- New flags, new nations, new athletes and anything making an Olympic debut in 2018.
Haven't followed any of the Winter Olympic sports in four years? Much has changed since 2014 in Sochi. Some old-timers are back, but four events—and several nations—are making their debuts, Russians will march under a new flag, and Koreans will fly a unified one.
First to develop movable type (the year: 1234) and the cybercafé (1988), Korea is a fitting place to premier Olympic events—there are four:
In the alpine team event, 16 mixed-gender teams, of six members each, race head-to-head down the slalom course in different pairs. For example, in the first heat, the team seeded first skis against the 16th seed—two women race, then two men, then two other women followed by two other men. Seed 8 faces seed 9 in the second heat, and so on. The losing team of each round is knocked out. At the worlds in 2017, the favored Austrians lost in the quarterfinals and France won. With world champ Marcel Hirscher, Austria can’t lose again, right?
Each team comprises two players—one female and one male—in big air snowboarding, which is like a ski jump for snowboarders. The ramp in Alpensia is more than 160 feet high, the tallest in the world, and will propel boarders 20 to 30 feet into the air. Athletes get three runs in the final, and their scores are based on difficulty, execution, amplitude and landing. Canadians Max Parrot, 23, and Mark McMorris, 24, who was nearly killed in a backcountry snowboarding crash in British Columbia last March, are favorites in the men’s competition. World No. 1 Anna Gasser, 26, of Austria is the first woman to get a perfect score of 100, which she received last March at the world championships in Sierra Nevada, Spain.
In curling mixed doubles: A two-person team, such as Wangang Rui and Ba De Xin of China, throws five stones per end, and a game is eight ends. Unlike in other matches, one rock is placed as the center guard and another at the back of the button at the beginning of each end. The team that did not score in the previous end can choose which position to play. Mixed doubles also includes a power play—in which a team can place its rock in a more advantageous spot, straddling the edge of the circle, with the back of the stone touching the tee line. Now, the casual viewer may not understand this, but the Swiss, Canadians and Swedes do—they are favored.
Mass-start speedskating was introduced on the World Cup circuit in 2011. The race is 16 laps around the 400-meter oval, with as many as 24 skaters starting simultaneously. It’s like short-track skating on a long track, but it also figures to be different from other long-track events in PyeongChang—a Dutch skater probably won’t finish first. Several South Koreans are strong, Joey Mantia of the U.S. could get a medal and Italy’s Francesca Lollobrigida (great niece of Gina) is the favorite among the women.
Six countries are participating in the Winter Games for the first time: Ecuador, Eritrea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore. Cross-country skier Klaus Jungbluth, 38, is a sports science Ph.D. student at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Australia, but was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Eritrea has qualified one athlete, Canada-born skier Shannon-Ogbani Abeda, 21, whose parents fled the War of Independence in the 1980s. Alpine skier Albin Tahiri, 28, who was born and raised in Slovenia, is representing Kosovo, the home country of both of his parents. Malaysia has two athletes: figure skater Julian Yee, 20, who finished 22nd at the 2017 world championships and Alpine skier Jeffrey Webb, 19, who trains in Wenatchee, Wash. Nigeria is sending a female skeleton racer—Simidele Adeagbo, 36, a four time All-America in the triple jump at Kentucky—and a women’s bobsled team that’s the first from Africa to compete at the Winter Games. Singapore is represented by short-track speedskater Cheyenne Goh, 18, who moved to Edmonton when she was four but is training in her native country.
Also competing for the first time is a delegation called the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). These athletes will not march behind the Russian flag or hear the Russian anthem on the podium, and they will wear uniforms that have RUSSIA written on them but preceded by the words OLYMPIC ATHLETES FROM. The IOC banned the country for establishing a state-sponsored doping program; OAR athletes have to demonstrate that they are clean to be eligible for PyeongChang. So, despite the “ban,” dozens of athletes born, raised and training in Russia will be participating in PyeongChang.
For the first time since 1994, NHL players will not be participating in the Games—good news for those who prefer regular-season NHL action to a monthlong tournament of the world’s best players giving their all for their countries. The NHL and the IOC could not agree on terms (unlike North and South Korea). This is not to say NHL vets won’t appear in PyeongChang. All but two members of Team Canada have NHL experience, and the U.S. roster includes 15 former NHLers. Most participants play in European leagues, including Russia’s KHL, and the Olympic Athletes from Russia team, led by former NHL stars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk, is a favorite. But Sweden, with likely future No. 1 pick defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, 17, could be bound for the podium too.
Ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan, who made his Olympic debut in Albertville, will be competing at his eighth Winter Games—a record. The 45-year-old Kasai has won three medals: a team silver in 1994 and an individual silver and team bronze in 2014. (That gap between medals is the longest in Winter Olympic history.) Kasai made his World Cup debut in 1988 when he was 16. And German speedskater Claudia Pechstein, 45, is returning for her seventh Games. Her nine career medals are the most of any speedskater.
Some Faces That Look Like Other Faces
There are a number of siblings competing in PyeongChang. The Dufour-Lapointe sisters from Montreal form a significant percentage of Team Canada again. In Sochi, Justine, 23, and Chloé, 26, claimed gold and silver, respectively, in moguls, while Maxime, 28, placed 12th. The Shib Sibs—Maia, 23, and Alex, 26, Shibutani of the U.S.—finished ninth in 2014 in ice dancing but are favored to win a medal in 2018. North and South Korea have formed a combined women’s hockey team, but one of the players is Marissa Brandt, 24, who was born in South Korea and adopted by the Brandt family of Vadnais Heights, Minn., when she was four months old. Her sister, Hannah, 23, is a forward on the U.S. hockey team. Johannes Thingnes Bø, 24, from the village of Markane, Norway, is favored to win several medals in biathlon, and his older brother Tarjei, 29, might take home one or two as well. Erik Bjornsen, 26, and his sister, Sadie, 28, from Winthrop, Wash., are representing the U.S. in cross-country skiing. Erik is an undergrad at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and Sadie is working on an MBA at the school, having completed an undergraduate degree in accounting and nonprofit business management. The Hamilton siblings, Matt, 28, and Becca, 27, from McFarland, Wis., are on the U.S. men’s and women’s curling teams, and they’ll form the U.S. entry in the new event of mixed doubles. Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando, 28-year-old twins from Grand Forks, N.D., have earned six world titles and two Olympic silver medals with the U.S. hockey team. They’ve won everything there is to win—except Olympic gold.
Not only will North Korea send 22 athletes, including three Alpine skiers, three cross-country skiers, two short-track speed-skaters and a figure skating pair to PyeongChang, but athletes from North and South will also march together in the Opening Ceremony behind the flag of a unified country and under the name “Korea.” Twelve athletes from the North will also be added to the women’s hockey team from the South. The delegation from North Korea will include an orchestra, cheerleaders and journalists as well. The last time North Korea (aka the People’s Republic of Korea—PRK on scoreboards) participated in the Winter Games? It sent a figure skater and a speedskater to Vancouver.