16 days of fierce competition on snow and ice. The Winter Olympics, which open in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Friday February 9 will be special for a number of reasons.
92 countries and nearly 3000 athletes will compete, a new record. In the first edition, held in Chamonix in 1924 only 12 nations took part.
In the case of Russia, the International Olympic Committee has invited nearly 170 Russian athletes after the country was excluded in the wake of the Sochi doping scandal. The IOC has also confirmed that none of the athletes who had their bans recently overturned will feature on the list.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said: “Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation.”
In terms of competitors to look out for, Lindsey Vonn will be up there. Forced to miss out in Sochi in 2014 due to a torn Anterior cruciate ligament, the two-time medalist will be determined to get back on the podium.
In Biathlon, France’s Martin Fourcade is the main man. The 11-time world champion and six-time overall World Cup winner, will be once again hard to stop in Pyeongchang.
Another top competitor to keep an eye out for is Mikaela Shiffrin. At just 22 years old, the Colorado native has already notched up 40 wins on the World Cup circuit. In Sochi 2014, three weeks shy of her ninetieth birthday, she became the youngest slalom champion in Olympic history.
Last but not least, three Nigerian-American women will also make history by becoming the first ever African bobsled team to compete in the Winter Games.
Venues, doping and weather
The close proximity of venues was one of the key reasons why Pyeongchang won out. Centred around two main sites – one for outdoor and the other for indoor events – the Games has 13 competition venues, six of which are new.
On the security side, however, things haven’t gone entirely to plan. Just days ahead of the opening ceremony organisers have been forced to call in the military after dozens of private security staff fell sick with a suspected norovirus.
Elsewhere, the doping control system has undergone a major overhaul since Sochi, following evidence of systematic, state-sponsored doping. Believed to be the most comprehensive and independent in Olympic history, more than 2400 urine and blood tests are planned.
Meanwhile, on the weather front, the Games are set to be the coldest ever, at around -10º. For spectators, such cold temperatures are likely to be tough, for the competitors however, it’s good news, as the snow and courses should remain stable throughout the competition.
An historically significant Winter Games?
Pyegonchang also looks set to be politically significant after North Korea decided, at the last minute, to send 22 athletes to the Games. In addition, the two Koreas announced that they will compete under the same flag in the women’s ice hockey.
The International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach summed up the mood.
“Given the special circumstances, the time and place of these Olympic Winter Games, it should be clear for everyone why this Olympic truce is as relevant today as it was in ancient times. More than ever, the world needs the Olympic values of peace and friendship.”
The decision between North and South Korea to field a combined women’s ice hockey team with see 23 South Korean and 12 North Korean athletes take part in the joint team.
They competed together for the first time last Sunday in a friendly against Sweden. White they lost out 3-1, the move is seen as a major sign of reconciliation between the two countries, at a time of heightened tension on the Korean peninsula.