean detente
North and South Korea will march under a unified Korean flag [pictured] (Source: Getty)
An opening ceremony can be guaranteed to feature platitudes about sport uniting people across political and cultural divides. Yet this week in Pyeongchang we might actually see a truly iconic moment of sport’s symbolic power in action.
North and South Korea will march together under a unified Korean flag, while the two nations have also joined forces and entered a combined team in the women’s ice hockey.
Whether the spirit of rapprochement will extend to the North’s tensions with the United States remains to be seen.
US vice-president Mike Pence is due to visit with Fred Warmbier, whose son Otto died in 2016 shortly after his release from a North Korean jail, heightening tensions between the countries.
Nigeria's debutant bobsled and skeleton team (Source: Getty)
Six nations will be making their Winter Olympics bow this month – Singapore, Eritrea, Ecuador, Malaysia, Kosovo and Nigeria — most of whom don’t experience much in the way of snow, ice or even cold weather.
Nigeria’s women’s bobsled team, the first African nation to participate in the sport at Olympic level, has drawn inevitable comparisons to Cool Runnings, the hit film based on the Jamaica bobsled team’s unlikely debut at the 1988 Games.
The Nigeria team's three US-based former track-and-field stars who switched to the sport have already scooped sponsorships with Under Armour, Visa and Beats by Dre headphones.
Akwasi Frimpong will make history as Ghana’s first skeleton competitor, while Nigerian Simidele Adeabago will be Africa’s first representative in the sport. Her first ever race was just three months ago.
The opposing sisters
Sisters Hannah (l) and Marissa (r) Brandt will compete for different countries (Source: Getty)
Sisters Hannah and Marissa Brandt were born just 11 months apart and grew up playing ice hockey on the same team together in the sleepy town of Vadnais Heights, Minnesota.
They have both developed into Olympic-level athletes and will be in Pyeongchang. But familial loyalties will be set aside once they get there; Hannah plays for the USA and Marissa, who was adopted by the Brandt family as an infant, for the unified Korea, her native team.
The debut events
The aptly-named big air snowboarding (Source: Getty)
Like the sound of men and women straight-lining it over a steep jump, soaring over 60ft in the air and attempting to pull-off as many death and gravity-defying tricks for points as possible? Then you’ll want to check out big air snowboarding’s Olympic debut.
How about a similar event on skis but with runs on moguls, halfpipe, racing and slopestyle thrown in as well? Then check out freestyle skiing.
If you’ve enjoyed curling in previous years — Britain’s women have provided enduring memories with bronze in 2014 and gold in 2002 — you’ll get a new event to watch this year in the mixed doubles.
There’s also the introduction of the chaotic fun of mass start speed skating.
The British interest
James Woods is bidding to become Britain's first medallist on skis (Source: Getty)
Team GB have been set a medal target of five in Pyeongchang, which would make it the country’s most successful Winter Olympics ever.
Short track speed skater Elise Christie — a triple world champion in 2017 — is chief among those hopes in three events and has personal demons to banish after suffering three disqualifications at the last Games in Sochi.
Britain has won a medal in the skeleton every year since the sport was introduced in 2002 and 2014 champion Lizzy Yarnold is aiming to defend her title.
Freestyle skiers James Woods and Izzy Atkin could become Great Britain’s first ever ski medal winners, while Katie Ormerod is a world champion in new event big air snowboarding.
Britain’s men’s and women’s curling teams are also medal contenders.
The Russian doping scandal
Vladimir Putin poses with Russian athletes who will compete as neutrals (Source: Getty)
So, are Russian athletes allowed to compete in South Korea or not? It’s a question the answer to which some of them were still not sure of just days before the opening ceremony.
The Russian team was banned from the Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in November for what it said was “systematic manipulation” of anti-doping rules in Sochi.
Yet the door was left open for those who could prove they were clean to compete under a neutral flag, and 169 Russians have since been approved on those terms.
Dozens more athletes lodged a last-gasp appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas), which overturned the lifetime bans of 28 Russians last week.
Those 28 are among 47 who the IOC has still refused to admit to Pyenongchang but Cas could demand their inclusion this week.