I wish I could compete in the Winter Olympics. I first fell in love with the Games watching Franz Klammer hurtling down the ski run to win downhill gold at the 1976 Innsbruck games. It all seemed so incredibly exciting and fraught with danger. And then in the years that followed there was Torvill and Dean and Robin Cousins winning gold in the skating and the growing realisation that Britain wasn’t as hopeless at these mysterious sports as we first thought.
Who could forget watching Eddie the Eagle flopping off the ski jump? I could never work out whether what he was doing was heroic or embarrassing. In fact, I’m still on the fence about it to this day. But I have stood at the top of a ski jump and I can confirm it’s truly frightening – essentially it’s jumping off a very tall building at 50mph. And now Eddie says he wants to make a comeback, at the age of 50. Well, I’m 47, and when you get to this age you forget most of what you did in your 20s. He’s clearly forgotten how terrified he was.
This year’s Eddie could be top violinist Vanessa-Mae, who, unbelievably, is competing in the downhill slalom for Thailand. I’m hoping she’ll be playing the violin on the way down. You’d surely get extra marks for that. But I love the competitors who come from countries where there isn’t much snow and you find out they’ve been practising by sliding down a road on a tea tray. And the medallists who, previously unknown, suddenly become household names and inspiring role models.
You just know there’s going to be some amazing stories. For me, what sets it apart from the summer Olympics is that every event seems to incorporate a ridiculous amount of danger. I feel like I sit in front of the telly continually muttering, “You must be joking!” But I’m not one of those people just waiting for someone to have a fall.
Better, for me, is watching someone nearly have a fall. I love it when the downhill skiers almost wipe out but end up on one ski, wobbling all over the shop. You can almost hear them going “Whoooaaaa!” The speed skating, which I find compelling, is absolutely lethal. If someone falls over, a skate could easily slice their hand off. Madness!
But best of all is when the Brits get good at an event, and the whole country suddenly becomes an expert. Take curling. We’ve got medal chances in the men’s and women’s curling so I’m all over it already. Those curls, as I like to call them, apparently weigh 22 kilos. The only thing that can stop Team GB going for gold is if they try to take their curls out to Sochi with Ryanair.
And why do British women excel at the skeleton? Maybe it’s because they’re very streamlined and have naturally pointy heads. But I actually think it’s because coverage is our defining national characteristic. That, and the fact that British women are nutters. Certainly wearing high heels with bare legs in Newcastle in January takes some courage.
Despite being an average skier, in my mind I’m a really fast slalom skier – for years I thought I had an undiscovered talent. Then, on holiday, someone filmed me doing a child’s slalom course and when I watched it I realised it would have been quicker if I’d walked.
No, if I was going to do an event, I’d be the second man in the four-man bobsleigh. You just have to keep your head down! It’s like being a passenger in a dangerous taxi. And even I could do that.
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