When you were a child, did you ever run at an icy puddle, leap onto its glassy surface and go “Wheeee”? If so, you understand all you need to know about the Winter Olympics. Every single event is about that intoxicating moment when you stop running, but you’re still moving as fast as ever. Wheeeee!
Freed from friction, you feel as if you are freed from gravity, whizzing along as if you’ll never stop. The Games is the world’s quadrennial fortnight-long festival of slipping and sliding and going wheeeee.
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None of the sports at the Games is part of the daily routine in Britain, but the unfamiliarity of the action only reinforces the universal nature of the sporting impulse. Every sport is about action and losing and winning – and if you have sporting blood in your veins, you find yourself responding almost despite yourself. Were you among the six million viewers in 2002 who stayed up past midnight to watch GB’s women win curling gold? A week earlier we hardly knew the brooms from the stones; now we all watched with mad-eyed frenzy.
At the Winter Games there’s always room for the extraordinary. One of my all-time favourites is Canadian Ross Rebagliati, who won the first-ever snowboarding gold medal in 1998, then promptly tested positive for cannabis; he claimed it was the result of passive smoking, and kept his medal.
And then there was the Australian Steven Bradbury, who won a short track speed skating gold medal after everyone else fell over.
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It will be an odd Games, but then it always is. It’s just the reasons for oddness that vary. There will be no Russia this time, after the revelations of the state-sponsored doping programme, but some Russian athletes will be competing under the Olympic flag – watch out for the figure-skater Evgenia Medvedeva.
There will be 22 North Koreans taking part, which is impressive on a symbolic level. There will also be two Afghan skiers and a Nigerian bobsleigh team. There are six new events, including mixed curling and “big air”, involving the world’s biggest snowboarding ramp. UK Sport wants at least five medals – and we will be able to appreciate it all from the warmth of our own homes.
The Olympic motto is Citius, Altius, Fortius – Faster, Higher, Stronger. So now for a feast of action: Slippius, Skiddius, Slidius. Or to put that another way: wheeeee!