Doping at the Winter Olympics
The cloud of potential doping is never too far away from the Olympics Games.
Some speculation has started with the awarding of medals in the team figure skating event being delayed due to “legal implications”.
Media sources, including Inside The Games, have speculated about what the source of the “legal implications” are, and the team involved. Close eyed watchers have seen that some members of the Russian team have been absent from training for their individual events.
Regardless of the reason for delay, proven doping has been a part of the Winter Games, but to a lesser extent than its Summer counterpart.
The first athlete banned for doping at an Winter Olympics was West German hockey hall of famer Alois Schloder, who was banned from the 1972 Sapporo Games due to Ephedrine use. His suspension was later lifted, and he captained to the West German team to bronze at the 1976 Olympics.
Doping has been present in almost all Winter Olympic disciplines, even curling and figure skating. The most common events for doping historically have been cross country skiing and biathlon.
Sochi in 2014 was by far the dirtiest winter games according to currently identified doping cases, with 8 golds, 12 silvers and 1 bronze stripped among 55 positive results. The uncovering of systematic doping by the McLaren Report by the Russian team at Sochi has been a turning point for the treatment of doping at the modern Olympics. It is also why Russia has not been competing under their own flag at recent Olympics.
Salt Lake City 2002 has been the only other edition where more than one medal was removed, with strippings of 5 golds, 3 silvers and a bronze.
Eight medals are up for grabs in Beijing today, including a couple of the mixed gender events,
Figure skating – Men’s singles (1230 AEDT)
The figure skating is one of the blue ribbon events, and has ties back to the early Summer Olympics. Figure skating has its die hard fans, and it is probably the most elegant sport at either Games.
America’s Nathan Chen put up a world record of 113.97 in the short program element of this two part program yesterday. The short program is the more technically specific and precise of the two sessions, with today’s free skating session, as the name suggests, allowing for far greater freedom in the program, albeit still with some minimum requirements.
Given the scores are added together to decide the winner, Chen is in a strong but not insurmountable position because the free skating scores roughly twice as many points. Chen himself leapt from 17th to 5th in 2018 on the back of a free skating leg nearly 10 points better than anyone else’s. He currently holds six and eight point leads over Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno respectively.
Australia’s Brendan Kerry sits 17th, which is ahead of his two previous Olympics finishing positions of 29th and 20th.
Watch rating: 3/5
Snowboarding – Women’s halfpipe (1325 AEDT)
It’s Chloe Kim’s world, and we are just watching her fly in it. The 2018 gold medalist has won 22 of her 29 events entered, only missing the podium two times.
The women’s halfpipe gives boarders four or five hits to get their best tricks out. Amplitude and style matter, alongside the rotations and grabs on show.
No-one has been better than Kim in recent years, but the strong Japanese contingent of Mitsuki Ono and the Tomita sisters will push her all the way.
Watch Rating: 4.5/5
Alpine skiing – Men’s combined (1715 AEDT)
The alpine combined event is the best true test of a skier’s ability at the Olympics. Skiers start out with the fastest, most white-knuckled event on the alpine program in the downhill before transitioning to the most technical in the slalom.
The difference is jarring, and skiers have to be at the top of their game to complete both portions to their best ability. Reigning silver medalist Alexis Pinturault has a decent chance of appearing on the podium, as does reigning world champion Marco Schwarz. Canada’s James Crawford has been in hot form over the early speed events as well, and might set a good target for the slalom specialists.
Watch Rating: 4/5
Cross-country skiing – Women’s 10km classical (1800 AEDT)
There’s a lot of cross-country skiing at these Olympics. This event is the women’s 10km classical, where the skiers largely slide in track as opposed to the skating based freestyle events.
How much cross-country skiing is too much? Let’s find out.
The distance for the long classical event alternates between Olympics between 10km and 30km, with the freestyle taking the other distance.
The names at the top of the skiathlon event figure to be in contention here, with Therese Johaug and Natalya Nepryayeva the warm favourites.
Watch Rating: 1/5
Snowboarding – Men’s snowboard cross (1815 AEDT)
The boarder cross is one of the more exciting events on show, with riders crammed on the tight track battling for position. Australian fans probably know the event due to the excellence of the late Alex “Chumpy” Pullin, who was a two-time former World Champion before his untimely passing.
Snowboard cross sees a fine balance between working out where your opponents are and what is coming up on the course. A high line or a jump that lands on the knuckle can kill momentum, and push you outside of the qualifying top two.
Fellow Australian Jarryd Hughes will be defending his silver medal from Pyeongchang. Three other Australians are in the field as well, with Cameron Bolton, Adam Dickson and Adam Lambert. All four Australians have laid down solid results in the past, with Bolton getting a podium earlier this year.
This year, German Martin Nörl has been in hot form, winning the last three world cup starts, but as shown yesterday in the women’s event, anything can happen.
Watch rating: 4/5
Freestyle skiing – Mixed team aerials (2250 AEDT)
The mixed team aerials is a new event for the 2022 Games, with three athletes spinning their way through the air
Aerials are the more staid version of their big air cousin, more like gymnastics on skis than freesking.
All countries with at least three skiers qualified in the aerials, and at least one of each gender, can enter the team event. That rules out Australia, who didn’t qualify a male athlete in 2022.
The Russian team are the current World Champions, but China, the USA and Switzerland should challenge for contention.
Watch Rating: 1.5/5
Speed skating – Women’s 5000m (2300 AEDT)
The longest women’s event on the track (the men get a 10000m) lasts around seven or so minutes per pair, with six pairs set to race, in a one-and-done set up. Qualification was therefore pretty exclusive, with countries assigned one or two skaters among the 12 available based on performances in the most recent world cup meets.
Irene Schouten of the Netherlands won gold with an Olympic record in the 3000m a few days ago and would be the favourite here too, having won the race at the World Championships and in the most recent world cup meet, and logging the fastest qualification time. Canadian Isabelle Weidemann and Italian Francesca Lollobrigida have been her nearest rivals several times recently across both the long distances.
Watch Rating: 2/5
Luge – Team relay (0030 AEDT)
The night owls will be treated the 3-part luge relay event to end that sport for these games. It’s an event where womens singles, mens singles and then open doubles (all men) all run the same track in succession, hitting a touchpad that lets the next sled know they can go.
The continuously timed relay arrangement introduces a “relay transition time” skill to proceedings, which is a twist which creates tension and uncertainty. Despite the Germans winning both previous Olympic editions of this event, and the team coming in fresh off their respective other three gold medals, they only won the team relay twice out of six starts in the most recent world cup season – both on their own track rather than a neutral venue.
Watch rating: 2/5
Alternative medal tally
Welcome to Rinkworld.
A select few Olympic events take place on skating rinks, and countries with a lot of these facilities no doubt have a big advantage in identifying and nurturing talent at these sports. They’re especially vital in places where there’s not a lot of conveniently frozen lakes and rivers.
Below, then, is a table showing who does that most effectively, by comparing the number of rinks in a country with the number of rink medals.
South Korea has won virtually all of its golds in skating events and is the most efficient at converting rinks into medals. The other skating powerhouses such as Russia and Canada all have many more rinks available. Australia, where you have little hope of finding a natural body of water cold enough to skate on, has converted its 22 rinks into 2 medals.