Curling People Now – 2022 Winter Olympics Preview, The Final Day

The crossover athletes

It’s very unusual for athletes to compete in two sports at a high level, even if they are somewhat related. Every time there is a code switcher in any one of the football codes, journalists across the country drop everything they are doing to watch.

Even rarer still are those who can excel in two different sports. Ester Ledecká famously won golds in alpine skiing and snowboarding in 2018, backing it up with a snowboard gold in 2022. But what about those who jump right across seasons.

Just 143 athletes have competed at both a Summer and Winter Olympic Games in different sports. Just one, Eddie Eagan, has won a medal in both.

In this Olympics, six athletes have competed in a prior Summer Olympics. Four of these six competed as sprinters before turning to the sliding events, three in luge and one in skeleton. Athletics to bobsleigh is by far the most common combination of cross-Olympic athletes.

The other two in 2022 are Ayumu Hirano, gold medalist in the 2022 snowboard halfpipe and Jaqueline Mourão, a Brazilian eight-time Olympian.

Mourão competes in cycling, biathlon and cross-country skiing, combinations of which nine other athletes have also done. Mourão’s highest finish at an Olympic Games was 18th in the 2004 Olympics in mountain biking.

One other cross-sport athlete has won a medal in 2022, the German bobsledder Alexandra Burghardt. Burghardt won a silver in the two-woman event, just 0.77s behind gold. That’s almost the same amount of time that she finished off silver in the 4x100m sprint at the 2020 Olympics, where the Germans finished in a tight fifth place.

The Medal Events

The last five gold medals will be decided today, with the final event over well in advance of the closing ceremony at around 11pm AEST, before we look forward to Paris 2024 for the next Summer Games and Milan 2026 for the next Winter edition.

Curling – Women’s (1205 AEST)

Two upsets in the semi-finals has led to a Great Britain-Japan final, one that few would have predicted pre-tournament. Both sides only progressed through to the semis via a tiebreaker, each finishing with five wins from nine matches.

Each side has had different strengths through the tournament. Japan have had the strongest lead and skips from a shot percentage perspective, with Yurika Yoshida and Satsuki Fujisawa leading the tournament in both. Japan have stolen more ends than any other side in the top four, pouncing on mistakes from opponents with the hammer (last shot).

By contrast, Great Britain have been strong with the middle two, with Jennifer Dodds (doubling up after partnering Bruce Mouat in the mixed) and Vicky Wright dominating the middle of ends and positioning throughout. Eve Muirhead has been a little weaker than normal, but her tactical nous has shone throughout.

Great Britain trounced Japan in the group stage, winning 10-4. But there’s no reason to believe that there will be a repeat in the final, with Japan getting stronger as the event has progressed.

Watch rating: 5/5

Alpine skiing – Mixed team (1337 AEST)

This event was postponed from yesterday due to terrible weather conditions. This is what HPN wrote then:

The mixed team alpine skiing is relatively new to the Olympic program, but it’s an interesting watch for fans at home. Each heat sees four head to head battles across a slalom course with a steep jump in the middle, with the winner of the majority of battles progressing to the next round. If it’s a 2-2 tie, then the best combined speed moves on.

Austria grabbed the top spot in the fifteen team field, and the automatic bye to the quarterfinals. But there are strong skiers, and nations, right through the field. Switzerland are the reigning champions, and Norway the current World Champions.

Watch rating: 4/5

Bobsleigh – Four-man (1440 AEST)

The four-man bobsleigh has one of the richest histories of the Olympics. The event is one for the daredevils, starting out with a display of raw power before trying to progress to be as smooth as possible down the 16-turn course.

Germany swept the two-man medals and the pilots from that event sit 1st, 2nd and 4th at the halfway point of the four-man bob. Francesco Friedrich was the two-man bob gold medallist, while 2-man silver medallist Joannes Lochner sit just 0.03 seconds behind them in second. Friedrich has been almost unbeatable in this event recently, so even an inter-German upset would be significant.

The best non-German hopes right now are the Canadians led by Justin Kripps and the Latvians by Oskars Kibermanis, in 3rd and 5th currently, who both have top-three places this world cup season. They’re 0.38 and 0.56 seconds off the pace and could do it with the right runs. Brad Hall’s British crew are 0.69 seconds behind and also have managed to finish in the medals in the world cup this year. But it’s Germany’s to lose and they may sweep a sliding event again.

Watch rating: 3/5

Ice hockey – Men’s (1510 AEST)

It may not have been the star studded tournament envisioned pre-COVID, but the men’s ice hockey tournament has been entertaining nonetheless. At the start, the pool of contenders was wide, but with just the final left only two teams are left standing; Finland and the Russian Olympic Committee.

The Finns were undefeated in group play, including a comeback from three goals down to beat Sweden 4-3 in OT. Finland then marched past Switzerland and Slovakia (for the second time) into the gold medal game. Finland has stomped on some of the poorer nations, while keeping pace against the top teams.

Coming into the tournament the ROC were the mild favourites, especially after their gold against a similar field in 2018. But the Russian squad dropped a game in OT to the Czech Republic, and some of those hopes were dulled. They advanced anyway, got the revenge win over Denmark in the quarters, then scraped past the Swedes in an epic shootout in the semi.

The absence of NHL players, a big factor in the tournament, has hit both teams. Russia and Finland are the 4th and 5th nations for active players in the NHL (behind Canada, the USA and Sweden), each with about 50 active players. Russia has generally produced more top end talent over time, with stars like Alexander Ovechkin lighting up the NHL. In recent years the Finnish pipeline has kicked into gear, producing two All Stars this year. The Finnish contingent isn’t quite at the same level as the Russian, but that’s of little concern in Beijing.

The ROC team is all from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), widely considered to be the second strongest league in the world. The KHL has some internationally based teams as well, and with Helsinki-based side Jokerit performing strongly in recent years. Players from Jokerit form the backbone of the team, and are supplemented by other KHL player and players from the Finnish Liiga.

Finland are the form team of the tournament, and clearly the best attacking team there, while the ROC can trust in their blue-line and goaltender. If it turns into a shootout, expect that Finland have gotten the upper hand.

Ice hockey is the banner team sport in these Olympics regardless of those missing. It should be close and intense.

Watch rating: 5/5

Cross-country skiing – Women’s 30km freestyle (1400 AEST)

Yesterday’s men’s 50km ended up being cut down to 30km, and conditions have already forced this event up in the schedule. If conditions are a repeat of yesterday, it could be a gruelling race, the longest on the women’s program and the final cross-country race of the Olympics.

Therese Johaug will be going for her third individual gold medal of these Olympics, and momentum is fully on the 2021 World Champions’ side. In her way stands 64 competitors, including distance specialist Frida Karlsson, overall World Cup leader Natalya Nepryayeva and Finnish star Krista Pärmäkoski.

Watch rating: 2/5

Alternative Medal Tally

The 15 sports at the Winter Olympics all have wildly different numbers of medals available, from a mere two in ice hockey to fourteen in speed skating, so some countries can get a lot of medals by specialising in certain lucrative sports. How would the picture look if instead, each sport were worth the same – one gold medal, for the top country in each sport?

Germany’s complete dominance of the sliding sports means they sit at the top of the tree at the 2022 games in terms of how many sports they have won, but that could change by tonight. Norway is a chance to add to their Biathlon and Nordic Combined leads with a cross-country gold. ROC has a chance in both that event and the Ice Hockey, and would take the outright lead on this table if it won both golds.

Crucially, this is a table which restores Australia’s pre-eminence over New Zealand, with Jaclyn Narracott’s silver good enough for second on the Skeleton medal tally.

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