Sporting sights will be set on the slopes and skating rinks as the Winter Olympics get underway this weekend in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Great Britain is sending 59 athletes, its largest team ever, and it is hoped that we will beat our previous best haul of four medals which we scooped in 2014. Our main hopes rest with Elise Christie (short track speed skating); James Woods and Izzy Atkin (freestyle skiing) and Dave Ryding (slalom). Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton) is defending her 2014 title and Lara Deas is also in contention in the same event. The British Men’s bobsleigh team is having a good season and both the men’s and women’s curling teams could be in line for medals.
In many ways I prefer the Winter Olympics to their fair-weather cousins. Apart from the spectacular snowscapes, there’s the daredevil element, with determined competitors doing battle against the elements and inhospitable conditions. It’s the Scott of the Antarctic spirit that I admire, the perennial quest to conquer. I defy you not to grip the sides of your warm comfy armchair as you watch the bobsleds, skeletons and luges come hurtling along at a terrifying rate of knots skimming and buffeting the glass-like descent, whipping round hairpin bends and frightening overhangs. You feel exhausted by the end of the run, so just imagine how the athletes feel! The curious sport of curling, with its careful coaxing (it’s almost mystical like horse whispering) of stones and speedy sweeping seems much safer when compared to rattling down a mountain on little more than a tea tray.
The first Winter Olympics I remember watching on television were from Lake Placid in 1980. I was instantly hooked and it was here that I recall seeing a couple of young British figure skaters from Nottingham. He worked as a policeman and she worked in an insurance company. Their names were Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. It was their first Olympic Games and they finished in a very creditable 5th position. Four years later, when the Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, Jayne and Chris were back, with their trainer Betty Callaway, and I’m sure everyone remembers how they carried the hopes of the nation with their exceptional routine to the hypnotic rhythms of Ravel’s "Bolero". A television audience of 24 million watched the ice dance final as they glided effortlessly around the rink taking us all to an enchanted world. They didn’t disappoint, bringing home gold medals and their perfect scores for the routine made them the highest scoring figure skaters of all time. It was a moment of sporting magic and let’s hope for more from Team GB in 2018.
A world champion is the subject of one of the articles in the spring issue of Evergreen (published on 7th March, click here to order your copy). This year marks the 50th anniversary of the untimely death of the Formula One racing driver Jim Clark. The genial Scotsman, who won 25 Grands Prix and had two World Championships to his name, is still regarded by many as one of the greatest drivers ever and we look back at his life and career.
Finally, I can’t write about the Winter Olympics without mentioning Cheltenham's very own hero of the competition. Cast your mind back to the Calgary Games in 1988. Remember Eddie the Eagle – the bespectacled ski jumper? Well, Michael Edwards, to give him his proper name, came from Cheltenham and even though he is best remembered for finishing last in both the 70 and 90 metre jumps, the crowd took him to their hearts and cheered the Eagle – our Eagle - as he flew through the skies. Eddie overcame so many obstacles to make it to the Olympics, from his long-sightedness to a lack of funding, and even a fear of heights, but he rose to the challenge and conquered them all. Victory and medals didn’t matter, but what did was the fact that Eddie had the courage and determination to achieve his dreams. In doing this he gave us all a piece of pure Olympic gold and embodied the true Olympic ideal.