By Simon Rea
On Friday 21st February Team GB will win their fourth medal, either a silver or gold, in the men’s curling final. It will equal the team’s best performance from the first Winter Olympics in 1924 held in Chamonix. Four medals may look a modest haul in contrast to Norway’s 21 and counting but it represents a significant improvement on the single medal achieved in 2010 and means that the team’s medal target has been achieved with a couple more medal chances to come over the weekend.
Sliding onto the podium
There was a major breakthrough on the first Sunday of the Games as Jenny Jones won a bronze medal in Snowboarding. According to the record books this is the first British medal on snow (all the others have been won in ice events), although Alain Baxter’s performance in the skiing slalom in 2002 needs to be acknowledged. He won the bronze medal but was disqualified for failing a drugs test due to the presence of a stimulant in an American Vicks inhaler he was using. He was later cleared of any wrong doing but the IOC declined to give him back his medal. Team GB’s first gold came courtesy of a brilliant performance over four runs of the skeleton course by Lizzy Yarnold. She followed in the footsteps of Amy Williams and celebrated by changing her name to ‘YarGold’ for one day.
Curling – the nation’s new favourite sport!
Team GB’s success in 2014 has centred on the Ice Cube Curling Centre. Social media has been buzzing with posts and tweets about how people have become obsessed with the curling events. Interest in Curling has overcome the jibes about it being ‘competitive housework’ as viewers are treated to the excitement and the drama of the matches that can change with every stone released. The use of language, such as stones, hammer, sweeps and skips is becoming commonplace and curling works on many levels. Unlike many Winter Olympic events the competitors compete head to head rather than one after another so the drama is constantly unfolding and the battle between the teams is visible to see. It is a perfect television sport as the sheet that it is played on can be viewed from overhead, the stones, the house and the team’s kit are colourful and appealing. The camera can look straight into the eyes of the curlers and examine every change of emotion as they release the stones and watch their trajectory. Commentators refer to the wide, blue eyes of Anna Sloan or the steely glare of Eve Muirhead. The sport is highly skilled and the curlers have to control their emotions under extreme pressure and keep their concentration. Curling has earned the nickname ‘chess on ice’ because success is reliant on the strategy of each team. Each team has eight stones per end and the first stones are as influential as the last as the team seek to put up guards for their later stones or keep the route to the house clear. Maybe Curling is better compared to snooker as not only do you have to keep thinking ahead to the next shots but you also have to work out angles to hit your opponent’s stones to your advantage. The movement of the stones can be controlled by the sweepers whose work decreases the friction between the stone and ice and can influence the speed and direction of the stone.
Can it get even better?
Four Scottish women with an average age of 23 have won the bronze medal and Dave Murdoch’s men’s team will win either gold or silver. A gold medal would improve on the medal haul from 1924 and would be the first time Britain has won two golds at a Games. They are also putting together a strong case against Scottish devolution from the UK! There are other medal chances as well as the seriously unlucky Elise Christie (a former OU student) and the men’s 4-man bobsleigh provide the possibility of medals. Team GB has also had several athletes placed well in finals but outside the medal positions.
Up to this point the Sochi Games have proved to be a positive experience with spectacular venues and performances to match. The new events, such as slope style have been popular and well received. And maybe, just maybe, the best Winter Olympic performance for Team GB.