Sport Editor Olli Meek reviews the Winter Olympics star performers including Team GB’s record-breaking games in Pyeongchang
The Winter Olympics proved an unprecedented success for Team GB, gaining the record medal haul ever achieved at a Winter games. The five medals placed the UK as 19th in the medals table, but was an improvement of 25% on the total haul from Sochi 2014, and is five times that of 8 years ago in Vancouver.
This is a welcome result for UK Sport, who have recently invested over £28 million on Winter Olympic sports off the back of the recent increases in medal totals, with Chair of the organisation Katherine Grainger calling the achievements of the team “a brilliant job”. Lizzie Yarnold was arguably the star of the show, retaining her Gold medal, the only one that Team GB won, in the skeleton. It was not just Yarnold who flew the flag on ice however, with her teammates Laura Deas and Dom Parsons taking Bronze medals as well. The two athletes who rounded off the group were Izzy Atkin who took Bronze in the ski slopestyle and Billy Morgan who rode his snowboard to Bronze in big air.
One of the aspects that Grainger emphasised in her comments was the longevity of British achievements in such sports, saying that the funding that has recently been given to the team should not only be judged on this games. The contribution was made by UK Sport with the view to preparing for the Beijing games in 2022 as well and setting foundations for sustained improvement rather than one singular blowout. From the efforts of multiple teams who competed, this looks like a reasonable target, with both curling teams coming close to medals- the men’s and women’s in fifth and fourth respectively- along with a shock exit for promising speed skater Elise Christie who was victim of two unlucky falls and a disqualification.
Chef de mission for Team GB Mike Hay was nonetheless very positive about these teams, expressing his pride at their performances and optimism for their future competitions. This is in the context of a lacklustre alpine scene in the UK, with training facilities lacking and many athletes needing to seek colder climes to find an adequate training environment.
The nation that really stood out at these games was Norway. Is anyone surprised? The Scandinavian environment boasts some of the best conditions in the world for developing their winter sports prowess, and it showed. They topped the medal table with a total of 39, 8 in front of second placed Germany. The Norwegian team were level with the Germans on Gold medals, each with 14, but pulled far ahead of their central European rivals on Silver and Bronze, with 4 more medals in both categories. Another feather to their cap was that Norway broke the record for most medals won at a Winter Olympic Games.
The previous record was held by the USA who managed 37 at Vancouver in 2010. The feat was made even more astonishing given the comparative population size of Norway and their initial target of only 30 medals. The population of Norway totals just over 5 million people, a mere drop in the ocean compared with that of Germany, who weigh in at a tasty 82 million.
There are multiple ways that Norway seek to achieve this success, aside from the obvious measures of including Marit Bjorgen, the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, and just generally being pretty damn good at winter sports. There is no financial incentive for performing well or winning medals, because instead their sporting federation reward them with Gold coloured shoes and cake. Many also have other jobs rather than being full-time professionals in their chosen sports, as well as there being a “no jerks” rule on the skiing team, who spend 200 days a year together. Cross-Country Skiing was where the Norwegians excelled, gaining 7 Golds here compared to the most in another competition being just 2 from Ski Jumping and Speed Skating.
Coming a a close third were Canada, who emerged from the competition with 11 Golds as part of their 29 medals. This placed them in the same spot as was predicted for them by sports data analytics company Gracenote, Norway and Germany having been predicted to swap places. They also predicted that Norway would benefit the most from the absence of an official Russian team, state-sponsored doping having been discovered at the 2014 games.