As the Winter Olympics rounds the corner into the final week of competition, the absence of the biggest stars in one of the most prominent events is coming to the fore.
For the second time in a row, no players from the National Hockey League (NHL) will compete in the men’s Ice Hockey event, robbing of the showpiece events of its appeal. Due to the delays and disruptions on the schedule from Covid-19 outbreaks among teams, the NHL and NHLPA made the late call to pull players from the top league from the Olympics.
The return of NHL players to the Olympics was much anticipated after 2018, where the league declined to release players to prevent the league being shut down for three weeks. In the intervening four years, the NHLPA fought tooth-and-nail in collective bargaining negotiations to allow players to represent their countries again, before Covid foiled the plans.
In 2018, Russia ran the table, stocked with athletes from the world’s second best league – the Russian based KHL. While the Russian team was pushed in the final, the side was stocked with former and future NHL talent, and was strong from top to bottom.
This Olympics presents as being more even, partially due to the decision to pull NHL players being made so late compared with 2018. The Americans have picked a very young squad, chocked with recent draftees who haven’t broken through and college players. The Canadian team took a more blended approach, marrying former stars with up-and-coming talent. Other countries have mined their own leagues and the KHL, with many relying on continuity from several years of competing together.
The women’s tournament, on the other hand, is missing none of its star power. The strong US and Canadian teams have gone blow for blow so far, cruising into the semis. The US were pushed by the upstart Czech outfit in the quarterfinals, trailing by a goal in the second period. The Czech team turned heads in their first Olympic outing, but it wasn’t enough to stop the march of the North American teams to the finals.
Canada beat the US in the group stage 4-2 in a see-sawing battle, setting the stage for a potentially memorable final on Thursday.
Alpine skiing – Men’s giant slalom (1645 AEST)
The men’s alpine skiing progresses to the technical events after starting out with the speed, which makes it likely that different names will come to the fore.
The giant slalom combines the rhythm and tight turns of the slalom with a little bit of the pace of the technical events. It’s held over two runs like the slalom, but the riders fight through gates and not poles.
Henrik Kristoffersen, Alexis Pinturault, Marco Odermatt and Manuel Feller should all be in the mix, amongst other. But this Winter Olympics have thrown up some mildly surprising results, so any of the seeded skiers should be in the mix. Australia’s Louis Muhlen-Schulte enters in bib 43, and should hope to hit the top half of the 89 entered skiers.
Watch Rating: 3.5/5
Cross-country skiing Men’s 4×10km relay (1800 AEST)
This cross-country skiing relay season has been dominated by Norway and Russian athletes, in line with the results so far in Beijing. Like the women’s relay yesterday, the first two legs are skied in the classical style, before freestyle skiers bring it home.
Unlike a lot of relays in other sports, the cross-country relays often see the strongest skiers hit the tracks earlier rather than later, preferring to build up a lead and preserve it to chasing one down.
Watch Rating: 1/5
Biathlon – Men’s pursuit (2000 AEST)
Biathlon – Women’s pursuit (2145 AEST)
The biathlon pursuits are like the Stawell Gift of the Winter Olympic program. The pursuit sees the winner of the sprint followed by each successive athlete at the same time interval they trailed the sprint winner in that event. On paper, it should be a grandstand finish.
It’s really hard to win the sprint-pursuit double, with competitors baring down on those in front. Each miss forces skiers to undertake a penalty loop, adding about half a minute to their time. As a result, accuracy matters.
Of all the events on the Winter Olympic program, this is probably the most superfluous. Somewhat exciting, but superfluous. The favourites are hard to track down, mostly because of the handicap nature of the event.
Watch Rating: 1.5/5
Short track speed skating – Men’s 500m (2314 AEST)
The shortest of the short track skating events, and possibly the second quickest event on the program. In the 500m, positioning off the start matters a lot, with few opportunities to pass.
Wu Dajing of China is the defending Olympic champion and has the fastest qualifying time coming into the rapidfire run of finals tonight. Brothers Shaolin Sándor Liu and Shaoang Liu of had the form results coming into the Olympics, with Shaoang having claimed a bronze in the 1000m.
Watch Rating: 4/5
Short track speed skating – Women’s 3000m relay (2244 AEST)
The short track speed speed skating has proven itself to be one of the better events on the program, and the relays are always some of the more chaotic to watch of the program. The cavalcade of skaters on the inner ring, lining up for positioning for the push handover is stunning to watch.
This is a Dutch medal to lose, with the Suzanne Schulting and Selma Poutsma led team having set a world record last year, almost swept the world cup this year, and having the fastest qualifying time at these games. China, South Korea and Canada are probably their nearest competition.
Watch Rating: 4/5
Speed skating – Women’s 500m (0056 AEST)
American Erin Jackson shapes as one of the favoured contenders, but is a bit lucky to be on the starting line. A former roller derby skater from Florida, Jackson has come a long way from finishing 24th in 2018 after just four months on ice to having won most of the recent world cup races.
Jackson nearly nearly missed qualifying however, due to falling in the US qualifiers and finishing third. Her close friend Brittany Bowe then gave up her spot for Jackson, having qualified for other distances, and so Jackson gets the chance at gold.
Jackson won’t have it all her own way, however, with defending champion Nao Kodaira and World Champion Angelina Golikova in top form as well.
Watch Rating: 2.5/5
Alternative Medal Tally
Wordle is taking the world by storm, with the simple five letter puzzle rapidly becoming part of the daily routine of many.
Anyone who has played Wordle knows that working out the vowels is more important that anything else in the game. On that note, countries have vowels in their names, but some have more vowels than others. So who has the most Winter Olympic medals per vowel?
Norway and Germany are vowel-light countries with lots of medals, edging Russia which has an extra vowel. Luxembourg and Liechtenstein fare poorly due to their profligacy with vowels.
New Zealand has four vowels and four medals, a situation which will not repeat once they win another medal.