Once again I’ve left it until the last possible minute to write my first real article in my Olympic blog. With any luck, I’ll have this finished before the start of the opening ceremony, a mix harder deadline than last time because I’ve made the foolish mistake of committing myself to commentating a live broadcast of the opening ceremony, and I feel it would be rude to listeners to sit there typing the final words of this blog entry while things are going on on screen.
For those of you who are interested, the link to listen in on my commentary is (http://mixlr.com/largestprime/). The idea is that you watch on TV or whatever live stream you have, with the volume down, and listen to me on the side. My only real concern from a technical point of view is that there is a known lag of about 5-6 seconds in the audio. I have no real idea of how long the delay is on live TV, or on a video livestream, but intuitively I would guess that it is longer because there is more data to process. That being said, I will be watching a video livestream myself, as I’m not in Korea, so there will probably be synchronisation issues. If people are watching a video livestream as opposed to a TV live broadcast, the interface should allow for you to delay the stream slightly – something that is more difficult to do on a TV.
As with Sochi and Vancouver, I’ll try to blog once a day about the speed skating (which, incidentally takes place at the pace of about one event per day), with the occasional “feature article” thrown in. Please feel free to get in contact with me (“contact” link at the top and bottom of every page, and social media links in the bottom-right corner).
The opening ceremony will be a technical rehearsal of sorts for the commentary, and I will be joined by special guest Josh Capponi to just chat and make immature jokes about what’s happening on screen. We might also ‘accidentally’ let slip some gossip about the skaters as we see them in the athletes’ march. My thoughts on opening ceremonies in general were summed up rather well in my first blog post for Sochi, but for those of you too lazy to click a link, I basically said that even though I’ve watched Olympic opening ceremonies in their entirety since the 94 games, I remember only one or two highlights from each. As a fun little random fact, the ‘moment’ that I remembered from the 1994 games in Lillehamer, Norway was when the guy ski jumped with the olympic torch – I coincidentally met the son of the guy who did that at the 2017 winter Universiade (university games) in Almaty, Kazakhstan when I coached him in speed skating as part of team Norway, and he gave me some interesting insights into why should really ought to wear fireproof gloves should you ever feel the need to ski jump with an olympic torch…
Speed Skating – Ladies 3000m
The first speed skating event of the games is the ladies 3000m. This is a slight change to what we have become accustomed to in speed skating in the Olympic schedule (and it is not the only change). Ordinarily the Olympic program begins with the mens 5000m. The other notable change is that most of the speed skating events take place in the evening, local time. As far as the first event is concerned, this should make for a more pleasant experience for the athletes. In the past, participants of the mens 5000m often had to consider missing out on the opening ceremony, because the opening ceremony goes late in the evening, then if you have a morning or midday race the next day, it might interfere with your sleep. Now, with races in the afternoon and evening, that pressure no longer exists. I imagine the main reason for doing this was for the benefit of television audiences in Europe where I imagine most of the watchers of speed skating live (sorry North America).
This olympics will almost certainly and unfortunately be remembered as the one where Russia was banned. To be clear, I believe that the ban is justified and if you watch the academy award nominated film Icarus, (available on netflix), you will get some idea of why they were banned and why, realistically, they should have also been banned from Rio 2016. Unsurprisingly, speed skating is a sport in which Russian athletes feature heavily – there is a strong tradition of speed skating in Russia to the point where neighbouring Kazakhstan (a former S.S.R. of the U.S.S.R.), despite being populated by only 20% ethnic Russians (66% ethnic Kazakhs, who generally look more ‘asian’ than ‘caucasian’) has a speed skating team composed entirely of ethnic Russians. When all was said and done, only four speed skaters remained from Russia who were allowed to compete, I’m guessing because they based themselves and trained in a different location, or were outside “the system” when the doping offences were known to have taken place.
Interestingly enough, one of those Russians is a contender for the ladies 3k. Indeed this contest is wide open with five different people winning the event in the five world cup competitions leading up to the games. Natalya Voronina will be one to watch, and she’s racing in the last pair with Martina Sablikova who won the silver medal in Sochi and the gold in Vancouver. Sablikova, from the Czech Republic hasn’t won the event this year yet, but is very obviously a contender, being the second-ranked skater in world cup standings. Also look out for two skaters at opposite ends of their careers – the young 22-year-old Antoinette de Jong from the Netherlands, and Germany’s Claudia Pechstein who is appearing in her 7th(!) olympic games at the age of 45. Both have won at this distance earlier this season. Also look out for Miho Takagi of Japan, although I believe she is a better chance in the 1500m, and Ivanie Blondin from Canada who is also very good chance in the mass-start.
Very difficult to pick a winner here. I’m going to go with Antoinette de Jong, since she’s young and hungry and not overburdened by the 5 olympic gold medals that each of Pechstein and defending champion Ireen Wüst (also from the Netherlands) has. Also keep a lookout for up and coming talent Karolina Bosiek from Poland who is the youngest skater in the ladies competition, who turns 18 later this month.
The ladies 3k starts at 11am GMT (8pm local time) on the 10th of February.