Two days ago, I did a blog focusing on the foreign athletes to watch for at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Now it’s time for me to focus on the Canadians to watch out for. We may not have the superteam we had back at the Vancouver 2010 Games, but we’re still a winter sports superpower and feature some top contenders throughout the sports. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadian athletes to win a total of 30 medals including nine gold. That’s third only to Norway and Germany. Without further ado, here are some Canadians to look out for:
Mark McMorris – Snowboarding: Now Saskatchewan doesn’t come to mind to most in terms of producing top-notch skiers. However the hills and mountains are high enough to breed some good snowboarders. Mark McMorris is one of the best ever. He already has 16 X-Games medals, including seven gold, won in both the Slopestyle and Big Air events. He’s also famous for being the first ever to perform a ‘cork 1440’ in slopestyle. His feats and charming personality have made him a huge celebrity for fans of snowboarding and extreme sports.
Major titles have eluded him in the past. His best result at a World Championships is a silver in 2013. As for the Sochi Olympics, McMorris had broken a rib two weeks before. His bronze in Slopestyle is actually seen by him as a miracle. Here in PyeongChang, he wants to win gold. He has two chances: in Big Air and Slopestyle. In both events, he will face rivalry from Norway’s Marcus Kleveland, who is the first ever to do a ‘cork 1800.’ In Slopestyle, he will be challenged most by the US’ Red Gerard and Japan’s Hiroaki Kunitake. In Big Air, he will face rivalry from American Chris Corning and his Canadian teammate Maxence Parrot. The hills in Korea will determine his fate.
Kaillie Humphries – Bobsledding: Women’s bobsledding has only been contested four times in the past, but Canadians Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse are already the only female double-gold medalists. However Kaillie appears poised to achieve a feat none of the male bobsledders have ever achieved: winning the same event three times.
It’s not to say it hasn’t been without its difficulties. After Sochi, she traded partners with Melissa Lothholz. She has won two World Championship silvers since. Here in PyeongChang, she will have former hurdler Phylicia George as her partner. As her former partners of Heather Moyse and Melissa Lothholz, they will both compete in PyeongChang with different drivers. Humphries’ attempt to return to the top will be challenged by the German sled driven by Stephanie Schneider and the American sled driven by Elana Meyers, which actually won at last year’s Worlds. PyeongChang could be the final chapter for Kaillie’s legacy in the sport.
Alex Harvey – Cross Country Skiing: Cross country skiing is in Alex Harvey’s blood. His father Pierre competed in cross country skiing in 1984 and 1988 and gave Canada its best ever results at the time, and they weren’t even Top 10 finishes! That just shows how much progress Canadians have made in nordic skiing. In fact Alex himself delivered two Top 10 finishes at the Vancouver Games, including a fourth in the Sprint.
Harvey has won a medal at every World Nordic Championships ever since the Vancouver Olympics including two golds: the most recent being in the 50km last year. He’s hoping to win the Olympic medals that have eluded him throughout his career. However he has only made the podium in three World Cup events this season. His biggest challenges come from Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and two Norwegians: Martin Johnsrud Sundby and rising 21 year-old Johannes Høsflot Klæbo. PyeongChang could finally give him the break he’s always been pursuing.
Mikaël Kingsbury – Freestyle Skiing: Canada has won three of the seven golds in men’s moguls skiing. There’s Jean-Luc Brassard in 1994 and Alexandre Bilodeau in 2010 and 2014. Mikaël Kingsbury is seeing to make it four for eight. Kingsbury has developed a top reputation in the event. He first finished third in the 2010-2011 World Cup season but has come out on top every World Cup season since including this year.
Major events have been his weakness. He’s been on the podium for moguls at every World Championship since 2011 but has only won gold once: in 2013. Also it was in Sochi in which he, not Bilodeau, was the Canadian most expected to win gold, but won silver instead. He will be challenged here in PyeongChang by Japan’s Ikuma Horishima, who handed him is only World Cup defeat this year, and Kazakhstan’s Dmitriy Reikherd. This could be Kingsbury’s year.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – Figure Skating: Ah yes. Figure skating. Ever since 1984, Canada has bagged at least one figure skating medal in every Olympic Games since. Many expect 2018 to be Canada’s strongest team ever. Leading the pack is star ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The pair have been inseparable on the ice since 1997 when Tessa was eight and Scott was ten. Their skating magic has resulted in Olympic gold and silver as well as seven World Championship medals, including three gold.
After they won silver at the Sochi Games of 2014 behind their American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, it appeared they won everything they needed to and retired after Sochi. However they returned to amateur competition starting in 2016 and acquired former Canadian ice dance pair Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon as their coaches. The plan worked to success as they returned to the top of their sport. Of course they want to end their careers with a final gold medal, but they will face challenges from all three American pairs, most notably Maia and Alex Shibutani, and the French pair of Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This is their chance to end their Olympic careers as they started.
The Canadian Hockey Teams: The news broke months ago. The NHL won’t allow any of their players to play at the Olympics. This is not permanent for the Olympic Games, but it is a drag for many who enjoyed. Heck, opening the Olympics to NHL pros allowed Canada to win gold in three of the five occasions. It does not however mean Canada doesn’t have a chance for the gold. Canada’s men’s team consists of pros, but mostly from the American Hockey League, the predominantly Russian Kontinental Hockey League, the Swedish Hockey League and Switzerland’s National League. Canada’s team is predicted by Sports Illustrated to win bronze with Sweden to win and Russia to take silver. Chances are the Canadians could surprise.
As for the women, Team Canada has always made it to the gold-medal final of every Olympic tournament since women’s hockey made its Olympic debut back at the Nagano Games of 1998. The inaugural competition is their only loss of the gold. The team in PyeongChang is coached by Lauren Schuler from that team in Nagano consists of thirteen from Sochi 2014 and ten newcomers. All but one play for Canadian teams. However Team Canada has finished second to the US at ever Worlds since the Sochi Games and the Americans promise to be the Canadians’ toughest rival. They’re coached by Cammi Granato who was part of the US’ gold-medal winning team in 1998: the US’ only victory in women’s hockey. Can Team Canada make it five in a row? Only time will tell.
Canada’s Curling Teams: If hockey is our national past-time, curling would rank second. Many people wonder how? It’s a gift from Scottish immigrants to us. Canada has a habit of blending things from the ‘old country’ into our national fabric. Our love for curling has paid off on the Olympic level. Ever since curling was officially added to the Olympic program at the Nagano Games in 1998, all ten Canadian teams have won medals and have even won gold five of the ten times. Sochi was especially a treat as it was the first Olympics where both the men’s and women’s team won gold.
As for the lineup in PyeongChang, the men’s team is headed by Kevin Koe who headed the Canadian team that won at the 2016 Worlds and the women’s team is headed by Rachel Homan whose team won the World Championships last year. New for Pyeongchang is mixed doubles curling. Canada’s team is headed by Winnipeggers Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris. Both have gold medals from past teams: Kaitlyn in 2014 and John in 2010. However they’re not the favorites as Swiss pair of Jenny Perret and Martin Rios beat the Canadian pair 6-5 to win. As of yet, Canada has never won gold at the Mixed Doubles Worlds. Could this be their year to finally shine?
And there you have it. Seven Canadians to watch out for in PyeongChang. There’s many more to talk about but I’ll let the action at the Olympics do more telling. It all starts Friday the 9th at 3am PST. Can I wake up that early to see the opening ceremonies live? We’ll see.
After thirty years, the Olympics are returning to South Korea. After 20 years, the Winter Olympics return to an Asian country. The region of PyeongChang will be ready to host the 2018 Winter Olympics. There are expected to be over 2000 athletes from 92 nations competing. From February 9th to the 25th, medals are to be awarded in 102 events in 15 sports. Here are ten athletes and teams expected to catch your eye during the Games.
Marcel Hirscher/Austria – Alpine Skiing: Much the same way the Dutch always shell out new greats in speed skating, Austria always seems to create a new great in alpine skiing. Seeking to be the next Austrian great is Marcel Hirscher. Hirscher has been the Overall World Cup winner for the past six years and has won gold at the world Championships six times. The one title that eludes him is an Olympic gold. His one and only Olympic medal is a slalom silver at the Sochi Games of 2014.
He currently leads the World Cup standings in slalom, giant slalom and overall. He’s expected to win slalom, giant slalom and combined here in PyeongChang. He will face rivalry from Norway’s Kjetil Jansrut and France’s Alexis Pinturault. PyeongChang will be the scene where he could become a ‘best ever’ or a ‘best never.’
Mikaela Shiffrin/United States – Alpine Skiing: Back at the Sochi Olympics when Shiffrin was 18, people were already anticipating her to be the next great. She was already world Cup slalom winner and World Champion in the slalom the year before. Her gold medal in the slalom in Sochi would set in stone that she was one to watch.
Since Sochi, Shiffrin has won the World Cup in slalom every year except 2016 and finally won the World Cup overall title last year. She is expected to win slalom, giant slalom and the combined here in PyeongChang, but she will face challenges from France’s Tessa Worley, Italy’s Sofia Goggia and Liechtenstein’s Tina Weirather. PyeongChang is her chance to crown herself a great.
Martina Sablikova/Czech Republic – Long-Track Speed Skating: There have only been two long-track speed skaters that have won the same event twice: American Bonnie Blair in the 500m from 1988 to 1994, and German Claudia Pechstein in the 5000m from 1994 to 2002. One of two seeking to be the third is Czech Martina Sablikova in the 5000m.
Sablikova has won three of the Czech Republic’s seven gold medals at the Winter Olympics. Before Sablikova, no Czech speed skater has won a medal. At the Turin Games of 2006, an 18 year-old Sablikova missed a medal in the 5000m by a second. The following year, Sablikova set the first of her world records in the 5000m. Her Olympic coming-of-age came in Vancovuer 2010 as she won two gold and a bronze. Success continued for her in Sochi as she repeat at 5000m champ and won silver in the 3000m. She serves message she’s prepared to threepeat in the 5000m and return to gold in the 3000m, but she faces rivalry from Canadian Ivanie Blondin and two Dutch skaters: veteran Ireen Wust and newcomer Antoinette de Jong. Whatever happens, Sablikova has already solidified her greatness in the sport.
Johannes Thingnes Bø/Norway – Biathlon: Norway has always fielded greats in the Nordic skiing events. The sport of biathlon is no exception with greats like Magnar Solberg and Ole Einar Bjorndalen. This year with Bjorndalen failing to make the Olympic team, Norway’s future rest with their latest protege Johannes Thingnes Bø.
Bø is actually the youngest brother of Tarjei Bø who won Olympic gold in the biathlon relay in 2010. Johannes Bø first competed at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 at the age of 20, but did not win a medal. However talent was yet to come as he finished third in the overall category in that year’s World Cup. He first burst onto the scene at the world Championship the following year when he won gold in the Sprint and two additional relay medals. The following year, he won the Mass Start event and a relay gold. At last year’s worlds, he won silver in Sprint, Pursuit and Mass Start. He hasn’t won a World Cup title yet, but he has eight World Cup victories this season. Sports Illustrated predicts him to win three gold medals, but he will face rivalry from his own brother Tarjei, Slovenian Jakov Fak and Frenchman Martin Fourcade, who leads Bø in the World Cup overall this season. PyeongChang should make for an exciting showdown.
Martins Dukurs/Latvia – Skeleton: Latvia has never won a winter Olympic gold medal. In the past 15 years, Latvia has sent top contenders in the sledding sports. Latvian lugers, bobsledders and skeleton sledders have won a total of seven medals in the sledding sports since the Turin Games of 2006. Poised to win Latvia’s first ever winter Olympic gold is skeleton sledder Martins Dukurs. Martins and his brother Tomass have become two of the top skeleton sledders in recent years. Both are tndrained by their father Dainis who was a former bobsledder.
Dukurs has had the Olympic misfortune of being the silver medalist to sledders from the host nations: Canada’s Jon Montgomery in 2010 and Russia’s Aleksandr Tretyakov in 2014. The last one is biting because Tretyakov is one of many Russian athletes in which the IOC had on a lifetime ban for their part in their systematic doping for the Sochi Olympics, which I will talk about later. Their stripping of their Sochi medals, including Tretyakov’s gold, was overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sports just on February 1st. It’s also biting for Tomass as he finished fourth in 2014 and would have been elevated to the bronze medalist.
Dukurs serves notice he is finally ready to claim the elusive gold medal. He has won every World and European skeleton title since Sochi. However he is ranked fourth in the World Cup standings this season with South Korea’s Yun Sung-bin leading, German Axel Jungk second and his brother Tomass third. PyeongChang could be his last chance to seize Olympic gold.
Marit Bjorgen/Norway – Nordic Skiing: Some of you may remember from my Sochi Olympic preview blog that I anticipated more greatness for Marit Bjorgen. I was right as she added three more gold to her legacy. She’s one of only three females with ten winter Olympic medals and one of three with six Winter Olympic golds. She continued her legacy at last year’s world Championships where she won three individual events and the relay.
Leading up to the Olympics this year, Bjorgen’s success has been lackluster, compared to previous seasons. This season she’s only had two World Cup victories and a second-place: her lowest ever. On top of that, young talent like Sweden’s Charlotte Kalla, American Sadie Bjornsen and her own teammates Ingvild Østberg and Heidi Weng are seeking to overtake her supremacy. PyeongChang looks like to be her last Olympics. However even without a gold medal, she can still add to her legacy. She’s just needs to win a single medal of any color to become the first woman with eleven winter Olympic medals and even just one gold away from being the first woman with seven golds. Keep in mind the men’s records are eight for golds and thirteen for total medals. Both records are owned by Norwegians. These Olympics are the place for Bjorgen to send the message that she’s not done yet. There’s still more to win.
Felix Loch/Germany – Luge: The nation of Germany pretty much owns luge. German lugers have won 32 of the 44 Olympic gold medals awarded. Felix Loch ranks as one of their greats. When he won at the Vancouver Games of 2010 he became the youngest male winner ever at the age of twenty. He has won almost every World Championships he has been in since 2008, only finishing second in 2011 and 2015. He also won gold again in Sochi both in individual and as part of the inaugural mixed relay.
However he has had his difficulties. He was too injured to compete at last year’s world Championships. In addition, he finished second at this year’s European Championships held just last week. Semen Pavlichenko of Russia who won will be there to block Loch’s path to a third straight gold medal, as well as Austria’s Wolfgang Kindl who won the Worlds last year. 2018 should prove to be an interesting challenge for Loch, but he definitely intends to rise to the occasion in PyeongChang.
Team Of Olympic Athletes From Russia: It all started at the Sochi Olympics where Russian athletes won the most gold medals. Then the secrets were unraveled before the Rio Olympics of 2016 of systematic doping of Russian athletes. They were told to accept the doping or be dropped from the team; reminiscent of the East German Olympic teams of the 1970’s and 1980’s. It was the IAAF, the governing body of Athletics, that was the first whistleblower. The International Olympic Committee responded by banning all Russian athletes from the athletics events and allowing Russian athletes to compete in the other sports, as long as the sports’ governing bodies can prove then clean through consistent testing results.
The doping even extended as far back as the Sochi Olympics. The IOC made the move to have athletes on the list face lifetime suspensions and even be stripped of their gold medals. This involved 28 athletes who had won ten medals including three gold in Sochi. However the moves to have the athletes banned and their medals stripped were overturned by the Court of Arbitration of Sport on February 1st because of lack of evidence. Not only are their bans overturned, including those banned for life, but they are allowed to keep their medals from Sochi.
Now PyeongChang. The IOC faced pressure to ban Russian athletes because of past controversies and also because there’s no evidence to suggest the doping system has ceased since Rio. In December, the IOC rules that athletes under the Russian Olympic Committee were banned from the Olympics in all sports. The IOC also ruled that like Rio, Russian athletes who have passed all doping tests and have been cleared by their respective sports federation and even the IOC’s own accreditation commission would be allowed to compete in PyeongChang. However they will compete under the label ‘Olympic Athletes From Russia.’ They will complete under the Olympic flag and if any of them win a gold medal, the Olympic hymn will be played.
As for the team, the team currently stands at 168 athletes across all fifteen sports. There have been restrictions as Russia originally qualified eleven biathletes, but only four are allowed to compete. Luge has also seen their entries reduced from 10 qualifications to eight invited and skeleton go from five qualified to two competing. Only one athlete in Nordic Combined is invited. The level of competition has gone down–Sports Illustrated predicts Russian athletes to take 11 medals including two gold– however some events will remain unscathed. Russian figure skaters are ones who are still expected to contend well and the men’s hockey team is still expected to win a medal. Russian athletes’ results should prove to be interesting and get one thinking about their future if they want to compete any further.
AND FROM THE HOST COUNTRY:
Lee Sang-hwa – Long-Track Speed Skating: Martina Sablikova isn’t the only long-track speed skater seeking a threepeat. South Korea’s Lee Sang-hwa is seeking to do that in the 500m. She first competed at the Turin Games of 2006 at the age of 16 and finished fifth in the 500. She would grow in world supremacy over the years as she would win the event in Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 as well as win the event at the World Championships three times.
She is anticipated by the home country to win again, but she will face challenges from China’s Yu Jing, who finished third at last years’ Worlds, and two Japanese skaters: newcomer Arisa Go and 2017 World Champion Nao Kodaira. Whatever the situation, she will celebrate her 29th birthday on the day of the closing ceremonies!
Choi Min-jeong – Short Track Speed Skating: If there’s one Winter Olympic sport South Korea dominates, it’s short-track speed skating. Ever since short-track speed skating became an official Olympic event in 1992, South Korea has won 21 of the 48 golds warded in the sport. All but five of South Korea’s Winter Olympic golds and all but eleven of South Korea’s total Winter Olympic medals have been won in short track.
Their latest great is expected to be Choi Min-Jeong. She was too young to compete at Sochi in 2014, but she has come a long way since. She first burst onto the scene at the 2015 World Championships when she took home three gold and a bronze at the tender age of 16 including winning the Overall title. She would repeat her success the following year by repeating as Overall champ and winning two more gold and a silver. However 2017 was a bad year as she left those Worlds empty-handed. She has served notice that she will be on fire in PyeongChang, but she will face rivalry from last years’ Overall World Champion Elisa Christie of Great Britain, last year’s Overall runner-up Marianne St. Gelais of Canada, and even her own teammates Shim Suk-hee and Kim Ji-yoo. Her chance to prove herself a national hero on home-turf awaits.
One More From The Host Country (Added After Publishing):
Yun Sung-bin – Skeleton: Here’s a bit of trivia. All of South Korea’s 53 Winter Olympic medals, including 26 golds, have been won on skates. Short-track speed skaters account for 42 medals including 21 gold. Long-track speed skaters won a total of nine medals including four gold. The remaining gold and silver were won by figure skater Kim Yu-na. That could all change thanks to 23 year-old skeleton sledder Yun Sung-bin. Back at the Sochi Games in 2014, the 19 year-old Yun didn’t seem like muck of a future threat as he came in 16th. A lot can change in four years. Since then, he won this year’s World Cup season and finished second in the previous two. He even won a silver at the 2016 World Championships. In fact many anticipate he’s the one person most likely to block Martins Dukurs from winning the elusive gold medal. We’ll wait and see.
And those are ten athletes to watch for in PyeongChang. My blog of Canadians to look for in PyeongChang was published Thursday.
I admit I’ve come to accept it after the Sochi Olympics. Since the late-90’s Canada has become a winter sports superpower but field a very good Summer Olympics team. In past Olympic Games, both Canada’s summer and winter teams were on the same levels. Very often the summer team would outperform the winter team. That has changes since the late-90’s as you can tell by the medal totals with each Games.
However it’s not fair at all to say our Summer Olympic team is lousy. Here in Canada, we have a lot to deliver. The 2015 Pan Am Games and the recent World Championships in various sports have shown we have a lot of athletes in contention. Sure we only won a single gold out of our 18 medals back in London but we have a solid team this year. Sports Illustrated predicts Canadians to win a total of seventeen medals including four gold.
Anyways you saw my focus on foreign contenders in Rio yesterday. Without further ado, here are the seven Canadians of focus:
Brianne Theisen-Eaton – Athletics: The last time a Canadian woman won a gold medal in track and field was in 1928 and that was the very first Olympics track and field events for women were contested! Canada was one of the best countries in women’s track and field in 1928 winning two of the five events and two additional medals. Yeah, what has happened since? Well the drought could very well be over. When Brianne Theisen graduated from high school, she went to the University of Oregon and it was the best decision. She represented Canada in London and finished 11th. She would later marry American decathlete Ashton Eaton and she’s been on a roll since finishing second at the last two World Championships. She also won the Goetzis HypoMeet this year with a points total that’s the highest of 2016 and has propelled herself as the favorite. She will face stiff rivalry from defending Olympic Champion and reigning World Champion Jessica Ennis-Hill and Worlds bronze medalist Laura Ikauniece-Admidiņa of Latvia. 2016 could just be Brianne’s year. Also look to see if Brianne and Ashton become the first married couple since the Zatopeks in 1952 to both win athletics golds in the same games.
Shawnacy Barber – Athletics: Canada is not known for its pole vaulters. Our last Olympic entry was back in 1992. Our only two medals in the men’s event came all the way back in 1908 and 1912. That can all change thanks to New Mexico-born Shawn Barber. He didn’t qualify for London at the tender age of 18 but his talent was obvious that year as he already broke the Canadian record. He has improved in both his vaulting heights and his competitive consistency over the years and even won the World Championship last year. He even vaulted six metres for the first time ever during an indoor meet this year. He will face challenges from defending Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie of France, American newcomer Sam Kendricks and even home-country threat Thiago da Silva. Whatever the situation, Barber is sure to deliver.
Brooke Henderson – Golf: Here in Rio there won’t be any new sports on the program but there are two sports that were part of the Olympic program in the past that were cancelled out. The two returning sports are Rugby, albeit in Sevens format, and Golf. Golf was contested at the 1900 and 1904 Olympics. The last Olympic gold in golf was won by a Canadian: George Lyon. Professionalism may have a lot to do with that. Since there’s now no such thing as ‘amateur’ anymore, it seems right that golf returns especially since it’s international enough. Canada has a strong shot at winning through 18 year-old Brooke Henderson. Already displaying a combination of talent, drive and youthfulness that has best been seen in the past through Se-Ri Pak and Nancy Lopez, Henderson has already won three LPGA events. Her last two– the KPMG women’s PGA Championship and the Cambia Portland Classic–came this June and propelled her to 2nd-place World ranking. She’s a heavy favorite to win in Rio but she will face challenges from World #1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand, latest American great Lexi Thompson and last year’s British Open winner Ariya Jutanugarn of Thailand. Win or lose, Brooke has a bright future ahead of her.
Mark de Jonge – Canoeing: Until 2008, there were the 500m and 1000m events in flatwater canoeing for men. In 2012, the program replaced the 500m events with 200m sprints. That has worked for the advantage of Canadian kayaker Mark de Jonge. The Calgary-born Dalhousie grad won bronze in London the first Olympics it was contested. Since then, de Jonge has moved up in the ranks from silver at the 2013 Worlds to gold at the 2014 and 2015 Worlds. De Jonge will face challenges from France’s Maxime Beaumont and Sweden’s Peter Menning who finished second and third to him respectively last year. It could just well be de Jonge’s moment here in Rio.
Rosannagh MacLennan – Trampolining: Ever since trampolining has been introduced to the Olympic program in 2000, the Canadian team has left each Olympics with at least one medal. The women’s event has always had a Canadian medalist with Karen Cockburn winning 2000 bronze, 2004 silver and 2008 silver. In London, Rosie MacLennan became Canada’s first ever Olympic champion in trampolining. Rosie also had the bizarre distinction as being Canada’s only Olympic champion at those Games. Rosie has since won the 2013 World Championship and finished second the following year. She found herself out of the medals in 2015. She plans to return to her winning form in Rio but she will face the rivalry of 2015 champ Li Dan of China and two Belarussians: 2015 bronze medalist Tatiana Piatrenia and Hanna Harchonak. 2016 will be the arena for her to prove herself on top again.
Brittany MacLean – Swimming: Canada is known for its medal-winning swimmers. Sports Illustrated predicts Canada to win no medals. However one that could prove SI wrong is distance freestyler Brittany MacLean. The Etobicoke native who swims for the University of Georgia has a reputation in the distance freestyles with a 7th place finish in the 400 in London. However she was too injured in the 2015 season and had to miss out on the Worlds. This year, MacLean has the 6th-fastest time in the world in the 400 free and the 4th-fastest in the 800 free. Sure the distance freestyles are where Katie Ledecky is all the talk but Brittany MacLean just could win Canada’s first Olympic medal for a female swimmer since 1996. That feat could also be achieved by backstroker Kylie Masse or butterfliers Penny Oleksiak or Noemie Thomas. Actually Canada has its strongest women’s swim team in a long time. While the men’s team could only qualify ten swimmers. Looks like it’s the girls’ turn to shine.
AND ONE TEAM:
Canada’s Women’s Soccer Team: I’ll admit I didn’t review them when I did my pre-Olympic preview for London. And good reason why not. Back at the 2011 WWC Canada lost all three of their Group Stage games. However the turnabout the team made under the new coach John Herdman was evident as the team left the Olympics with the bronze medal. Their performance won the hearts of so many Canadians, I referred to them as ‘Our Girls.’ Canada has continued to show consistency with a quarterfinal finish at the 2015 WWC. Since then, the team have won most of their games losing only to Brazil, Denmark, USA and France. Canada won this year’s Algarve Cup and 19 year-old defender Kadeisha Buchanan was named the best player of the tournament. They’re not expected to win a medal in Rio but the team could just surprise the world again like they did four years ago.
And there you have it. My review of Canadian athletes to look out for in Rio. Notice that I reviewed the four Canadians Sports Illustrated predicts to win gold? Whatever the situation, I’m sure they’ll do our country proud.
The Rio Olympics is coming our way. Of course the media being what it is, it chooses to focus on all the bad news with the bad construction problems and the Zika virus and the slow ticket sales. The story of the Russian track team being systematically doped added to the fire and has led to scrutiny of the whole Russian team in recent weeks. However there have been tales of woe before past Olympic Games and they’ve gone off excellently so it would be fair to give Rio a chance. So without further ado, here’s my focus on thirteen to watch–eight individual athletes, a duo, and four teams:
-Katie Ledecky/USA – Swimming: You all thought Michael Phelps would be the top swimmer of focus in my blog, right? Wrong. He will be looked into in a focus on another swimmer later in my blog but now the swimmer of top focus here is the US’s next big swimming sensation: Katie Ledecky. As a 15 year-old, she competed in London as the youngest member of the US Olympic team. She won gold in the 800m freestyle and broke the American record along the way. Since then, she has become a distance freestyle ace with world records in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyles along with World Championship golds in those events as well as the 200 free. She is poised to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles in Rio: a feat only achieved once before by American swimmer Debbie Meyer in 1968. Katie can even add a bonus gold with the 4*200m free relay. Her chances are good as her best time in the 800 this year is 12 seconds faster than the second-best and her top 2016 time in the 400 is 1.5 seconds faster than that of American teammate Leah Smith. However the 200 will be her toughest event to win as Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom’s 2016 best is less than .1 faster than Katie and just .12 behind her is Italy’s Federica Pellegrini: 2008 Olympic champion who finished fifth in London. Nevertheless it will be a brave attempt from the 19 year-old.
-Simone Biles/USA – Gymnastics: Women’s gymnastics has become a complicated sport ever since it was revolutionized by ‘pixies’ like Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. It seems a gymnast’s career at the top is very short. It’s very hard to develop consistency especially with time encroaching. However one gymnast who can beg to differ is 19 year-old Simone Biles. She has shown a consistency in World gymnastics not demonstrated since Ludmilla Tourischeva back in the 70’s. In the past three World Championships starting in 2013, Biles has won fourteen medals including ten gold. She has also won the last three World all-around titles. Biles appears invincible but she does face rivalry from her own teammates Gabby Douglas (defending champ from London) and Laurie Hernandez as well as Russia’s Angelina Melnikova. Rio could just be the arena to crown her greatness in the sport.
-Ashton Eaton/USA – Athletics: There have only been two decathletes who have won back-to-back Olympic gold medals: The US’s Bob Mathias and the UK’s Daley Thompson. Ashton Eaton looks poised to become the third. He first burst onto the scene at the 2011 Worlds as a 23 year-old when he finished second behind his American teammate Trey Hardee. Hey, the US is known for their decathletes as they have won a total of 28 medals including thirteen gold. The following year, Eaton beat Hardee at the US Olympic Trials with a world record points total. Eaton went on to win gold in London as well as the last two World Championships. Eaton appears invincible having the year’s best result at the US trials but he does have rivals in Germany’s Arthur Abele and Canada’s Damian Warner who finished behind Eaton in second at the Worlds. Rio could just be the arena for a great to deliver.
-Usain Bolt/Jamaica – Athletics: What can I say? The ‘Lightning Bolt’ has proven himself to be the biggest thing in athletics since Carl Lewis. He has an unmatched streak at dominating sprinting in major events. It all started when he won the 100, the 200 and the 4*100 relay in Beijing in 2008 all in world record time. Since then every Olympics or Worlds he entered, he’d leave with golds in all those events each time with the exception of the 100 in 2011 where he received a false-start disqualification. Already people are ruling Bolt to achieve the triple-triple here in Rio. However it’s not 100% guaranteed. Bolt had to pull out of the Jamaican Olympic trials because of a pulled hamstring injury. He has since recovered well and even won a major 200 in London a few weeks ago. However the 100m has three runners that have a faster year’s best than Usain. Topping the list is 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin. The 200m features four runners who ran a faster time this year than Usain’s 2016 best. Topping that list is American LaShawn Merritt: 2008 Olympic 400m champion. Win or lose, chasing Olympic history will make for an exciting show from a legend.
-Mo Farah/Great Britain – Athletics: Seven male distance runners have won both the 5000m and 10000m runs in the same Olympics. However one–Finland’s Lasse Viren– has done it twice back in 1972 and 1976. Mo Farah, A Somali who moved to the UK when he was eight, appears poised to duplicate Viren’s feat. Farah’s last loss of a major 5000 or a 10000 came at the 2011 World Championships. Since then he has taken gold at the 2012 Olympics and both the 2013 and 2015 World Championships in both events. There will be rivals trying to block his path like Ethiopian Muktar Edris, American Galen Rupp, his Portland training partner, and Kenyans like Caleb Ndiku, Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kanworor. Whatever the situation, Farah’s pursuit will be one to watch.
-Cate and Bronte Campbell/Australia – Swimming: Admit it. You get intrigued when you see a pair of sibling athletes either competing together or against each other. Enter the Campbell sisters from Australia who are at the top of the world in sprint freestyle. 24 year-old Cate is the one with Olympic medals–two bronze in 2008 and a relay gold in 2012–along with 100 free gold at the 2013 Worlds. 22 year-old Bronte won the 2015 World Championship in the 50 and 100 free with Cate winning silver in the 50 and bronze in the 100. However Cate that this year’s fastest times in the world in the 50 and 100. Bronte has the second-fastest in the 100 and fifth-fastest in the 50. Ah, don’t you wish sibling rivalry was this civil? However the Malawi-born Campbell sisters are not alone at the top. They will face challenges from Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom who also made the 2015 Worlds podiums in both events and 2012 Olympic champion from both events Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands. The Rio stage should provide for some fun drama. And after all that rivalry, the two could just team up for a gold in the 4*100 free relay!
-Laszlo Cseh/Hungary – Swimming: All eyes will be on Michael Phelps. He may have won it all with 22 medals over three Games including 18 gold but he’s making a comeback after a troubling time since London which included his second DUI arrest. Who’s also worth looking at is 30 year-old Hungarian Laszlo Cseh. When Phelps won six golds and two bronze in Athens, Cseh won 400 individual medley bronze. While Phelps won eight golds in Beijing, Cseh won three silvers. While Phelps won four golds and two silvers in London, Cseh won 200 IM bronze. In all cases, Phelps was the Olympic champion. Here in Rio, we have a different scenario. We have Phelps trying to get back his old form while Cseh appears to be in the best form of his life. Cseh has the world fastest times this year in both the 100 and 200 butterflies. Cseh is a heavy favorite for the 200 but he does face rivalry from Phelps, American Tom Shields and Poland’s Konrad Czerniak in the 100. Cseh has never been called ‘Phelps’ Shadow’ in his career but Rio could become the first Olympic arena to finally beat Phelps and win Olympic gold.
-Majlinda Kelmendi/Kosovo – Judo: 75 nations competing in Rio have never won an Olympic medal. Two nations–Kosovo and South Sudan– will be making their Olympic debut. Kosovo’s team will consist of eight athletes in five sports. Leading the team is 25 year-old judoka Majlinda Kelmendi. Back in 2012, Kosovo was not officially recognized by the IOC and Kelmendi opted to compete for Albania. Since then Kelmendi has won gold at the World Championships in the lightweight category in 2013 and 2014. She missed out on the 2015 season because of an injury but is poised for a comeback in time for Rio. She has already won this years’ European championship. She faces rivalry from Japan’s Misato Nakamura and Brazil’s Erica Miranda. Whatever the outcome, be sure she’ll do her country proud. She will also be the flagbearer during the opening ceremonies.
FROM THE HOST NATION:
Of course there is to be some focus on athletes of the host nation. I make it a priority as it makes some of my favorite Olympic moments with athletes winning gold or a medal in front of their home crowd. And in Rio, Sports Illustrated predicts Brazil to win 20 medals including six gold. The most medals Brazil has won in a single Olympics is 17 back in London. The most golds, five in Athens in 2004.
Focus on the two teams later. Here are the duo and individual of focus:
Isaquias Queiroz and Erlon Silva – Canoeing: Brazil has won Olympic medals in thirteen sports but canoeing isn’t one of them. In recent years, Brazil has fielded a canoeing duo who have emerged at the top of the world in the 1000m event. Isaquias won the Worlds in 2013 and 2014 in the individual 500m. Erlon was part of the bronze medal-winning 200m pair in 2014. However both were competing in events that won’t be contested in Rio. Leading to last year’s Worlds, the two were paired together and trained for the 1000m pairs event. They entered that event at the Worlds and won. They will face challenges from the duos of Hungary and Poland. They could just make Brazilian Olympic history here in Rio.
Fabiana Murer – Athletics: Brazil is not expected to win any medals in athletics, according to Sports Illustrated. Overlooked must be pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. She’s a 2011 world champion and she finished second at last year’s World but is known for Olympic choking. In 2008, she finished 10th. In 2012 she failed to qualify for the finals. 2016 looks to be a good year for Murer as she set a new South American record back in July. However she faces challenges from London Olympic champion Jennifer Suhr of the US, last year’s World champ Yarisley Silva of Cuba, last year’s World bronze medalist Nikoleta Kyriakopolou of Greece and American Sandi Morris who’s the only vaulter to have a higher 2016’s best than Murer as of now. Whatever the situation, the home country has her back.
Refugee Olympic Athletes Team: In the past, you had to have some citizenship ties in order to compete at the Olympic Games. Refugees in the past have been overlooked as they were believed to have bigger problems than sports to deal with. Some would have to wait many years to represent the nation they’ve been adopted into. At the last Olympics in London, some refugees participated as Individual Olympic Athletes. IOC president Thomas Bach has taken note of the current worldwide refugee crisis by trying to break barrier for refugee athletes who want to compete at the Olympics. In March of this year, Bach announced his intention to create a team of refugees to compete in Rio taking into account the athletes’ sporting ability, personal circumstances and United Nations-verified refugee status. A $2 million fund created by the IOC was used to help train the athletes for Rio. At these Olympics, there will be ten athletes competing as Refugee Olympic Athletes. Five are runners from South Sudan who reside in Kenya. One is an Ethiopian marathoner who sought refuge in Luxembourg. Two are Congolese judokas living in Brazil and two are Syrian swimmers who have sought refuge in Belgium and Germany. They may not have much of a medal chance but they will already achieve victory by just competing at the Olympics.
United States Women’s Football Team: If there’s one team that one can call the class of the field, it’s the American women’s football (soccer) team. The US Women have won three of seven Women’s World Cups and four of the five Olympic gold medals. Those who saw last year’s Women’s World Cup know about how well the American women continue to play brilliantly. Here in Rio, fourteen women from last year’s WWC squad are part of the Olympic squad including stars Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo. There are also four newcomers including Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn. Since their WWC win, the team has won all but three of their matches since, losing only once to China 1-0 in a friendly back in December. WWC finalists Japan may not have qualified but it’s not to say the US won’t face some tough rivalry from China, France and even hosts Brazil. Nevertheless if they’re as brilliant together in Rio as they were in Canada last year, magic can happen again.
TRIVIA: Being WWC-holder is actually bad luck for the Olympics. In the previous five Olympics, no team that was the WWC-holder at the time has won Olympic gold. They’d make the Olympic podium, yes, but never the top step. Can the US break this bad-luck spell?
FROM THE HOST NATION:
Brazil’s Olympic Volleyball Teams: Football may be Brazil’s #1 sport. It’s safe to say volleyball is Brazil’s #2 sport. Ever since the men’s team won Brazil’s first ever court volleyball medal, Brazil has been on a roll winning a total of nine Olympic medals including four gold. They’ve also won 11 of the 30 Olympic medals awarded in Beach Volleyball including two gold medal-winning duos. Brazil is expected to dominate here. In beach volleyball, Brazil’s pairs won five of the six medals with only the men’s silver conceded to a Dutch pair. Brazil is not as dominant in court volleyball at the Worlds but the teams have what it takes to deliver as the women have won Olympic gold back in 2008 and 2012. Here in Rio, the women will face tough competition from the US and China who finished ahead of them at the 2014 Worlds. The men appear heavy favorites to win but they will face challenges from 2012 Olympic champs Russia and 2014 Worlds champs Poland. It could be possible the home crowd’s cheering could propel them both to win gold.
Brazil’s Olympic Football Teams: You’d figure Brazil, a country that has won a total of five World Cups, would have at least one Olympic gold in football, right? Wrong! It’s all because of eligibility rules in football over the years. Before 1984, footballers couldn’t even make a penny off their sport if they wanted to compete. That would allow the Eastern Bloc countries to field their best for the Olympics and propel them to the podium while World Cup-winning countries like Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy could only field ‘diluted’ teams to the Olympics which would finish in a shabby ranking or not make the Olympics at all. Brazil was able to qualify for six Olympics in that period but failed to win a medal.
In 1984, the Olympic door was open to professionals despite some restrictions or two. In 1992, professionals as long as they were 23 or under could compete. Since 1996, each squad had to have all but a maximum of three footballers under 23 with the other three being anyone they wanted. The opening of the floodgates to pros has boosted Brazil’s men’s team as they’ve qualified for six of the eight previous Olympic competitions and have stood on the podium five times. What they want here in Rio is to stand on the top step for the first time. In London, Brazil fielded a kit featuring a 20 year-old Neymar Jr. and won silver with Mexico taking the gold. Here in Rio, Neymar is back and the other 17 members of the Olympic squad are part of pro teams from Brazil, Spain, France and Italy. The Olympic squad may have finished third at the 2015 Pan Ams but the team has been consistent in friendly play over the last two years losing only to Nigeria back in March. Most of all, the team wants to return the football spirit to the country that left the nation broken-hearted at the 2014 World Cup and achieving shabby results at the last two Copa Americas. Whatever the situation, Brazil may just lift the spirits of their country.
Oh, did you think I’d forget the women’s football team? I didn’t. Women’s football isn’t as restrictive as the men’s competition. Every woman that competed at last year’s WWC is eligible to compete in the Olympics. As for Brazil’s women’s team, they have two Olympic silvers from 2004 and 2008. However they have had difficulties in the last major tournaments with losing in the quarterfinals at the 2012 Olympics and losing to Australia in the Round of 16 at the 2015 WWC. The team has since had their ups and downs with losses to the US, France, Canada and New Zealand they’ve trained hard under coach Vadao and have had mostly wins. Stars Marta, Formiga and Cristiane will be there. Hopefully the Brazilian women will be as victorious as their men and these Olympics here could be the arena for it.
And there you have it. Some of the athletes who to look out for at the Rio Games. Remember the gold medal does not go to the hardest worker, the most deserving, the most talented, the one with the most pre-Olympic accolades or even the best athlete. The gold goes to the one that’s the most there. And Rio will be the arena to decide the Olympic champions. These seventeen days will allow the athletes to “live their passion.” My review of Canadians to watch was printed the following day. Just click here.
I know there was a lot of talk about whether the Olympic Games should have been held in Russia despite the political problems at the time. I too have my concerns about having them in Russia, especially with the amount of money Vladimir Putin spent on them. However back when I was younger I used to have the belief that if a nation demonstrates their sporting prowess in the Olympic arena, then they’ve earned the right to host an Olympics. Yes that was a naive rationale I had those decades ago but that rationale would sure work for Russia.
THE FIRST SIGNS
Before the current Russian Federation and before the legendary USSR, Russia first competed as the Russian Empire. It only competed in three Olympic Games–1900, 1908 and 1912– and won a total of eight medals: only one of them gold. Nevertheless that gold was unique because it was in the sport of figure skating. Remember how I mentioned that the London Games of 1908 was one of two Summer Olympics to host figure skating until the first Winter Olympics took place in 1924? Well Russian Nikolai Panin won the gold medal in the men’s special figures event.
Then in 1917, the Russian Empire was no longer and became the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Athletes in the USSR were paid the same wages as all Russians who worked. That made them ineligible to compete in all Olympic Games between the two World Wars. Despite Soviet athletes being denied Olympic glory, an athletic revolution was happening inside the USSR at the time that would take the world by storm, provided the Olympic door would open one day.
THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING
In 1952 thanks to some IOC tweeking by President Avery Brundage who ironically was staunchly pro-amateur and slapped Olympic athletes who accepted money with big punishments including a ban from all Olympic competition, the USSR was allowed to compete at the Summer Olympics in Helsinki. They received the second-highest total of medals and would serve notice to the United States that they’d be their most legendary Olympic rival of all-time. They would have to wait until 1956 to compete at the Winter Olympics for the first time but their prowess at the Summer Games of 1952 would send a message to the sporting world.
The Italian resort town of Cortina d’Ampezzo would serve as the host for the 1956 Winter Olympics. The Soviet Union sent 53 athletes to those Olympics and walked away with the most medals. They had won six of the 24 events–including one speed skating event where two Soviets tied for the gold–and a total medal haul of sixteen. The Soviets reigned supreme in speed skating winning three of the four events. Before 1956, the medals of cross country skiing were divided by the Norwegians, Swedes and Finns. The Soviets gave them all a new rival as they came out on top winning seven of the eighteen medals including two golds. However it was hockey where the Soviets would give its biggest signs of the revolution. Before 1956, Team Canada had won hockey gold in all but one previous Olympics. Now Canada finally had a major hockey rival as the USSR won the gold beating Canada 2-0.
THE USSR’S HUGE LEGACY
Soviet dominance at the Winter Olympics would continue for decades. There would only be two Winter Olympics where the USSR wouldn’t be the top medal winner. That would be 1968 when Norway came out on top and 1984 when East Germany ruled those Games. The Soviets would also set a Winter Olympic record in golds in 1976 when the team won a total of 13. Out of the 38 events in 1976 that’s roughly one gold for every three events. Those 13 would remain untouched until the Norwegian team of 2002 equaled it and unbroken until the Canadian team of 2010 broke it with 14.
From 1960 to 1988, Soviet athletes shined like no other country winning a total of 194 medals, 78 of them gold. Cross country skiing was where they experienced their biggest success with three skiers winning three golds in a single Olympics: Klaudia Boyarskikh in 1964, Galina Kulakova in 1972 and Nikolai Zimyatov in 1980. Speed skating was the second biggest medal-winning sport. The biggest feat by a Soviet was Lidia Skoblikova who won a total of six gold medals including winning all four event in 1964. Biathlon was also a sport the USSR exceled in as they won every men’s relay since it was introduced in 1968 and would include many individual champions.
Figure skating was good for the USSR but its biggest accomplishment was in the pairs event where they churned out gold medal-winning pair after pair starting with the Protopopovs in 1964 and ended with Gordeyeva and Grinkov in 1988. Irina Rodnina would win three golds with two male partners between 1972 and 1980. Ice dancing was its second most dominant as it would win gold three of the four times it was contested until 1988. Only a superpair like Britain’s Torvill and Dean could break their dominance.
However if there was one sport where the USSR defined ‘dominance,’ it was ice hockey. From its first Olympics in 1956 to 1988, the Soviet hockey team showed its dominance like no other. The dominance was helped in terms of Olympic rules. The best Soviet players were allowed to be eligible for Olympic competition. The best Canadian and American players weren’t because playing in the NHL made one professional and in those days, an athlete couldn’t make a single penny off their sport if they wanted to compete in the Olympics. That allowed for them to win seven of the nine Olympic competitions during that time. They only times they lost the gold was in Olympic Games which the US hosted and won the gold: Squaw Valley in 1960 and the famous ‘Miracle On Ice’ in Lake Placid in 1980. Their most powerful was during the 70’s whose players at the time were believed to be even better than the best NHL pros. Their dominance through the 70’s and early 80’s came greatly from goalie Vladislav Tretiak whom many considered to be the greatest hockey goalie ever.
1992: THE USSR’S LAST HURRAH
Funny thing is whenever I return to Olympic Square whenever I visit Calgary. They have plaques listing all of the medal winners during those Games. Funny thing is they also list the three-letter Olympic nation codes that go with them. Some of which are codes of nations during the ‘Cold War,’ like the GDR (East Germany), YUG (Yugoslavia), TCH (Czechoslovakia), and the URS (Soviet Union).Unknown at the time of the Calgary Olympics of 1988, countries of the Eastern Bloc would undergo a revolution where Comunism would be overthrown either diplomatically as in Poland and Hungary or aggressively as in Romania. The USSR was showing signs of kinder gentler Communism under Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika but that didn’t come without its problems, like republics wanting their own independence. In August 1991 while Gorbachev was outside hte USSR, a group of Communists staged a mutiny in the Kremlin returning the Union to the hard-line Communist rule. Gorbachev returned declaring the death of Communism and the end to the USSR.
When the 1992 Albertville Winter Games opened, the Parade Of Nations showed the signs of the New World Order: Germany was reunified, Yugoslavia was still together but Croatia and Slovenia sent their own teams, Czechoslovakia competed in their last Olympics together and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania that was part of the USSR sent their own teams. The most notable change was the republics of the USSR competing as the Unified Team. They competed under the Olympic flag and if ever one of their athletes won a gold medal, the Olympic hymn was played.
129 athletes from five of the twelve republics competed for the Unified Team. The women in cross country skiing were dominant with Lyubov Egorova winning two individual events and anchoring the relay. Figure skating showed continued dominance with a win in pairs and ice dance. Also for the first time came a gold medal in men’s figure skating by Ukrainian Viktor Petrenko. Until then, the highest a Soviet male skater won was a silver. There some signs of Soviet dominance wearing off with the political changes. There were gold medalists in biathlon but the men’s relay team didn’t win gold for the first time ever. There were no medals won by Unified athletes in men’s cross country skiing or long track speed skating. Even the hockey team suffered a loss to Czechoslovakia in the preliminaries. However the team came back to win gold.
RUSSIA: A NEW CHAPTER OF WINTER PROWESS
It was at the 1994 Lillehammer Games that all the republics of the former USSR first competed for their own national teams. National flags were flown at victory ceremonies as well as their national anthem played. Russia fielded a team of 113 athletes and they showed a continuation of the prowess. While host country Norway won the most total medals, Russia won the most golds with 11. Russia won three of the four figure skating events. Lyubov Egorova was back winning two events and anchoring the relay to gold. Biathlon prowess was still alive as the men won the two individual events and the women won the relay. Speed skating strength returned as they won five medals including two gold. Russia also showed skill in sports either new on the Olympic program like two medals in freestyle skiing or even in traditional Olympic sports the USSR never fared well in like alpine skiing where a female skier won a silver. Hockey however would mark its biggest changing of the guard as the Russian team would fail to win a medal.
Success for Russia’s winter athletes would continue long after the end of the USSR. However Russia would often have cases where they’d have a strong team one Winter Olympics and a so-so team the next. Nagano in 1998 would show excellent success as the Russians would win 18 medals including nine gold. The Russian women completely swept all five cross country skiing events with Larisa Lazutina winning two individual event golds, two other medals in the other two individual events and was part of the gold medal-winning relay. Russia again won three of the four figure skating events and their men’s hockey team returned to prowess albeit losing the gold to the Czechs 1-0 in the final.
The Russian team would first show signs of struggle in Salt Lake City in 2002. Sure they won two figure skating events and two cross country skiing events but their overall medal total was 13 medals including five golds. The medal total was so disappointing to Russia, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee refused to have the athletes march or dance around on field during the closing ceremony. Turin in 2006 showed a return to the winter muscle as they finished fourth in the medal tally with 22 medals including eight golds. They won two golds in biathlon and cross country skiing each and won three of the four figure skating events. They also won their first ever sledding medals with silvers in men’s four man bobsled and men’s luge. However Vancouver 2010 was a return to the down side as the team won fifteen medals including only three gold in biathlon and cross country skiing. They failed to win a medal in men’s hockey and failed to win pairs figure skating for the first time since 1960. You could understand why Putin wanted a grand team for Sochi.
THE SOCHI GAMES SUCCESS
I will only give a brief rundown of Russia’s success here in Sochi because I’m planning more of a discussion in a full blog specifically about the Sochi Games. The opening of the Sochi Olympics showed a salute to athletes of the past with speed skater Lidia Skoblikova and hockey player Vyacheslav Fetisov carrying the Olympic flag. The Olympic torch was lit by pairs figure skater Irina Rodnina and goalie Vladislav Tretiak: former Soviet athletes that not only won three Olympic golds but also are considered the best ever in their sport. Sochi definitely showed a return to Russia’s prowess in winter sport. They were back in pairs figure skating, won their first ever ladies figure skating title, showed prowess in speed skating for the first time and even won their first-ever bobsledding gold. More to come on this in my final Sochi blog.
Russia has always had a legacy in Winter sport whether it be as the USSR or as the Russian Federation. The Sochi Games further proved that legacy and also provided a future for that legacy in the years to come.
WIKIPEDIA: Soviet Union at the Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet _Union_at_the_Winter_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Unified Team at the Winter Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unified _Team_at_the_Winter_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Russia at the Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia_at_the_Olympics>
DISCLAIMER: I’ll admit that I originally planned to post this blog on the day of the opening ceremonies. In retrospect, I’m glad that I waited until the halfway point because I learned more about them in the last while.
The Olympic Games are being held in Sochi, Russia from February 7th to 23rd. 2800 athletes from 88 countries will be competing in the 98 medal events in fifteen different sports. In this, I will look at the city of Sochi, the new events, what Russia and especially Putin plan to get out of these games and the side-news that has been making headlines before the Olympics.
SOCHI THE CITY:
Sochi is a city in Russia with a population of 420,000. Sochi sits at the foot of the Sochi River on the east coast of the Black Sea just 20 miles north of the Russia-Georgia border with the Caucasus Mountains on the horizon. The city had been formed over various years of wars and conquering tribes. It was after both the Caucasus War and the Russo-Turkish War that was ceded to the Russians back in 1829. British intervention would occur in monitoring the weapons of the war. The Fort of Alexandria would be constructed in 1838 at the mouth of the Sochi River. That would later have an impact on forming the city. Many more forts would be set up close to the Fort of Alexandria including the Fort Dakhovsky. Fighting would continue until the end of the Caucasus War in 1864.
Starting in 1866 people of various ethnicities settled around the coast of the Black Sea. In 1874 the first Russian Orthodox church was built on the former Fort Dakhovsky and the settlement was renamed the Dakhovsky Posad. The Sochi Lighthouse was built in 1890 and the Dahkovsky Posad renamed themselves the Sochi Posad and incorporated themselves into the Black Sea governate. Sochi opened its first sea resort in 1909 and the town was granted full town status in 1917. Then came the war between Russia and Georgia. The war ended in 1923 with Sochi declared Russian territory. Joseph Stalin helped promote Sochi as a fashionable resort. After the fall of the USSR, Sochi has been promoted in Russia as the capital of summer.
THE GAMES AND THEIR HOPES:
These Olympic Games cost $51 billion to build: $39 million more than originally anticipated and more than any other Olympic Games in history. This was not only for the sake of building more facilities for hosting events. This also included telecommunications improvements in the region, power infrastructure upgrades, transportation improvements on all means of transportation, over 10,000 additional hotel rooms and six additional post offices.
The Olympic sites have been divided into two clusters: the Coastal Cluster inside the town and the Mountain Cluster into the Caucasus Mountains. The Coastal Cluster consists of the Olympic Park containing the Olympic Flame, the Fisht Olympic Stadium, two hockey arenas, a figure skating arena, a speed skating oval, a curling centre, the Olympic village, and the International broadcasting centre. The Mountain Cluster–located in the area called Krasnaya Polyana or ‘Red Hills’–consists of five venues including a Nordic skiing complex, a ski jumping centre, an alpine resort including an extreme park for snowboarding and freestyle skiing, a sliding centre and an Olympic village.
This isn’t all completely in vain for the sake of these seventeen days, or at least they’re not intended to be. The city of Sochi is expecting to make big improvements and grow considerably after the Olympic Games. Fisht Olympic Stadium plans to be continued as a football facility after the Olympics and is even one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup. The city of Sochi itself is signed on to be host of the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2014 to 2020. The RusSki Gorki ski jumping hills are to be used as a training facility for jumpers and two smaller hills for youth training are planned to be added after the Games. The ski hills at Rosa Khutor have been designed by a 1972 Olympic champion and plan to be part of future World Cup seasons. In fact Vladimir Putin is hoping to have Sochi become a winter resort that can compete with the resorts of France, Switzerland and Italy. In fact Putin had a conversation with one world leader where he said: “The rich travel to France and Switzerland to go skiing. Why not Krasnaya Polyana?”
Even as shown in the Opening Ceremonies, the Games hope to present a positive picture of Russia especially since it has made a lot of bad news in terms of politics, social problems, alcoholism, poverty, crime and even terrorism. Putin is hoping to improve ties with other countries. Putin is also hoping to improve the family structure in Russia with declining birth rates. Putin is also hoping these Games will stimulate the Russian economy. Let’s hope those $51 billion pay off, Vlad.
Even for venues planned for just those seventeen days, they too have post-games uses planned for them. The Bolshoi Ice Dome, the biggest of the hockey/skating venues, has plans for further ice events and concerts. Shayba Arena is a temporary hockey venue which is planned to be dismantled and shipped off to another city. The Iceberg Skating Palace has two post-games options of remaining an ice arena or a cycling velodrome. The Adler Oval for speed skating is slated to be an exhibition centre after the Games. The Ice Cube Curling Centre plans to stay a sports facility but can be moved to another location. Whether the plans will follow through and whether they will pay off in the end is something only the future will tell.
NEW TO THE PROGRAM:
Back in Vancouver there were 86 events. Here in Sochi there were an additional 12 events added to the program:
- Figure Skating Team Event-There will be three mixed events where both men and women compete together contested for the first time here in Sochi. The Figure Skating Team event consists of ten countries competing in both short programs and free skates of men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs and dance. Points are based on the country’s entry’s placeage in each program. Team with the highest total of points wins the gold.
- Freestyle Skiing Halfpipe (men and women)- The halfpipe event that’s one of the highlights of the snowboarding events have now been added to freestyle skiing.
- Slopestyle events in snowboarding and freestyle skiing (men and women)- It’s like skateboarding on snow. Consists of first skiing or boarding on rails and then doing daring jumps off the three kickers. Points are scored on difficulty and execution.
- Snowboarding Parallel Slalom (men and women)- Since 2002, snowboarding has had the Parallel Giant Slalom where two racers are paired together for two runs with last racer standing as winner. This Olympics marks the debut of the Parallel Slalom with tighter turns. Same method of deciding the winner as the Parallel Giant Slalom.
- Biathlon Mixed Relay-two women on each team ski and shoot for 6 km, two men ski and shoot for 7.5 km. Not even cross-country skiing has a mixed relay.
- Luge Team Relay-the relay consists of a men’s singles sledder going down first, touches a touch-sensitive pad that releases the gate for the next sled, the ladies’ singled sledder, to go down and then she touches the pad to let the men’s doubles sled go. The team with the fastest combined time wins.
- Women’s ski jumping (normal hill)-You may remember before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics there was a brouhaha about getting Women’s Ski Jumping added to the Olympic program. The IOC decided the event wasn’t competitive enough to be added to those Games. Since then the event has become competitive enough to be added to the Olympic program. Women will compete in one event: the normal hill.
With every Olympic Games come problems and they will get a lot of notice in the months leading up to an Olympic Games. Same with Sochi and there were two issues that received huge notice:
PUTIN’S ANTI-GAY LAWS
The administration of Vladimir Putin has not sit well with the many human rights groups on various issues but the biggest firestorm in the last few months came because of recent laws passed against the GLBT population and didn’t appear to make tourists immune to those laws. The laws were the prevention of distribution of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors, which effectively makes it illegal to suggest that gay relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships or to distribute material on gay rights and even bans gay pride parades. The media has reported of an arrest of a gay rights activist and an increase in ‘hate crimes’ against the GLBT population including against GLBT minors.
The laws have been protested against a multitude of people including GLBT rights activists and their supporters, famous celebrities like Lady Gaga and 27 Nobel Prize winners from arts and sciences. Putin has responded to the pressure by saying that GLBT tourist during the Sochi Olympics will not be under threat. Some heads of state chose not to come to these Olympic Games allegedly because of the laws. Thomas Bach wants to keep the Olympic arena free of politics just like past presidents of the IOC and has even threatened to ban athletes who protest the laws. As harsh as that is, we shouldn’t forget we’re dealing with the same IOC that punished the two black sprinters from 1968 that gave the ‘black power’ salute on the victory podium. I’m sure most of you know the story. Bach has responded back to the protests both in pre-Olympic announcements and in his speech during the opening ceremonies: “Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes.”
My Personal Vent: Personally I wasn’t happy about all those protests over Putin’s anti-gay laws. Now, don’t get me wrong. Yes, it is a problem. However it’s one of a whole whack of human rights problems inside the Russian Federation under Putin right now. The GLBT community isn’t the only set of people being hit hard or legally punished in Putin’s regime. Remember the free speech problem many months ago involving feminist punk band Pussy Riot? Even that’s one of many. The reason why I found it irritating is because I saw it as another case of the GLBT community ‘hijacking’ issues. Much the same way they ‘hijacked’ the issue of Eminem’s lyrics in 2000 while the GLBT people were one of many groups of people verbally slammed in Eminem’s records. And how they ‘hijacked’ the bullying suicides issue in 2010. It didn’t last as recent suicides from bullying involving non-GLBT teens like Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons reminded the public that bullying suicides occur indiscriminately. I don’t have a problem with pre-Olympic protests but I do wish other groups of people were just as loud at speaking their concerns rather than GLBT activists hogging the show.
ETHNIC CIRCASSIAN DISSENT:
A bit of a history lesson. The Circassian peoples used to have the area around Sochi and the Krasnaya Polyana as their own centuries ago. Unfortunately most Circassians were killed during the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Russian-Circassian War from 1763 to 1864. Today there are 900,000 ethnic Circassians in Russia.
Some Circassian groups objected to the Games being held on land that was held by their ancestors before the war. There are two other factors that also leave many Circassians unhappy with the Games. One is the fact the Games are being held in 2014 which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the end of the Russian-Circassian war. The second being events held on the Krasnaya Polyana which were named the ‘Red Hills’ because of the bloodshed of a group of Circassians that attempted to return to their homes in a bloody battle in 1864.
Reactions amongst Circassians have been mixed. Some demand the Games be moved outside Russia unless Russia apologizes. Some accept the Games but want symbols of Circassian history be included the same way indigenous culture was included in past Games like Vancouver in 2010 and Sydney in 2000. There has been no response as to what has been done in this matter.
THREATS OF TERRORISM
The threat of terrorism has been taken seriously since the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Sochi is located in an area prone to terrorism. It’s located close to a set of provinces in the North Caucasus such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia to name a few. A lot of them have been fighting over their rights of their ethnicity and of their religion. Chechnya has been in the news the most firstly because of the First Chechen War that occurred between 1994 and 1996 just as Russia was defining itself in the post-USSR era. Wars have continued and Putin has responded with many human rights group call brutal force.
Islamic Chechen terrorists have declared a jihad and created a lot of terrorism since the First Chechen War which first started with hotel bombings in Russia in 1999 and has consisted of many incidents since. Most within the past five years like numerous car bombs, an express train bombing, Moscow subway bombings, an attack on Chechen parliament, a bombing at Moscow’s international airport and even links to last year’s Boston Marathon bombing.
The Chechen Islamist commander Dokka Umarov called for an attack in the Games back in July 2013 stating that the Games will be held: “on the bones of many Muslims killed.” Athletes that were to compete before the Games and many national Olympic Committees received threatening e-mails from terrorist groups threatening to blow them up. It got to the point the US ski and snowboard agency hired a private security agency to protect them during the Games. Even the US government added to the scare a week before when they talked about the possibility of ‘toothpaste bombs’ that can be made in tubes of toothpaste of 100ml or more.
Security during these Games will be handled by 40,000 law enforcement officials including police and the Russian Armed Forces. Putin even signed a Presidential Decree at the beginning of the year declaring that any protest in Sochi or the surrounding areas be approved by the Federal Security Services. There’s also an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron with defense rockets to protect Olympic airspace. There are four gunboats along the Black Sea to protect the coastline. Forces are also set up along the Russia-Georgia border and even the US has agreed to lend Navy ships and other assets for security purposes.
The closest thing to an incident was on February 7th during the opening ceremonies when a Pegasus Air Line from Kharkiv, Ukraine to Istanbul, Turkey was hijacked by a person claiming to have a bomb and wanted it flown to Sochi. The plane arrived at its destination in Istanbul and the passenger was arrested with no weapons or bombs found on the place. Since then there have been no incidents occurring.
The Sochi Olympics sure made a lot of news in the months leading up to their opening. They are currently making news mostly for the good in the days of competition held. The Games end on February 23rd with the Paralympics opening on March 7th. It remains to be seen whether the Games will pay off, whether they will continue to run smoothly without incident and whether Sochi and Russia itself make improvements in the months and years after.
WIKIPEDIA: 2014 Winter Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2014. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Winter_Olympics>
So the seventeen days of Olympic action has ended. History was written in London. Some of these athletes’ dreams came true, some dreams had to be put on hold for another four years, and some died right there. Nevertheless they were a seventeen days that gave the world lots to cheer about.
MEMORABLE MOMENTS AND NAMES IN HISTORY
One of the unique things of these Olympic Games were that two of the biggest stars from the Beijing Games were back to thrill the world again. An aging Michael Phelps was back in London proving to the world he still has it. He left London with four gold and two silver, successfully defended his gold medal for the third straight time in two different events, set a career Olympic medals record with 22 over three Olympic Games, and ended his Olympic year as arguably the greatest Olympian of all time. Another great from Beijing, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, won the 100m, 200m and anchored Jamaica’s 4*100m relay to gold as he did back in 2008. He too solidified himself as one of the greatest Olympians of all time. It wasn’t just Bolt and Phelps who added more glory to their Olympic careers in London. There was the American beach volleyball team of Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor who won gold for the third straight time. There was British cyclist Chris Hoy whose two gold medals at the Velodrome gave him a career total of six gold medals. No other cyclist has won more. Also British yachtsmen Ben Ainslie won gold for the fourth straight Olympics. Only one other sailor, Denmark’s Paul Elvstrom, has won as many yachting golds.
Even with greats adding to their legacy here in London, this was also the arena where great were born. American swimmer Missy Franklin won five medals, four of the m gold. American sprinter Allyson Felix won three gold medals. British distance runner Mo Farah dazzled the home crowd by achieving the 5000m-10000m double. American decathlete Ashton Eaton and British heptathlete Jessica Ennis gave brilliant wins. Right after the US won the women’s team event in gymnastics, it was American Gabby Douglas who won hearts and the all-around gold. Swimming wasn’t only Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin. American Ryan Lochte also provided some great rivalry for Phelps in the pool. The women’s swimming also saw double golds from China’s Ye Shiwen and the Netherlands’ Ranomi Kromowidjojo. Tennis made a double-winner out Serena Williams in both individual and doubles with her sister Venus. There were also brilliant team efforts in London too. China dominated badminton and table tennis while the Americans dominated basketball. China also won six out of the eight diving events. While the American women’s gymnasts were the clear winners, it was China again who was the class of the men’s field. And the football contest showcased the gold medal-winning brilliance of the Mexican men and the American women.
Despite all the sports action, one of the biggest attractions of these Games were the attendance of members of the royal family at events. The most notable were Prince William, Prince Harry and Kate Middleton. They were seen taking in the athletic action and cheering for Britain. Some of the most notable appearances of them were at the men’s team gymnastics tournament, the swimming finals where they saw Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin in action, the track cycling events where the British women’s pursuit team set a world record in front of them, and the equestrian competition where they cheered Duchess Zara Phillips to a team silver in the eventing competition. Her medal was placed around her neck by her mother Princess Anne: a former Olympic equestrian rider and a member of the International Olympic Committee.
As for medal totals, the most medaled male athlete of these games was once again Michael Phelps with six: four gold and two silver. The most medaled women were three swimmers–Austrailian Alicia Coutts and Americans Missy Frankin and Allison Schmitt– who won five medals each. The American team won the most medals with 104 as well as the most golds with 46. Next in line was China with a total of 88 medals, 38 of them gold. Russia was third in total medals with 82. However it was the host country of Great Britain with the third-most gold medals with 29 which I will elaborate on later in this article.
As for Canada, Canadian athletes won eighteen medals over eleven sports. The eighteen medals was the same medal total as in Beijing but Canada only won a single gold. Canada’s only gold medalist was trampolinist Rosie MacLennan. Canada’s other medals were also worthy of respect too. Both of Canada’s rowing eights teams took silver. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek regained her past winning form to take silver in her category. Canada’s female synchro diving pairs both won bronze. Christine Girard became Canada’s first female weightlifter to win a medal, a bronze. Swimmer Brent Hayden won bronze in the 100m freestyle in his third Olympics. Derek Drouin was a surprise bronze medalist in the men’s high jump. And it was Canada’s women’s football team that won the hearts of the country after their controversial semifinal loss against the Americans and their win in the bronze-medal game. There were even non-medallists like Jessica Zelinka, Damian Warner, Mary Spencer and Canada’s women’s gymnastics team who won the respect of the nation.
The Olympic Games here showed that inspiring a generation doesn’t strictly mean winning a gold medal. For the first time in London, all Olympic sports had events for women or were mixed. Also every competing country sent female athletes with their delegation. This was especially victorious for women of Muslim nations as they could finally compete for their country. There was also individual achievements here in London too. There was marathon runner Guor Mariol from South Sudan. South Sudan was just formed as a nation one year ago and has not yet formed its own national Olympic Committee. Guor was given the option to compete for Sudan but refused. Because Sudan it is the country responsible for the genocide of two million of his people, including eight of Guor’s own brothers and sisters, he believed competing for Sudan would be a betrayal to his people. The IOC agreed to have him compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete, one of four at these Games. His appearance could lead to a South Sudan team for the 2016 Olympics. There was South African double-leg amputee runner Oscar Pistorius who had only run in the Paralympics previously and won a long battle with the IAAF to run as an Olympic runner. He ran as part of South Africa’s relay team and in the men’s 400m event. He only made it to the semifinals in the individual 400m but the highlight was at the end as eventual Olympic champion Kirani James did a name tag exchange with him as a sign of respect. There was the American men’s 4*400m relay where the first runner Manteo Mitchell broke his fibula halfway through his run but still ran to the exchange to help the US qualify for the finals. In the finals, Bryshon Nellum who was shot in the leg three years earlier and was told he would never run again ran as part of the silver-medal winning team. He would be chosen as the American flag bearer at the closing ceremonies. And there was delight in the home crowd as British diving prodigy Tom Daley wanted to win a medal for his father who died one year earlier. Those in Britain and the diving world were well aware of the close relationship he had with his father whom wholeheartedly supported Tom during his lifetime. He faced a tightly competitive field in the men’s platform diving but won the bronze. You don’t have to win a gold to be a hero.
THE NEW POSSIBLE: NEW RECORDS SET
Have you been seeing all those ads from AT&T where they show a winning moment and a young athlete writes it as their goal followed by the tagline: “Here’s to the new possible?” The new possibles have been celebrated as new World Records and new Olympic Records countless times here in London. Archery saw the world records fall in the ranking rounds of both the men’s individual and team tournaments. Athletics saw the Olympic record broken in twelve events: four of them new world records. The most amazing had to be the American women’s 4*100 relay team breaking a 27 year-old world record held by East Germany by more than half a second. Cycling saw ten world records broken in four events. All but two were set by British cyclists. Shooting saw seventeen Olympic records and seven world records broken or equaled. Both Modern Pentathlon events saw new Olympic record totals set. Swimming saw the Olympic record fall in twenty events and the world record fall in eight events. The women’s events were the ones with the most change as only two events saw the old Olympic record still standing. Weightlifting saw nineteen Olympic records set, eight of them world records. They say records were made to be broken. Makes you wonder how many of those new records will be broken in 2016?
THE FIRST OF THEIR COUNTRY
Remember how I made mention in my segment of Botswanian sprinter Amantle Montsho that one of my favorite Olympic moments is when a country wins their first ever Olympic medal? Here in London, seven nations won their first ever Olympic medals here in London. Botswana was one of them but it wasn’t Montsho; it was Nijel Amos who won silver in the men’s 800m run. Bahrain’s first ever medal was a bronze in the women’s 1500m run won by Maryam Yusuf Jamal. Montenegro’s women’s handball team won their country’s first medal, a silver. Guatemalan race walker Erick Barrondo brought his country on the medals table for the first time ever with a silver in the 20km walk. The victory ceremony of the men’s heavyweight category in taekwondo saw Gabon’s flag raised for the first time ever at the Olympics for silver medalist Anthony Obame. Cyprus arrived on the medals podium for the first time ever thanks to sailor Pavlos Kontides winning silver in the Laser event. And finally the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada with a population of only 110,000 had an Olympic champion in 19 year-old sprinter Kirani James in the men’s 400m run. With that Grenada set a unique Summer Olympic record for most gold medals per population, beating The Bahamas in 1964 when they had a population of 130,000. The Winter Olympic record is another story. Anyways back to the focus of this segment, one of the reasons why I like seeing a country win their country’s first Olympic medals is because you know they will come home to their country a national hero. That’s the biggest example of the London Games motto “Inspire a generation” happening here. No doubt they’ll inspire their country’s children to excel like them.
HOST NATION PRIDE
The British Olympic Committee has existed possibly ever since there was an Olympic Games. However things changed in the late 90’s after the Atlanta Games of 1996 where Britain won a total of 15 medals and only one was gold. The Olympic Committee revamped itself as Team GB in 1999 and meant to unify the team as one body, irrespective of one athlete’s particular sport. It’s formula appeared to pay off as Team GB, had set targets of medal achievements in each sport at the London Olympics and a total medal target of at least 48 medals; one more than the total won in Beijing. That seemed a pretty high target considering Beijing had one of Britain’s biggest medal hauls ever. It actually turned out to be a very realistic target as Great Britain won a total of 65 medals including 29 golds in a total of 17 sports. It all started with a silver medal won by cyclist Lizzie Armistead in the Women’s Road Race and ended on closing day with pentathlete Samantha Murray winning silver in the women’s modern pentathlone event. In between were loads of reasons for the host country to cheer, especially on Saturday the 4th when Britain won six golds on what will be known as ‘Super Saturday’.
One of the benefits of Team GB’s sport unity was the ability for Brits to excel better than ever in sports Britain was never much of a power in. Taekwondo had only one British medal in the past and here in London they had their first Olympic champion. Previously underrated tennis player Andy Murray won the men’s singles tournament and later won silver in the mixed doubles tournament. Britain won its very first triathlon medals here through the Brownlee brothers: Alastair taking gold and Jonathan taking bronze. British canoeists won more gold medals than ever. And the British gymnastics team here in London won a silver and three bronze; the same total of medals British gymnasts have won in all past Olympic Games combined. There were also some sports where Britain used to dominate in the past that saw a return to the dominance here in London. British boxers won medals in five of the thirteen categories including three wins. Britain’s equestrian riders won gold in three of the six events. And British sailors won medals in five categories including a gold medal for Ben Ainslie in the Finn class: his fourth consecutive.
However it was in the sports that Britain has consistently done best in over the years that saw their biggest successes. It was the sports of cycling, rowing and athletics that most gave the home country something to cheer about. The GB cycling team that included greats like Chris Hoy and Bradley Wiggins always got the crowd cheering especially in the velodrome as they won twelve medals, eight of them gold. No other country did better in cycling. British rowers won the most medals winning in nine of the fourteen categories including four gold. Athletics saw huge success with four gold and six total medals but it was on ‘Super Saturday’ August 4th that Britain had three Olympic champions: Mo Farah in the men’s 10000m; Greg Rutherford in the long jump; and Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon. There hasn’t been that many athletics wins by a host country in a single day since the Los Angeles games of 1984. The only sport Britain fell short in was swimming where they targeted five medals at the least but wound up with only three. A far cry from the six medals won in Beijing. There were other sports where Britain made no target and no medals resulted. Even in soccer Britain’s teams lost their quarterfinals: the women to Canada and the men to South Korea via (what else?) penalty kicks. Nevertheless it was their biggest Olympics since 1908 and it gave the whole of Great Britain something to cheer about and a Games to be proud of.
Even though these were an excellent Olympic Games, it’s not to say they weren’t without their problems. First was to do about their security. In the days leading up to the Games, the media made highlights of the security inadequacies. This lead the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to bring in British troops from even as far away as Afghanistan to help. Another was to do about the use of Twitter by some athletes. The bad tweets got most of the attention but two athletes–a Greek triple-jumper and a Swiss soccer player–wrote tweets bigoted enough to get them taken off their team.
There were lowlights during the events. First was news about all the empty seats at some events. despite ensuring fans that tickets were all sold out. Even the non-ticketed qualifying rounds of archery held just before the opening ceremonies raised eyebrows. Another controversy was a man from the stands threw a bottle at the track just before the start of the men’s 100m final and was subsequently arrested. One boxing referee was dismissed from the Olympic for awarding a win to an Azerbaijani fighter who was knocked to the canvas six times by his Japanese rival. A women’s fencing semifinal was given extra time because of a clock malfunction. That allowed German fencer Britta Heidemann to win the match against South Korea’s Shin A-Lam. A-Lam protested with a one-hour sit-in to no avail. One scoreless judo quarterfinal led to the judges unanimously deciding the win on the Korean fighter at first then changing it to the Japanese fighter with no explanation.
However of all the lowlights outside of actual cheating, the two most notable came in the gymnastics events and women’s soccer. Gymnastics first saw scoring problems first in the case of two scores–one by a Japanese gymnast in the team competition and another by American Aly Raisman in the balance beam final–leaving the individual and team out of the medals. Their country’s respective official immediately appealed the score in both cases and both were changed to a score that allowed the gymnasts to win their medals. Another case came when British gymnast Louis Smith and Hungarian Krisztian Berki were both given the same score in the pommel horse final. However Berki won the gold because of a higher execution score. This broke the hearts of both Smith and the British people especially since had Smith won the gold, he would have become Britain’s first-ever Olympic champion in gymnastics. No doubt gymnastics scoring will be debated and reassessed by the FIG in the years before the 2016 Olympics. And a woman’s soccer semifinal received a rare delay-of-game call against the Canadian goalkeeper which allowed an American player to get a penalty kick to tie the game. The American team won the semifinal and went on to win the gold medal. The Canadians were disheartened but not enough to win their bronze-medal match three days later.
The biggest Olympic lowlights are always the cheaters. Usually the Olympic cheaters that make the biggest news are often those that test positive for drugs. Here at these Olympics the cheaters that made the biggest news were the ones that cheated through different means. The biggest news came in the women’s doubles badminton tournament. Four teams deliberately lost in their preliminary bouts so they can get a more favorable position in the elimination round. When it was revealed, all four teams were disqualified. Also newsworthy was the stricter rules in sports such as the no-false-start rule which means even a single false start in swimming and athletics would get one disqualified. It almost happened in two swimming finals but both false-starters were allowed to compete as the starts were on technical malfunctions. Another case of stricter rules came when Canada’s men’s 4*100 relay team was third across the finish line but was disqualified of the race as one of their runners stepped on the lane’s line only once. In the past runners were allowed a maximum of three steps.
There were even some cases of cheating later admitted and cheating being questioned now. First was the swimming feat of China’s double-gold medalist Ye Shiwen. Her 400m Individual Medley win was set in world record time with her final 50m swum comparable to the time of the men’s winner Ryan Lochte. Despite the controversy, she tested negative in all of her drug tests. Another swimming shocker came in the men’s 100m breaststroke when South Africa’s Cameron van der Burgh won in world record time. He later admitted to using more than one allowable dolphin kick during the race. He was not disqualified. Britain may have provided some of the biggest highlights of the cycling competition but the Men’s sprint team provided a lowlight as member Philip Hindes crashed and the team was given a restart. Hindes claimed in an interview that he crashed deliberately after a slow start to get the restart for his team. He later retracted his statement and so far no action has been taken against him. And then there’s men’s 1500m run champion Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. On the day before his gold-medal run, he withdrew himself from the 800m heats after 200m. The IAAF disqualified him feeling he didn’t give an honest effort. He was later reinstated after providing a medical certificate showing that an ailment hampered his efforts. Whatever the truth is, Makhloufi will continue to be under suspicion. One thing about these incidents of potential disqualification is that it shows the sports feds need to get their acts together.
And then there are the positive drug tests. The IOC and the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) have developed tougher doping rules over the last few years such as having half the competitors of the London Games, 6000 in total, being tested between the start of the Olympics and the end of the Paralympics. All medalists and fourth-place finishers will be tested. The Olympic anti-doping agency will test up to 400 samples a day for more than 240 banned substances. Samples will also be stored and tested over a time period of four year for in the case of additional substances added to the banned list. Even WADA set an ‘in-competition’ time starting July 16th and declared that any athlete can be tested during the in-competition time without notice. During the in-competition period, thirteen athletes from thirteen countries tested positive for banned substances and sent home with suspensions. The only Olympic medalist to test positive was women’s shot put champion Nazdeya Ostapchuk of Belarus. She tested positive for Methenolone and was stripped of her gold medal. New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, second-place finisher behind Ostapchuk, now has the gold medal. One thing about all this cheating is Canadian magazine Maclean’s wrote an article about it asking: “Whatever happened to sportsmanship?”
RIO 2016: A LOOK AHEAD
The next Summer Olympic Games will be held in Rio De Janeiro in 2016. This marks the first time ever a South American city will host an Olympic Games. There’s no doubt Brazil is hoping to use these Games to showcase themselves to the world. This comes at a busy time as Rio will also be facilitating to two more major events within the next four years: World Youth Day in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014. These Olympics already have their own official motto: “Live your passion.” They will begin on August 5 and end on August 21. There are expected to be 304 events in 28 sports. There will be no new sports introduced to the Olympic program in Rio but there will be one making a comeback. Rugby will be making its Olympic return since it was last contested in 1924 although the Olympics will stage Rugby sevens instead of the Rugby union conducted in the past.
The city of Rio is planning on hosting most of the events within the greater city. There are four districts of Rio where the majority of facilities are planned: Deodoro, Maracana, Copacabana and Barra. Deodoro is planned to host most of the modern pentathlon events as well as whitewater canoeing and mountain biking. Copacabana is the perfect place planned to host events in rowing, canoeing, yachting, marathon swimming and beach volleyball. Barra will be a hub for contesting sports such as swimming, gymnastics, hockey, tennins, boxing and wrestling. Maracana will have the biggest hosting of events with the legendary Maracana stadium for football events and the ceremonies, Joao Havelange stadium for athletics, the Maracanazinho arena for volleyball and the Sambadrome which normally host Carnival will host the archery and marathon events.
Most of the events will be held in facilities that already exist like the Maracana, the Joao Havelange Stadium, the HSBC Arena, Pio Olympic Velodrome, the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre and the multipavilion Riocentro. There are some temporary facilities planned strictly for the Olympic Games like the Copacabana stadium for beach volleyball, the Deodor Modern Pentathlon Park, an Olympic Hockey Center, an Olympic Hockey Park and a temporary pavillion at the Riocentro. There are only six new venues planned for these Games like the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, the Olympic BMX Centre, an Olympic Tennis Centre and an Olympic Training Centre consisting of four halls and a total seating capacity of 50,000. The only competition venues held outside Rio will be soccer stadiums in four different Brazilian cities.
As for the Brazilian team, Brazil’s team here in London won a total of seventeen medals including three golds in eight sports. That’s their biggest medal haul ever although the most golds they won were five back in 2004. Brazil is one country whose Olympic prowess has really grown in the last twenty years. The first Olympics where Brazil ever won ten or more medals was back in 1996 and the Brazilian team has left every Summer Olympics since with ten medals at the very least. There’s no doubt Brazil wants these Games to have their biggest medal haul ever. What they will have planned in preparation for their Olympic team for these Games will be decided and carried out gradually in the next four years.
The Olympic flame won’t be lit again until the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. By now all the Olympians are either home or heading home. Each nation’s Olympic Committee will be taking home the one of the 204 pedals of the cauldron that has their country’s name on it. One has to agree the London Games gave a lot of great memories and once again brought the world together. The Olympic flame may be extinguished in London but the flame still burns in the hearts of the athletes. That’s what continues to make the Olympic Games so great. Its ability to unite the world, put on a show and inspire the young. The motto of the Games was “Inspire a generation” and you can be sure there were many children watching that were inspired here. Thank you London for a job well-done.
WIKIPEDIA: 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: 2016 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2016_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controversies_at_the_2012_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Controversies at the 2012 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Team_GB>
Okay last week I took you way back to the first time London hosted an Olympic Games back in 1908. The second time London hosted was back in 1948. I don’t know if you have seen film footage of past Olympic Games but I have seen mostly through Bud Greenspan’s The Olympiad series and I have to say the London Games of 1948 were definitely a Games to remember for all the right reasons. It brought athletes from around the world back into an arena, brought athletic achievement back into the spotlight and even gave the world a heroine.
WAR IS OVER
One thing we should remember is that these Olympic Games were the first Olymmpic Games in twelve years and they were staged just three years after World War II ended. When World War I happened, the 1916 Olympics scheduled for Berlin were cancelled. World War II would lead to the cancellations of the Tokyo Games of 1940 and the London Games of 1944. The last Summer Olympics held before these London Games were held back in 1936 in Berlin and they were most memorable for showcasing the Nazi ideology that would eventually lead to the start of World War II. As the London Games were about to begin, most of the world was still trying to recover from the war. These Games were to be dubbed the ‘Austerity Games’ because of such. Europe was especially devastated during wartime and the UK was still giving out food rations at the time. Even though the Olympics were intended to bring together the countries of the world, wounds from World War II were not fully healed. As a result, Germany and Japan were not invited to these Games. The USSR was invited but declined.
As for staging the events, there was no way to afford new facilities. All events were staged in existing venues. The 25 year-old Wembley Stadium hosted the athletics competitions, equestrian events, hockey and football tournaments and the ceremonies. The well-established Henley Regatta hosted the rowing and canoeing events. Empire Pool, originally built for the 1934 Empire Games, hosted the aquatic events and boxing finals. The 11 year-old Empress Hall Earl’s Court hosted gymnastics, weightlifting, wrestling and boxing preliminaries. The track cycling events were held at the Herne Hill Velodrome built in 1891. Basketball was held at the Harringay Arena built in 1936. Sailing events were held in Torquay, a town in Southwest England on the English Channel. As for athlete accommodations, there was no Olympic Village constructed and athletes were housed in existing accommodations instead. Male athletes stayed at RAF camps in nearby cities and female athletes were housed in London college dorms. Athletes were also subject to the food rations. Actually athletes were given increased rations: the same amount as dockers and miners. BBC was to broadcast a total of 60 hours of live broadcast of the Games. Broadcasting rights was a mere £1000.
As for the torch relay, the torch was lit in ancient Greece and was carried through Italy, Switzerland and France before arrived in England at Dover one day before the Opening Ceremonies.
The 1948 Olympic Games opened at 2pm on a sunny Saturday on July 29th. Army bands began the pageantry and the Royal Family arrived at 2:45pm. The parade of nations started around 3pm and lasted 50 minutes with 59 nations parading starting with Greece by tradition, the other nations marching in alphabetical order, and ending by tradition with the host nation Great Britain. Fourteen countries including Jamaica and Korea marched in the opening ceremonies for the first time. Each nation was obliged to bring their own flag to the ceremonies. Lord Burghley, president of the British Olympic Council who headed the organization of these Games, greeted the athletes to “keen but friendly rivalry” and said London represented a “warm flame of hope for a better understanding in the world which has burned so low.” King George VI formally declared the Games open. 2,500 pigeons were released, symbolizing the doves of peace. The Olympic Flag was raised to a 35 ft. flagpole near the end of the stadium. The torch entered the stadium carried by 23 year-old British runner John Mark and was greeted by a 21-gun salute. Mark lit the Flame located inside the Wembley Stadium. The Olympic Oath was taken by 39 year-old hurdler Donald Findlay, a silver-medalist from 1936 who was able to make the British Olympic team that year. Then the athletes proceeded out of the stadium to the two weeks of competition.
The 1948 London Games delivered in terms of competition. 136 events were contested in seventeen sports. The USA–a country that was one of the least effected by World War II– was the top medal winner with 84 medals including 38 golds. Sweden won the second-most with 44 medals including 16 golds. France and Hungary both won ten gold medals each.
The competitions themselves featured a lot of excellent feats from athletes who would be remembered for all time. In athletics, Harrison Dillard was the surprise winner of the men’s 100m dash beating out his favored teammate Barney Ewell. Both would run in the 4*100 relay where the American team was originally disqualified for exchanging the baton outside the exchange zone but a film replay would reinstate their first-place finish. Arthur Wint won Jamaica’s first ever gold medal in the men’s 400m. American Mal Whitfield would win the first of his two consecutive 800m gold medals here. The legendary Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia would begin his legendary Olympic career with a win in the 10000m and a silver in the 5000m. Micheline Ostermeyer of France won the women’s shot put and discus. Sweden dominated the steeplechase and walks. High jumper Alice Coachman would become the first ever African-American woman to win Olympic gold. Bob Mathias won the first of his two consecutive decathlon gold medals here. His win here just a week before his 18th birthday would make him the youngest ever male gold medalist in track and field. However the two biggest moments of the athletics events will be discussed later in this blog.
In swimming all men’s events were won by Americans. Women’s swimming was divided between the Americans, Danes and Dutch. Diving was completely dominated by the Americans with Victoria Draves winning gold in both springboard and platform. The legendary Sammy Lee of the USA would win the first of his platform golds and a bronze in springboard.
Men’s gymnastics was won mostly by Finland. A unique moment occurred when three men–all Finnish–tied for first place in the men’s pommel horse. Thus three gold medals were awarded. There was only one single event for women in gymnastics: a team competition which Czechoslovakia won. The USA won no gold medals in boxing but a Hungarian boxer, Laszlo Papp, would win the first of his three career Olympic golds: the first of only three boxers to do so. Swedish kayaker Gert Frederiksen would win two gold medals here and would go on to an Olympic career of eight total medals, six of them gold. Equestrian events had the strongest showings from the Americans, French and the Mexicans. Hungarian fencer Ilona Elek–a Jewish survivor of World War II thanks to Raoul Wallenberg–became the only gold medalist from 1936 to repeat here in London. Sweden won in soccer. Danish yachtsman Paul Elvstrom won the first of his four consecutive gold medals at Torquay. The Americans and Egyptians were the standouts in weightlifting while the Swedes and the Turks were the top winners in wrestling. And while there’s excitement over double-amputee Oscar Pistorius running in London this year, here at these Games Hungarian shooter Karoly Takacs won a gold medal with his left land after losing his right hand in a grenade blast ten years earlier.
For those of you that took an interest in all the discontinued events from the first London Olympics, the discontinued stuff isn’t as interesting as the ones back in 1908. All the sports contested at the London Games of 1948 are still contested at these London Games. There are some discontinued events. In athletics, the 10km road walk would be replaced by the 20km walk. The Star boat is the only one of the five sailing events from 1948 that’s contested in 2012. In rowing there were pairs and fours both with and without a coxwain while the only rowing event in 2012 with a coxwain is the eights event. Cycling had a tandem event and canoeing had three events over a distance of 10,000 metres.
As for the host country Great Britain, athletes won a total of 23 medals: the sixth-most of all countries at these Games. Their medal haul was their biggest since 1924 and most of their medals came in athletics, rowing, cycling and sailing. Their gold medal total of three was one of the lowest gold medal totals Britain has ever had and lower than the four won at the previous Olympics in Berlin. As for Canada, no Canadian athlete won a gold medal. These would be the second of only five Summer Olympics where Canada didn’t win a gold medal. Canada did win three medals: a bronze won by the women’s 4*100m relay team in athletics and both a silver and a bronze won in canoeing.
SIGNS OF A CHANGED WORLD
Even though these Olympics were meant to ease political barriers, it’s not to say these Games were immune to politics. Countries now governed under Communist regimes would compete in London for the first time and they would give the first signs of the changes of post-World War II politics. Back in February of that year, the Soviet allied ‘Czech coup’ led to Czechoslovakia’s inclusion into the Soviet bloc. Just after Czechoslovakia’s women’s gymnastics team won the gold medal, 57 year-old Marie Provaznikova, the Czechoslovakian president of the International Gymnastics Federation, refused to return home because: “there is no freedom of speech, of the press or of assembly.” Provaznikova made history as the first Olympic participant to defect. Defections during the Olympic Games would later be common over the decades of the Cold War.
MARATHON: THE LAST LAP AGAIN
Remember how back at the London Games of 1908 there was a dramatic last lap of the marathon? Well there would be another dramatic last lap again 40 years later. Two and a half hours after the start, the first runner into the stadium was Etienne Gailly of Belgium. Gailly was never a serious threat for a medal and he was quite inexperienced at running the marathon distance. He went out hard into the race under unusually hot and humid conditions. He held the lead for most of the race and was even first into Wembley Stadium but by the time he entered, he was visibly exhausted and stumbled as he ran. Delfo Cabrera of Argentina, running in his first marathon, entered the stadium second and passed Gailly en route to winning the gold medal. Third into the stadium was Britain’s Tom Richards. Gailly fell and Richards passed him to finish second. Gailly picked himself up again but fell along the homestretch. Gailly had made a promise to himself before the run that when he crosses the finish line, he will have a medal. Time was soon running out as South African Johannes Coleman was fourth into the stadium. Fortunately Gailly mustered enough energy to get up and beat Coleman to the bronze medal by 200 meters. A promise kept.
THE FLYING DUTCHWOMAN
Of all the performances that dazzled, there was one athlete that could truly be called the star of the Games. Back in 1935 a 17 year-old Francina Koen dreamed of competing in the Olympic Games as a swimmer. A swimming coach told her: “We have many great swimmers in Holland but no woman can run like you.” At his advice she chose track and it turned out to be the right decision. She would be coached by Jan Blankers and represented the Netherlands in track and field at the Berlin Games of 1936, finishing 6th in high jump and was part of the Netherlands’ 5th-place 4*100m relay. However the biggest highlight of those games was meeting four-time gold medalist Jesse Owens and getting his autograph. It would remain her most cherished possession.
After the 1936 Berlin Games, Fanny would soon become the top woman in track and field winning meets and setting world record. However World War II would cause the 1940 and 1944 Olympics to be cancelled. During the time in between she married Jan Blankers and would come to be known as Fanny Blankers-Koen. She continued training for the Olympics during the wartime. Even after she gave birth to two children, they would eventually become involved with her training regimen. Her athletic activity would help her and the Blankers family to thrive despite the harsh conditions of World War II. Despite it all, most people looked down upon Fanny for her training for sport instead of being a full-time housewife. We shouldn’t forget that woman athletes didn’t have a favorable impression at the time.
Fanny was one of the 390 female athletes competing in seven sports here in London: less than 10% of the total number of athletes at these Games. Here in London she was to compete in four events. She knew this would be her best chances for Olympic gold in her career as her peak years occurred during the cancelled Games of 1940 and 1944.
Her first event in London was the 100m dash. She easily won her heat and semi-final. She won the final in Olympic record time. Her second event was the 80m hurdles. At the finish of the final, it appeared that Fanny and British runner Maureen Gardner hit the tape together both in Olympic record time. The playing of God Save The King by the band let to further confusion. It was then revealed that Blankers-Koen won by inches and the playing of God Save The King was because King George VI and family entered the stadium. Then came to 200m. She won her heat but homesickness set in before the semifinal and she cried to her husband. Her husband Jan was sympathetic and reminded her if she continues on, she will equal Jesse Owens’ feat of four golds. She continued on and won the 200m with the widest margin in Olympic history. Then came the 4*100m relay to which Fanny was to run the anchor leg for the Netherlands. At the time Fanny took the baton, the Netherlands was in 3rd place but Fanny made up the distance by driving the Dutch team to victory. Like her idol Jesse Owens, Fanny won four gold medals: the first female athlete in Olympic history to do so in a single Games. She would later be dubbed the ‘Flying Housewife’ and ‘Mother Courage’. She still remains one of the best female athletes of all time, ranking her amongst the greats like Babe Didriksen and Jackie Joyner-Kersee. After the London Games, she returned to Amsterdam to a hero’s welcome even bigger than the celebrations at the end of World War II. Her feats were best summed up by one journalist: “Holland has won four gold medals in athletics and Fanny has been a part of them all.”
The 1948 Olympic Games closed in Wembley Stadium on August 14, 1948. 64 years have passed since these London Games but its importance has never withered over time. These Games took place twelve years after the last Olympic Games and a mere three years after World War II had ended. These Olympics showed that even years after such a brutal global war and even while many of the world’s nations–even Great Britain itself– were still trying to recover from the damage, the human spirit can triumph again in sports competition. They also showed that Baron de Coubertin’s dream of the world gathering together once again and competing harmoniously in friendly competition can be revived successfully.
It is because of this that the London Games of 1948 left its biggest legacy that is still admired today. I don’t know of any other Olympic Games that have been able to make such a significant statement. It is because of this that I consider the London Games of 1948 to be the best Summer Olympics ever. Not necessarily for the sake of the sports achievements or the level of competition, but what it meant for the world and for the Olympic movement. To think Lord Burghley declared at the Opening Ceremonies: “A visionary dream has today become a glorious reality. At the end of the worldwide struggle in 1945, many institutions and associations were found to have withered and only the strongest had survived. How, many wondered, had the great Olympic Movement prospered?” These London Games showed the world how.
WIKIPEDIA: 1948 Summer Olympics. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Summer_Olympics>
WIKIPEDIA: Fanny Blankers-Koen. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fanny_Blankers-Koen>
WIKIPEDIA: Etienne Gailly. Wikipedia.com. 2012. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etienne_Gailly>
On Wednesday, April 6th, it was made official mention by the International Olympic Committee. Six new events will be added to the Winter Olympic program and one of which will be Women’s Ski Jumping.
For those who were living in Vancouver, this was a big news story before the 2010 Winter Olympics were to begin. Of the fifteen sports to be contested at the Vancouver Olympics, two of which–ski jumping and nordic combined– would not have women competing. This was disheartening to many young women who were competing in ski jumping, including at the 2009 World Nordic Championships. IOC president Jacques Rogge had always maintained the it was due to the level of the competition. It was not competitive enough and not World class enough. Many of the young women complained it was discrimination. In fact some even pointed to Canada’s Charter Of Human Rights, which prevents gender discrimination. They tried in three different courts to get their case heard and it was always the same result: While it was discriminating, the IOC decision overrides any other court. There was definitely disappointment. World Champion Lindsay Van of the USA made things look bad for them by describing the Canadian justice system as ‘weak’ and the IOC as the ‘Taliban.’
Just before the IOC was to announce new events for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, the World Nordic Championships were held again this year. The entries in the women’s ski jump event went from 36 women from 13 countries in 2009 to 43 women from 15 countries this time. The competition results were a lot stronger this time too. Then came the official announcement from the IOC of the new events added to the Winter Olympic programs. Women’s Ski Jumping – Small Hill was one of the six added to the program. The announcement was greeted with celebration from the women whom some have fought as long as seven years to get it included onto the Olympic program. Some have even said Sochi may be the first gender-equal Winter Olympics. One exception is that the sport of Nordic Combined (combined event of jumping and skiing) has yet to have a women’s event.
One of the common beliefs people shared around this subject was that the International Olympic Committee was sexist. Sexism was further echoed during the Vancouver Olympics when IOC president Jacques Rogge demanded that women’s hockey up its competitive level in eight years or it will face removal. This came after Canada won a preliminary round against Slovakia 18-0 en route to a gold medal-winning final against the USA: the third USA vs. Canada gold medal final out of four Olympics contested. One thing we should remember is that the IOC wants parity amongst sports on an even level. Every sport has a demand placed of having national federations in so many countries over so many continents for Olympic eligibility. Baseball and Softball were eliminated from the Olympic program for London 2012 because of that reason. I know it was disheartened for many to see no Women’s Ski Jumping event at the 2010 Winter Olympics, especially since ski jumping has been contested since the first Winter Olympics in 1924, but it’s because of that lack of parity and competitiveness that women’s ski jumping was left off the Olympic program in 2010. In fact it didn’t even have a World Championship event before the new events for 2010 were announced. The first ever women’s competition was held in 2009. Now it had it’s chance to demonstrate again at the 2011 World Championships and it proved itself worthy of being contested at the next Winter Olympics in 2014.
Already many women ski jumper who retired after being disheartened by their losing campaign at getting an even for Vancouver have immediately come out of retirement or are now reconsidering. Lindsay Van herself said she’s taking things one day at a time. In the meantime, gender parity is one step closer at the Winter Olympics. All that remains now for full parity is a Women’s Nordic Combined. Then we’ll really have a gender neutral Winter Olympics.