Sunday 21 January 2018

Skate expectations – the spoofer's guide to Sochi

So you don't know your slalom from your skeleton? Kim Bielenberg offers tips on how to break the ice

Anna Fenninger of Austria starts the women's alpine skiing downhill training event at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Skiing mountain resort
Anna Fenninger of Austria starts the women's alpine skiing downhill training event at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Skiing mountain resort
Cool as ice: Olympic Council president Pat Hickey, second from left, with Team Ireland athletes Conor Lyne, left, Florence Bell and Seamus O'Connor, right. Photo by Ramsey Cardy
Vanessa Mae
On board: Lord Clifton Hugh Wrottersley
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Whether it is glittering costumes in the figure skating or a daredevil sliding head first down mountains on what looks like a tea tray, many of us will find ourselves watching the Winter Olympics in the coming weeks.

So what do you do if you don't have a clue? How do you break the ice in the pub if you think the halfpipe is something to do with tobacco, and luge is a city in Belgium?

With our cut-out-and-keep spoofer's guide, you'll never feel left out when talk turns to curling, as it inevitably will on the BBC, because it is one of the few sports where the Brits don't fall over.


The games will be held in Sochi in Russia from today until February 23. The opening ceremony starts at 4pm. Organisers estimate a global of audience of three billion, although many probably just like watching the stunning views.

Sochi, a seaside resort fringed with palm trees on the Black Sea, is actually the warmest town ever to host the Winter games.

Ice events will be held there, while the skiing takes place elsewhere in the Caucasus Mountains.


As Russia's first post-Soviet Olympics, this is a chance for Vladimir Putin to show off.

The country has reportedly blown €39bn on the games, making them the most expensive Summer or Winter Olympics in history.

Security is a major concern, with Sochi more or less turned into a fortress guarded by 40,000 police and military personnel. Mess with any of these guys and you're likely to get more than penalty points.


Alpine skier Conor Lyne, who lives in Utah, will lead the five-strong Ireland team of "diaspora Olympians".

They are competing because of the nationality of their parents or grandparents.

Conor will go in the slalom and giant slalom events, which involve skiing in a zig-zag pattern. His father is from Brandon in Kerry, while his mother is a native of Hospital in Limerick – neither skiing strong-holds.

"Ever since I started skiing compe-titively as a teenager, it has been my dream to represent Ireland at a Winter Olympics," says Conor.

That sounds like what Robbie Keane says every time he arrives at a new club.


Curling is generally regarded as one of the most comical sports on view. It's basically lawn bowling on ice with frantic housekeeping thrown in.

One member of a team has to slide a rock towards a circle while others sweep the ice with brooms.

Jeremy Clarkson remarked of its Olympic status somewhat caustically this week: "Being the best at curling is like being [best] at ingesting sweetcorn through your nose. You're the best because no one else bothers to do it."


The issue of gay rights in Russia has been raised in the run-up to the Games.

The Mayor of the host city was asked if gay people had to hide their sexuality in Sochi: "We do not have them in our city."

He later backtracked. When asked again if there were gay people in the Olympic city, he said: "I am not sure, but I don't bloody know them."

No, we didn't ask him about Miss Panti Bliss.


Ireland's great young hope for is the 16-year-old snowboarder from San Diego, Seamus O'Connor, whose paternal grandparents came from Drogheda and Dublin.

His top event is the half-pipe, where snow-boarders perform tricks on a semi-circular ramp. Seamus says: "I'm honoured to compete for Ireland. It's going to be a blast."

His big rival will be the American Shaun White, nicknamed the 'Flying Tomato'. He has just released his debut album with his band, The Bad Things.

Do say: "White will be going for his third consecutive gold medal."

Don't say: "Flying Tomato – shouldn't that be a summer sport?"


The Irish Winter Olympians will be trying to emulate the achievements of our greatest-ever exponent of those icy activities.

Dublin-born Lord Clifton Hugh Lancelot De Verdon Wrottesley – or 'Rotters' to his pals – came within fractions of a second of winning Ireland's first medal at Salt Lake City in 2002 when he competed in the skeleton event.

That's the sport where you hurtle head first down a tunnel of ice on a tray.

In the luge, competitors go feet first.


Those who enjoy robust exchanges will be tuned to the ice hockey, where the fights are known by American commentators as "Donny-brooks".

Ice hockey star Ilya Kovalchuk will be hoping to help his Russian team take the title from the Canadians, who won in Vancouver.

Useless fact: An average collision between skaters, who reach speeds of 39kph, generates a G-force of 19 – equivalent to a 48kph car crash.


RTE will have more extensive coverage than normal.

RTE News Now has live coverage of the opening ceremony today from the Fisht Olympic Stadium, and a daily one-hour highlights programme.

The real ice junkies will be tuned to BBC 2, where there will 200 hours of coverage. So, curl up for the curling.


Yuna Kim of South Korea is hoping for the perfect end to her illustrious career when she aims to retain her Olympic figure skating title.

Watch out for the American ski prodigy Mikaela Shiffrin, known as the 'teen queen of the slalom'. She is already a world champion at the ago of 18.

Meanwhile, the acclaimed classical violinist Vanessa Mae will add another string to her bow when she competes for Thailand as a skier.

Could we not have sent Michael Flatley?

Irish Independent

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