I have become obsessed with the Winter Olympics. I am one of those few people for whom the summer Olympics holds no attraction – I pretty much ignore it, even in 2012 when it was held in London. I had just moved to Aberdeen and it felt like that was probably just about far enough away to be able to avoid all the hype. I am sure there are many great sports in the summer Olympics, but to me it appears to be endless running and cycling, things which have never appealed to me.
Strange, then, that I have always enjoyed the Winter Olympics. Especially as I have always hated snow and ice. The fact I find frozen conditions so stressful myself just heightens my admiration for those who embrace it, make it their passion and even their career.
As a child growing up in the Torvill and Dean era, the Winter Olympics started and ended with the figure skating and, while I still enjoy it, over the years I have become more aware of other winter sports. Like many English people, I had never heard of curling until the GB women’s team took Gold in 2002 at Salt Lake City. While there are English curlers, it remains much more firmly embedded in Scottish culture. Like many others in the UK that year, I watched with fascination as the women launched gleaming circles of granite up a sheet of ice, which they then attacked with a sweeping brush. I hadn’t a clue what was going on, but I loved it. Now of course, I watch the curling with much more understanding and even more pleasure, as D was himself a curler until we moved to Yorkshire, where the nearest rink is sadly too far for him to reach.
This year, it is the Luge and the Skeleton which have caught my imagination, even before Dom Parsons claimed GB’s first medal for us. Who in their right minds launches themselves down a tunnel of ice at 80 plus miles per hour on a tea tray with no brakes? One former slider summed it up perfectly in the BCC studio when she explained how all the participants have great respect for each other because they are all slightly “bonkers”. It’s more than the craziness of it, though. I am in awe of their control, how they navigate the path using (I presume) sheer muscle strength in legs, feet and core. In fact, there are so many sports requiring a core of steel. The ski jumpers, who lie almost horizontal, parallel with their skis, the ice dancers cutting extraordinarily beautiful shapes into the ice and the air as they twist and spin and the snowboarders, performing intricate somersaults mid-air before landing on snow that I would be terrified even to walk on.
More than anything, it is the commitment and the passion of all competing which I find inspiring. The elation when they do well, the devastation when it goes wrong. Without knowing anything about Luge, for example, nobody could fail to be moved by Felix Loch’s reaction to his final run, when a single mistake, his first of the week, not only cost him a Gold but deprived him of a medal altogether. Equally moving was Austrian David Gleirscher at the same event who won the first Gold for his country for 50 years. I have become invested, not just in the sports, but in the people, in their stories. And perhaps that is the other difference I find between the Summer and the Winter Games. I know that, for both, the number of medals can make a huge difference to future funding for the different sports and so it is hugely important. And yet the Winter Olympics feels to me much less about counting medals like Scrooge counted his money. It feels much more about battling extreme conditions to represent your country. Whatever my own opinion of the stuff, snow and ice can cast a magic over anything and this event is made extra-special by being, I think we all agree, ever so slightly barmy.