After two weeks in South Korea, the Winter Olympics concluded at the end of February. 92 nations participated in 102 events in 15 different sports, making it the biggest games ever. While the time difference certainly made viewing a challenge, there was plenty of coverage for some remarkable moments from Pyeongchang.
Before delving into the sport, it is important to note the political context that dominated the run-up to these Olympics. Following North and South Korea’s act of unity at the opening ceremony when they walked out together, the two nations actively competed as one in the women’s ice hockey. While they may have conceded 20 goals in three games, they did score a famous goal against Japan. The North Korean ice skaters Ryom Tae Ok and Kim Ju Sik justified their qualification with a sol – id performance in the figure skating pairs event, finishing 13th out of 22.
From a diplomatic perspective, the Games have had a mixed result. The initial feel-good vibe has carried through Pyeongchang, with there even being whispers of potential talks between the North, South, and the United States of America. However, as of the time of writing, that all seems to be up in the air. With South Korea indicating that talks were close to being agreed in principle, the US announced a new set of sanctions on the North, who described it as “an act of war.” Washington also said that any talks would have to include the long-term aim of denuclearisation, which is hardly something that Kim Jong Un will even remotely consider. Regardless, these Olympics have certainly been a period of relative peace on the peninsula, but due to the volatility of events it is hard to judge the impact overall.
Closer to home, Team GB enjoyed its most successful Winter Olympics ever, collecting five medals, meaning they finish 19th in the table. The big success story was Lizzy Yarnold: she successfully defended her Skeleton title to claim back-to-back gold medals. In that same event, Laura Deas collected a bronze medal, which was the same kind that Dom Parsons got in the men’s event. Skeleton, there – fore, appears to be the British winter sport. This only further perpetuates the idea that Brits are only any good at sit-down sports, although in this case we are going one step further and lying down on a board hurtling head first down the mountain at nearly 75 miles per hour.
In other sports, there was an incredible bronze medal for Snowboarder Billy Morgan in the men’s big air event. In an extremely tight field, the flag-carrier missed silver by just 0.75 marks. Izzy Atkin also claimed a stunning bronze medal in the ski slopestyle. At the age of only 19, she won Britain their first ever skiing podium place. Yet while there were great triumphs and successes for Team GB, there was also some heart-wrenching disappointments. Elise Christie was a certain favourite to bring home gold for Britain in the short-track speed skating. After her unbelievable three disqualifications in three events at Sochi in 2014, surely this was her time to prove why she was a triple world champion. In the 500 metres she made it to the final, only to crash out after what appeared to be a push from behind. In the 1000 metres she was disqualified in the heats, while in the 1500 metres she crashed out in the semi-finals and had to be stretchered off with suspected ligament damage. After all this, surely, she deserves the title of the unluckiest Olympian of all time.
One Olympian who appeared to have no such problem was Czech Ester Ledecka. Typically a snowboarder, she won the women’s super G by an incredible 0.01 seconds on borrowed skis. Then later in the Games she won the parallel giant slalom, meaning she claimed two gold medals in two events. This was the first time this had happened since 1928, immortalising her into Olympics history.
Other individual brilliance could be found in Norway’s cross-country skier Marit Bjorgen. She retires after these games with an astonishing re – cord haul of 15 medals. Pyeongchang alone she won five medals: two golds, a silver, and a bronze in a variety of both individual and team events. At the age of 37, she leaves the sport as the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. Her nation of Norway also finished top of the pile by winning 14 gold medals and 39 overall. They were followed by Germany, who benefitted the most from Russia’s absence to take 31 medals and 14 golds. Their men’s ice hockey team stunned defending champions Canada in the semi-finals, before losing to a team of neutrals made up predominantly of Russians in the final to a goal in overtime.
Overall, while the time difference may have made the Games difficult to engage with live, it certainly produced the moments of brilliance and skill that we have come to expect from the biggest show on Earth. In 2022 the Winter Olympics will be hosted by Beijing, which is interesting as they hosted the Summer Olympics in 2008, making them the first city to host both Olympics. Looks like it will mean more sleepless nights staying up for the Nordic Combined ski jumping K90.