Olympics: Sochi searches for winter lightning bolt

Monday, January 27th, 2014. Filed under: Entertainment Sports & Recreation
Kim Yu-na of South Korea holds the South Korean national flag during the victory ceremony for the dance competition at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, March 16, 2013. ©AFP PHOTO / Brendan SMIALOWSKI

Kim Yu-na of South Korea holds the South Korean national flag during the victory ceremony for the dance competition at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, March 16, 2013.
©AFP PHOTO / Brendan SMIALOWSKI

(HONG KONG-AFP) – When glamorous US skier Lindsey Vonn announced that a knee injury would force her to miss the Winter Olympics, Sochi lost its biggest star, leaving a vacancy for a new “Face of the Games”.

South Korean figure skater Kim Yu-Na is tipped to dazzle, cult US snowboarder Shaun White will likely add to his impressive medal haul and there is the mouthwatering prospect of NHL stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin renewing their rivalry in Ovechkin’s backyard.

But, especially for the armchair sports fan, the names do not stir the blood in the same way as a Usain Bolt or a Michael Phelps at the Summer Games.

There’s no single moment when the world collectively holds its breath. No crackling silence before the 100m. The numbers tell part of the story.

A total of 2,566 athletes were at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver while 10,568 competed at the London Games in 2012.

All 204 National Olympic Committees competed in Britain while 82 took part in Canada.

For some of the world’s media, there is still a lot of convincing to do.

Noel Prentice, sports editor of Hong Kong newspaper the South China Morning Post, describes the Winter and Summer Olympics as “poles apart” and says the absence of the photogenic Vonn, the high-profile girlfriend of golf superstar Tiger Woods, is a huge loss.

“Unfortunately, there is no Lindsey Vonn, who was not only the face of the US team but also the Games. It has lost one of its most marketable figures. Most people in Asia would struggle to identify with an athlete going to the Games — or even some events.”

He believes the Sochi Olympics are more likely to hit the headlines for issues such as security and the terrorist threat, the treatment of homosexuals in Russia or the huge amount of money spent on the Games.

Cho Jeong-Hoon, sports editor of the South Korean daily Chosun Ilbo, says the Summer Games have been more popular in his country – which hosts the 2018 Winter Olympics — but the balance is being redressed by the exploits of the likes of Kim Yu-Na.

“The trend changed dramatically here after figure skating queen Kim Yu-Na and speed skating star Lee Sang-Hwa won gold medals four years ago,” he says, adding that there will be “enormous” interest in their competitions in Sochi.

Winter Olympian Patrick Singleton, who competed for Bermuda, acknowledges that the absence of Vonn is a major loss but insists both the Summer and Winter Games possess the same “Olympic magic”.

“Athletes such as Kim Yu-Na and Shaun White will attract a lot of attention but for every superstar Olympian story, there will be an inspirational story of personal hardship and endeavour,” he says.

Certainly, for every star in the mould of Austrian skier Franz Klammer or British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who held a nation spellbound in Sarajevo in 1984, there are fascinating personal stories and quirky narratives.

Britain’s Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards famously failed to soar in 1992 in Albertville, while the exploits of the bobsleigh team from tropical Jamaica in Calgary in 1988 inspired the film “Cool Runnings”.

Singleton, who competed in three Olympic Games — in the luge and skeleton — and now serves as treasurer for the World Olympians Association, argues the Winter Games boasts just as many “big moments” as its summer sibling with marquee events such as downhill skiing, ice hockey and figure skating.

“In terms of viewership, I think the Winter Games can become just as popular in new markets,” he says.

“My own love of the Winter Games started in Bermuda in 1984 when I used to watch and re-watch videos of the Sarajevo Games.”

For Kim Sik, sports editor at South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, it is hard to compare the Summer and Winter Games.

He acknowledges the heart-stopping drama of events at the Summer edition but says: “At the same time, it’s hard to find in summer sports the artistry of figure skating or dynamic drama of ice hockey. Each sport should be respected on its own merits.”

But the SCMP’s Prentice says the Winter Games ultimately struggle to engender the same sense of national pride as the Summer Olympics.

“Does the Winter Olympics galvanise people and engender patriotic feeling? Certainly not on the scale of the Summer Olympics, unless you are a diehard ice hockey fan from Vancouver who happens to be living in Hong Kong or somewhere.”

jw/dj

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