In a few days’ time, the names Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen could well be global household names. Such is their rivalry in the men’s figure-skating, it’s the story that is lighting up the Beijing Winter Olympics. The American, Chen, is known as the ‘Quad King’ – the only man alive capable of pulling off the perfect quadruple axel in competition, when it matters, at the pressure point and doing it with a grace that is breathless in its execution.
Hanyu is nicknamed the G.O.A.T (Greatest of all Time) by none other than Chen himself and is now shorn of the injuries that have dogged his past two seasons. He’s the Elvstrom or Ainslie of figure skating. He moved the dial. Changed the pace. Competed at a level that few could match and raised the bar for everyone. Fascinating duel that will go to the wire and pit America’s once-in-a generation talent against possibly the finest Japanese athlete ever.
But you may well care not a jot for figure skating. Men dancing on ice? No, not for me. So you dial into the ice hockey for the rough and tumble, the fights and the almost geo-political rivalries and jingoism beneath booming, grating muzak and unfollowable speed of action. The United States stole the Gold at the death against Canada in a shootout at PyeongChang in 2018 and that victory stung like a swarm. The Canadians want revenge and will whizz through the tournament to meet their nemesis, discarding all-comers and also-rans along the way. It will be electric and deafening with the tiniest spark causing the mightiest on-the-ice fire.
Perhaps moguls are your thing? Well if so, look no further than the women’s discipline to see the greatest free-riders ever to grace the slopes and batter their knees to submission. The city of Zhangjiakou will be the venue where the French athlete and reigning Olympic champion Perrine Laffont will take on the fast-charging, perennial favourites, the Canadian sisters of Chloe and Justine Dufour-Lapointe where a cigarette paper’s width separates them. To see the way these women attack the mountain in a blaze of piston-like expressionism is to witness genius on display and a thoroughly mis-spent youth on the slopes. They ski’d long before they could walk and retirement beckons in their late 20’s at best. Brutal sport. Electrifying to watch.
Every time a Winter Olympics comes around, I can’t help myself but dig out the old World Sailing video of David ‘Sid’ Howlett, Ben Ainslie’s uber-trainer, and join him full square in his passion for ice yachting and I’m still left thinking that it would be a superb discipline, even as a demonstration event, at a Games.
But the history is storied and long. The ice boaters actually clapped in a standing ovation in Vienna in 2006 when the the final decision not to pursue the ubiquitous DN as a class was confirmed. A ten year examination of the discipline yielded the view that these home-made, hobbyist boats would be ruined by the five-ring circus alongside huge concerns around running events in anything but the optimum weather conditions. Let’s face it, if it was in for Beijing, they would probably have to run it on man made ice – even the downhill skiing is being run on synthetic snow so what chance of a frozen lake with moderate breeze in China at this time of the year?
We marvel at the AC75’s and SailGP F50’s and positively salivate at the thought of the AC40 circuit. Speed is addictive, it’s the modern way as sailing has just got faster and faster, but at the DN Ice Boating edge of the game, they’re doing 35 knots in 5 knots of breeze. Top speeds are way in excess of what we’ve seen so far in the aqua foilers.
Have a crash or worse still, a coming together on the ice and they don’t send a friendly support team member to help, they call the hospital and the paramedics arrive. It’s a brutal but beautiful sport and highly, highly technical – perhaps almost too technical for the Olympic Games although I could argue and make a compelling case that the skeleton bobsleigh and the fully-crewed bob are right up there too.
It won’t happen but it’s a nice thought and I have to say, I’d watch it if it was in the Olympics. But give yourself a treat today and watch this sport. It’s absolutely mind-bogglingly brilliant…and add it to the ever-growing, endless list of ‘boat wants’ and lottery purchases when those numbers finally come in (as they surely must).
What a sport. Enjoy: