Dare we even consider the fantasy of a Super Saturday at the Winter Olympics? Is it even sane to think about a multi-medal day for British athletes in Pyeongchang? The answer is probably not – but let’s do it anyway.
On the middle Saturday of the London Olympics of 2012, Britain won a glorious six gold medals. I was in the Olympic Stadium, so I only saw the three athletics golds – but they all came within 44 minutes.
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It was part of a run that took Britain to third in the table by the end: heights beyond British dreams at the Winter Games. On the ice and snow, any British medal whatsoever is a triumph of under-doggery. But it happens that three Brits go into Saturday with something better than a dog’s chance. So let’s talk ’em up now and watch them go – with more hope than expectation, but they’re all fine athletes and worth a cheer.
Let’s start with Isabel Atkin, who goes in the slopestyle ski event (3.45am). This is like an obstacle race with opportunities for showing off: over a jump, along a rail, take the air and, with a bit of luck, land safely and collect marks for the quality and originality of your work. Yes, it’s one of the mad ones.
Elise Christie has a great chance in the short-track speed skating (10am), the all-fall-down event, but it’s not a safe betting medium. You need a bigger sample than a one-off race to sort out the best short-trackers, but that’s not what you get at the Games. So it’s an on-the-day sort of event: you need luck as well as nerve to get through the qualifying rounds and then make the most of your chance in the final.
It’s all about speed, drive on the straights and delicate balance on those super-tight curves. If you can keep your feet while all around are losing theirs…
Lizzy Yarnold is that rare thing in winter sport: a familiar face. She won the Olympic skeleton event in Sochi, Russia, four years ago and the world championship the following year. She’s not favourite this time around, but at the moments of highest tension in sport, sometimes the edge goes to the one who has done it all before.
The skeleton (11.20am) is an event of contradictory demands. At the top of the course, it’s all about speed and aggression as you launch yourself down the slope. But once you’re flat out, a different part of your mind must take over, making a series of cool, accurate decisions that – when you make them right – shave off those thousandths of a second and bring victory.
The skeleton demands two conflicting forms of extreme commitment in ultra-fast succession. Get it right and you take the twists and turns as if laser-guided; get it wrong and you get only bruises.
What I love best about the Winter Olympics is that sense of watching sport for the first time – thrilled by the daring, but a little unsure of the nuances or, for that matter, the rules. The one thing we understand without any effort is courage. Saturday may or may not be ever so slightly super: but win, lose or draw, it will be packed with courage.