Top 5 things to watch at the Sochi Winter Olympics

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Short Track Speed Skating

To new viewers of winter sports, short track speed skating is a must watch; it’s high octane and lightning paced as competitors battle out to win four to six person races around a tight oval circuit of the rink. Races are held over 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres, in what is essentially a sprint on skates. It is brilliant viewing as the fast paced nature of the sport makes for great entertainment as do the collisions that inevitably take place. Crashes and wipe-outs are very common, and in 2002 led to the bizarre situation where the last placed skater, Australian Stephen Bradbury, watched all his competition collide on the last bend to skate past and claim gold. One of team GB’s biggest medal prospects at Sochi is 23 year old Scotswoman Elise Christie, who took world championship bronze and retained her European gold in the 1,000 metre race. You’ll also be able to see the equally engaging relay events, whereby competitors pass over to team mates by essentially skating into them and shoving their posterior to slide them into motion. Watch out for Christie’s attempts to stand on the medal podium and for all the thrills and spills on the way.

Skeleton

Perhaps Great Britain’s greatest hope for a gold medal sit on the shoulders of Lizzy Yarnold, who in January took world cup gold in the skeleton. Having won this title just two weeks prior to the games, expectations will be high and form in her favour although she will have tough competition on the form of American Noelle Pikus Pace who Yarnold just pipped to victory in the world cup event. Yarnold however, does not bear the entire brunt of GB medal hopes as Shelley Rudman also stands a good chance of finishing with medal around her neck. Skeleton is a vivid visual spectacle as competitors slide around an ice track, head first on a tea tray, moving their shoulders and feet slightly to ensure they don’t crash straight into the large walls of ice ahead of them. Each competitor completes four runs, and the person with the best combined time will take gold. Not only is exciting throughout, but it’s a winter sport that Great Britain is actually quite good at. We are the only nation to have won a medal in every Winter Olympics that the event has been held, including Amy Williams’ gold four years ago.

Ice Hockey

Ice hockey is always one of the blue ribbon events at any Winter Olympics, but even more so with the event being held in Russia. A hugely popular sport in Russia, Sochi is bound to see fierce competition between Russia, Canada, 2013 men’s world champions Sweden, and the ever present USA. Although having immense popularity and a very well funded league, the USA have yet to win men’s Winter Olympic gold since the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980 against Russia during the turbulence of the cold war. Many will be hoping for an equally iconic showdown between America and 2012’s world champion’s Russia, although many see the likely gold medal winners as either Russia, Sweden or possibly even Canada. Despite no British ice hockey teams taking part in Sochi that does not stop it being a must-see, and many will tune in to witness the aggression and ferocity of the only contact sport of the Winter Olympics.

Freestyle skiing slope-style

Although taking various different forms, freestyle skiing is consistently entertaining, as well as holding some genuine medal prospects for team GB. For those who witnessed the sublime thrills of the snowboard slope-style when Jenny Jones won Great Britain’s first Olympic medal on snow, they will be aware how exhilarating and enthralling slope-style is. Not only will you have the opportunity to hear some more superb commentary – such as “it’s like being chased by a flock of seagulls wearing a chip hat – viewers will be hoping that James Woods can continue his form that led to him being the first Briton to win a freestyle skiing world championship medal when he took silver last year. The complicated tricks and big risks bring awe to the slopes, as competitors attempt to score more judges’ points than each other. Katie Summerhayes will also be hoping to continue Great British success on Sochi’s slope-style course as she too has the potential to come with a medal, having last year become the first British female skier to make a world cup podium, with a silver in Switzerland last year.

Snowboard cross

Snowboard cross is to the Winter Olympics what BMX is to the Summer Olympics: it’s fast, aggressive and dangerous. Although you might tell people you want to see how well we do in the curling or slalom, you know very well that you’d much rather watch a group of 18 year olds flashing around a track on snowboards, bashing into each other and jumping over large bumps and rollers. If you witnessed the adrenaline of the sport four years ago at the Vancouver games, you should prepare yourself for more excitement; races are now between six competitors rather than four, giving more opportunity for risky overtakes and subsequent crashes. Despite having no strong British presence in the event, it is still one to watch due to it’s high octane nature and potential for collisions, making it strikingly similar to short-track speed skating.

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