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Events Factsheets

OK, the real action starts tomorrow, with 5 medal events being decided – men’s biathlon 10 km, women’s cross-country skiathlon, women’s freestyle skiing moguls, men’s snowboarding slopestyle, and men’s speed skating 5,000 metres.

We will start posting separate Events Factsheets on this blog in just a few minutes for those events – save slopestyle, which is a new event. These will give all the historical and statistical background anyone will need to understand the event and write a story about it, should you be so inclined.

We have already done Sports Factsheets for all the Winter Olympic sports. The Events Factsheets will contain information that was in those, but will actually have a lot more info for you.

Each morning during the Winter Olympics we will post these, and try to get them out the morning before the actual event concludes so that the media can have them for their stories.

Those First Winter Olympics – in Saint Moritz???

The first Olympic Winter Games were held at Saint Moritz, Switzerland in 1928. What’s that you say? You thought it was at Chamonix, France in 1924? Hang on a second, and we’ll tell you why one can make a case that they actually started in 1928.

The history of the Winter Olympics is a bit complex actually. Pierre de Coubertin was not in favor in Winter Olympic Games, and opposed the idea. The concept started with the Scandinavians who started holding Nordic Games in 1901, and these are regarded as the “precursors to the Winter Olympics.” You can find out a lot about the Nordic Games and the origins of the Winter Olympics in this article by Ron Edgeworth – library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/JOH/JOHv2n2/JOHv2n2h.pdf. (A little disclaimer here – Ron Edgeworth is a pseudonym for the author of this post.)

Winter Olympic events were held at the 1908 Olympics in London, when figure skating was contested, and at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, when both figure skating and ice hockey were contested. The 1916 Olympics were scheduled for Berlin although they were never held because of World War I. Those Games also had skiing and skating events on their original program.

The leading figure in the history of the Nordic Games was Sweden’s Viktor Gustaf Balck, who was actually opposed to the idea of Winter Olympics, fearing that they would make his Nordic Games less significant, and in fact, this would happen, as the last Nordic Games would be contested in 1926.

The idea of holding winter sports at the Olympics is mentioned in IOC Sessions as early as 1909, and discussions about this concept are described going right up to the 1924 Chamonix competitions.

I say “Chamonix competitions” because they were never officially called Winter Olympic Games, although to be fair, most of the world’s press did describe them in that way. The working title of the 1924 Chamonix “Winter Olympics” was “Semaine internationale des sports d’hiver” (International Winter Sports Week). If you really want to get pedantic (and we do), their official title in the 1924 Official Report was “Les sports d’hiver organisés du vendredi 25 janvier au mardi 5 février 1924 à Chamonix – Mont Blanc par le Comité Olympique Français avec la collaboration de la Fédération Française des Sports et du Club Alpin Français sous le Haut Patronage du Comité International Olympique à l’occasion de la Célébration des Jeux de la VIIIme Olympiade.”

In May 1925 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amended the Olympic Charter to allow for Olympic Winter Games. But the 1924 Chamonix International Winter Sports Week was never declared as the 1st Olympic Winter Games by the IOC in the minutes of its sessions, although this has been felt to be an error of a secretary taking the minutes of the session in 1925, as the IOC has long recognized Chamonix as the 1st Olympic Winter Games. Sorry, Saint Moritz.

Olympic Games Official Openings

Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will official open the 2014 Olympic Winter Games tonight at the Opening Ceremony – no surprise there as these Games have one man’s stamp on them, Putin, more so than any Olympics since Berlin in 1936.

Vladimir Putin is the current President of Russia, or the highest ranking official in the country. It is standard that Olympic Games are opened by the Head of State of the nation in which the Games are held, per IOC Protocol, although the IOC also contradicts itself by always stating that Games are awarded to cities and not countries. We’ll overlook that.

Since the Modern Olympic Games started in 1896 it has been rare that the nation’s Head of State did not open the Olympics. The United States has been famous for this, as in 1932 at Lake Placid and Los Angeles, 1960 at Squaw Valley, and 1980 at Lake Placid, the US President did not open the Games. In 1932 at Lake Placid it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who at that time was only Governor of New York state. The Los Angeles 1932 Olympics were opened by Vice-President Charles Curtis, as President Herbert Hoover declined to travel to Los Angeles because of his preoccupation with the world-wide depression. In 1960, President Dwight Eisenhower did not go to Squaw Valley, with those Games opened by Vice-President Richard Nixon – another Olympics at least opened by a future US President.

And famously, at Lake Placid in 1980, President Jimmy Carter refused to open the Winter Olympics, as he was pressuring the IOC to boycott the Moscow Olympics, and sent Vice-President Walter Mondale in his stead. Mondale also opened the IOC Session in Lake Placid and angered the IOC by his political speech in which he called for a boycott of Moscow.

Finally, in 1984 at Los Angeles, President Ronald Reagan broke the US “tradition” of not sending the President to the Opening Ceremony. US Olympics have since been opened by Presidents Bill Clinton (1996 Atlanta) and George W. Bush (2002 Salt Lake City).

Other than the USA situations, there has been only one other time at which a Head of State did not open an Olympics, and it did occur at the Winter Olympics. That was at the first Winter Olympics, at Chamonix in 1924, which were opened by Gaston Vidal (1888-1949), the French Under-Secretary for Physical Education, rather than French President Alexandre Millerand or Prime Minister Raymond Poincaré. But those first “Winter Olympics” were a bit odd in themselves – more on that in the next blog post.

Some Opening Ceremony Stuff

Opening Ceremony tonite. Always a big moment. And it always happens on Friday night, with the Games then extending for 2 full weeks and 3 weekends, so that NBC and the other television networks get plenty of weekend coverage, right?

Not quite. In fact, at the Winter Olympics, it has only been the last 4 Games – 2002-2014 – which have followed this seemingly standard calendar. One other Winter Olympics started on Friday and ended on Sunday, that being in 1948 at St. Moritz, but the Winter Games lasted only one week back then, with far fewer events.

The Sochi Olympics actually started yesterday, with events in freestyle skiing, figure skating, and snowboarding. That is not that unusual, as we detailed in a post yesterday (http://olympstats.com/2014/02/06/events-starting-before-the-opening-ceremony/). But these Games will then last from 6 February to their conclusion on 23 February, which will be 18 days of Winter Olympics, and that makes Sochi 2014 the longest ever Olympic Winter Games.

It may seem that the Winter Olympics always take place exclusively in February and that is basically now correct, since its been true since 1968. But it was not always so. The first Winter Olympics started on 25 January 1924 in Chamonix, France. The other Winter Games to start in January were 1948, starting 30 January; 1956, starting 26 January; and 1964, which began on 27 January.

No Winter Olympics will ever start that early again, as the IOC and US television networks do not want to go up against the Super Bowl, and with the NFL poised to extend their season to 18, perhaps 20, maybe 26 games per year, we can look to Winter Olympics starting later and later.

No Winter Olympics has ever ended in March, but if the Super Bowl keeps getting pushed back, that may happen someday (or perhaps the Qatar World Cup could also do it). Three Winter Olympics have ended on 28 February, all North American Games – 1960 Squaw Valley, 1988 Calgary, and 2010 Vancouver.

Olympic Winter Games Opening Ceremonies have been held on all days of the week except Sunday and Monday, with only the 1968 Grenoble Olympics starting on Tuesday. Thursday and Friday have seen 6 Winter Olympic Openings, with 5 held on Saturday, and 4 on Wednesday.

The same is not the case for the Closing Ceremonies. Olympic Winter Games almost always end on Sunday, and, in fact, the last time this did not happen was 1952 in Oslo, which ended on Monday. The only other times a Winter Games did not end on Sunday was 1924, which ended on Tuesday, and 1932, which officially ended on Saturday. However, in 1932 the final 4-man bobsled runs took place on Monday, 2 days after the Closing Ceremony, because a snowstorm had forced postponement of that event several times.

Events Starting Before the Opening Ceremony

Events started today at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, 1 day before the Opening Ceremony. This is the first time this has happened at the Winter Olympics since 1984, but the 6th time it has happened overall. The years in which competition started before the Opening Ceremony are as follows:

Year Venue Opening Events Start
1964 Innsbruck 29 January 27 January
1968 Grenoble 6 February 4 February
1976 Innsbruck 4 February 3 February
1980 Lake Placid 13 February 12 February
1984 Sarajevo 8 February 7 February

Note that in 1964 and 1968, events actually started 2 days before the Opening Ceremony.

This is the first time since 1972 that Winter Olympic events started on a Thursday – it also happened in 1932, 1936, 1952, 1956, and 1960.

USA in Women’s Moguls

Women’s moguls qualifying round takes place today. The USA leads the medal list in this event with 5 medals, tied with Norway, and the USA and Norway also have 2 gold medals, topping that list.

The USA gold medalists were Donna Weinbrecht in 1992 and Hannah Kearney in 2010. Kearney is back in 2014 and is a clear favorite in the event, having won the 2013 World Championships and led the World Cup standings in 2011, 2012, and 2013. Kearney was also Overall World Cup freestyle champion in 2011 and 2012.

Other USA medals were Shannon Bahrke with 2 – a silver in 2002 and a bronze in 2010 – and Liz McIntyre, who won a silver in 1994.

Things That’ll Happen in Sochi

So what’s gonna happen, or may happen, for the next 2 weeks in Sochi? Can’t predict everything but a number of things will definitely happen, and a number of them are likely. Here goes.

  • Big news could occur in Sochi as one of several Olympians could become the greatest Winter Olympian ever, in terms of medals won. The current record is 12 Winter Olympic medals, by Norwegian cross-country skiing legend Bjørn Dæhlie.  Three Olympians are threatening this record, with a nice post on the subject done by Nick Zaccardi of NBC OlympicTalk – take a look at http://olympictalk.nbcsports.com/2014/01/29/winter-olympics-most-decorated-medals-bjorn-daehlie-ole-einar-bjoerndalen-marit-bjoergen/.
  • The most likely candidate to break the record is Dæhlie’s countryman, Ole Einar Bjørndalen, a biathlete who comes to Sochi with 11 Olympic medals, who needs 2 more medals to break the record. A medal in the men’s biathlon relay is almost assured, but the record depends on him winning an individual medal, a good possibility, or being selected for the mixed relay. Norwegian cross-country skiier Marit Bjørgen comes to Sochi with 7 Winter Olympic medals. That might seem too far away, but she is entered in all 6 women’s cross-country events, and is, by far, the greatest women’s Nordic skiier in the world. The sprint events (individual and team) might trip her up, as shorter events always can, but she could win medals in all 6 events to get to 13. German speed skater Claudia Pechstein comes to Sochi with 9 medals, but her chances were hampered when Germany did not qualify a team for the team pursuit. She will probably medal in the 3,000 and 5,000, but getting to 12 would depend on her entering and medalling in the 1,500 metres, which is not likely. She is mostly a distance skater, and seems a very long shot to get to 12, with 13 seemingly out of the question.
  • Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai and Russian Albert Demchenko in luge will become the first Olympians to compete in 7 Winter Olympics. Both have competed at every Olympics since 1992, and both have won 1 silver medal – Kasai in 1994 team competition, and Demchenko in 2006 singles.
  • Todd Lodwick in Nordic combined will become the first American to compete in 6 Winter Olympics. Lodwick has also won 1 silver medal, in the 2010 team event. Lodwick has also been selected to carry the USA Flag at the Opening Ceremony. Only three previous Olympians have carried a flag at an Opening Ceremony, as they prepared to compete in their 6th Olympics – Finnish cross-country skiier Marja-Liisa Kirvesniemi-Hämäläinen in 1994, German cross-country skiier Jochen Behle in 1998, and British biathlete/cross-country skiier Mike Dixon in 2002.
  • Petr Nedvěd will compete in his 2nd Winter Olympics, skating for the Czech Republic in ice hockey, 20 years after he participated at Lillehammer for Canada. The 20-year gap will be the longest ever gap between any 2 appearances at the Winter Olympics. However, it is not close to the Summer Olympic record of 44 years, set by Japanese equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu who competed at the 1964 Olympics, and then not again until 2008 in Beijing. He also appeared at London in 2012.
  • Japan’s Maki Tabata will compete in speed skating, 20 years after her first Winter Olympic appearance in 1994. Tabata missed the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this will be her 5th Winter Olympics. The 20-year span of Winter Olympic appearances would be a new Winter Olympic record for women, with 7 women currently tied with 18 years, except for German speed skater Claudia Pechstein, who will surpass Tabata by competing over 22 years – from 1992-2014. Pechstein competed in 1992, 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006, but missed the 2010 Winter Olympics over a controversial drug ban.
  • The men’s record is 26 years for span of Winter Olympic appearances, set by Costa Rican Arturo Kinch (1980-2006) and Mexico’s Hubertus von Hohenlohe (1984-2010). Kinch competed in both Alpine and cross-country skiing. Von Hohenlohe competes in Alpine skiing and will appear in Sochi to set a new record with 30 years span of Winter Olympic appearances.
  • When von Hohenlohe competes in Alpine skiing (he’ll probably be entered in slalom and giant slalom), he will break his own record as the oldest Winter Olympic alpine skiing competitor. He was 51 years, 25 days old (51-025) in 2010 at Vancouver. He will be 55-017 on the scheduled day of giant slalom in Sochi. The next oldest Olympic Alpine skiier was Costa Rican Julián Muñoz at Albertville in 1992, aged 45-226, almost 10 years younger than von Hohenlohe will be in Sochi. This will also make von Hohenlohe the second oldest Winter Olympian ever, after Sweden’s Carl August Kronlund in 1924 curling, who was 58-156.
  • Laís Souza, a Brazilian freestyle skiier, will sadly not compete at Sochi. Souza competed at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics in gymnastics, and was expected to become the first Summer Olympic gymnast to ever compete at the Winter Olympics. Tragically, Souza was severely injured in a training accident in Utah a few weeks ago. She dislocated a vertebrae in her neck and is currently paralyzed from the neck down, is respirator dependent, and very likely will be permanently so. A short silent prayer is in order for Ms. Souza.
  • Women’s ski jumping will be a new sport / discipline for women, the only such new sport / discipline for any gender in Sochi. This comes 4 years after the acrimonious attempt by women to get the sport placed on the Olympic Program in Vancouver, when the IOC balked at the idea and one IOC Member, Gian-Franco Kasper, said that women were not suited for ski jumping, and that it might harm them physically. As a physician, I know of no medical evidence to support Kasper’s assertion. I think the women in Sochi are OK, but I know ski jumping would likely harm me physically.
  • There will be 12 new events in Sochi – biathlon mixed relay (1), freestyle skiing halfpipe and slopestyle for men and women (4), figure skating mixed team trophy (1), luge mixed relay (1), women’s ski jumping normal hill (1), and snowboarding slopestyle and parallel special slalom for men and women (4). This will make 98 events in Sochi, after 86 in Vancouver. The Winter Olympic Program since 1992 has inflated greatly, with the following number of events: 1992 Albertville – 57; 1994 Lillehammer – 61; 1998 Nagano – 68; 2002 Salt Lake City – 78; 2006 Torino – 84; 2010 Vancouver – 86.
  • There will be 88 nations competing in Sochi, the most ever at an Olympic Winter Games. The IOC is calling the number 87, not counting India, whose NOC has been suspended, but their athletes will compete under the Olympic Flag, as Independent Olympic Athletes (IOA). National participation since 1992 has been as follows: 1992 Albertville – 64; 1994 Lillehammer – 67; 1998 Nagano – 72; 2002 Salt Lake City – 77; 2006 Torino – 79; 2010 Vancouver – 82.
  • There will be 7 nations competing in Sochi for the first time at the Winter Olympics: Dominica, Malta, Paraguay, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, and Zimbabwe
  • Thailand has competed at the Winter Olympics previously, in 2002 and 2006, but they will be represented in Sochi by a female Winter Olympian for the first time. That woman will compete as Vanessa Vanakorn, but she is far better known under her professional name of Vanessa-Mae, which she uses in her career as a concert violinist (her full name is Vanessa-Mae Vanakorn Nicholson). Albania and Montenegro will also have women competitors for the first time at a Winter Olympics.
  • Of the athletes entered in the 2014 Winter Olympics, 42% of them have competed at a previous Olympics. This is the highest ever at any recent Olympics, Winter or Summer, and is far higher than the historical average of 34.1% of Winter Olympians competing at more than one Games, which is also much greater than the Summer figure of 23.6% of athletes competing at 2 or more Games. The 42% figure reflects the longer careers of Winter Olympic athletes, now that they are able to better support themselves financially from their sport.
  • As has become common since 1980, a number of former track & field athletics Olympians will compete in bobsledding at Sochi. There are 6 such known ATH/BOB doublers scheduled to compete: Lolo Jones (USA-2008/2012), Lauryn Williams (USA-2004/2008/2012), Craig Pickering (GBR-2008), Jana Pittman (AUS-2000/2004), Hanna Mariën (BEL-2008), and Olga Fyodorova-Stulneva (RUS-2004). Fyodorova-Stulneva also competed in bobsledding in 2010, using her maiden name of Fyodorova in both 2004 and 2010.  In addition Martin Tešovič will compete for Slovakia in the bob as he did in 2010. Tešovič participated at the Summer Olympics in weightlifting in 1996, 2004, and 2012.
  • Lauryn Williams won a gold medal in the 4×100 relay at London in 2012 (and a silver in the 100 metres in 2004), and with a gold medal in Sochi, could become only the second Olympian to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, after American Eddie Eagan – 1920 boxing and 1932 bobsledding. Hanna Mariën also won a Summer Olympic medal, in the 4×100 relay at Beijng in 2008. If either Williams or Mariën medal in Sochi, they will join 4 previous Olympians to have medalled at both the Summer and Winter Olympics – Eagan, Norwegian Jacob Tullin Thams (1924 SKJ, 1936 SAI), Canadian Clara Hughes (1996 CYC, 2002/2006/2010 SSK), and German Christa Rothenburger-Luding (1988 CYC, 1984/1988/1992 SSK).
  • These could be called the sibling Olympics, as there are lots of them competing in Sochi. The USA team alone has 7 sets of siblings on the squad, and there are 9 brother pairs in men’s ice hockey. But these are bested by the Canadian Dufour-Lapointe sisters (Chloe, Maxime, and Justine) in freestyle skiing, the Swiss Gasparin sisters in biathlon (Aita, Elisa and Selina), and the New Zealand Wells brothers (Beau-James, Byron, and Jossi) in freestyle skiing. We had a longer post on this on 20 January, http://olympstats.com/2014/01/20/multiple-siblings-at-the-winter-olympics/, detailing the 19 previous times that families have had 3 or more siblings competing at the Winter Olympics.
  • Siblings Lyndon and Amy Sheehan will both compete in freestyle skiing halfpipe, but for different nations. Amy competes for Australia, where they were both born, while Lyndon represents New Zealand. Has this ever happened before, with siblings competing at the same Olympics, in the same sport, but for different nations? Oh, yes, the first time occurred at the 1960 Winter Olympics in ice hockey when brothers Steve Tikal, who skated for Australia, faced off against František Tikal, who played for Czechoslovakia. It has also happened a number of other times – see our full post on this topic from a few days ago –  http://olympstats.com/2014/02/01/siblings-same-olympics-same-sport-different-nations/
  • Italian Armin Zöggeler has 5 medals in men’s singles luge, with 2 golds, 1 silver, and 2 bronzes. He is one of only 3 Olympians, Winter or Summer, to win 5 medals in the same individual event, joined by Japanese judoka Ryoko Tamura-Tani, with 5 medals in women’s extra-lightweight judo and German speed skater Claudia Pechstein, in women’s 5,000 metres. If Pechstein or Zöggeler win a medal in those events, they will become the first Olympians to win 6 medals in the same individual event. Only 2 Olympians have won 6 medals in the same event – Hungarian Aladár Gerevich in men’s team sabre fencing, and German Hans Günter Winkler in equestrian team show jumping – both at the Summer Olympics, and both in team events.
  • If Zöggeler wins a silver medal in men’s singles luge, he will become the first Olympian to record a double medal sweep – 2 gold, 2 silvers, 2 bronzes – in any event, individual or team, Summer or Winter.
  • Austrian Marlies Schild and Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen could complete individual medal sweeps – gold/silver/bronze in the same individual event. Schild needs a gold medal in women’s slalom to complete her sweep, while Bjørndalen needs a bronze medal in men’s 20 km biathlon to complete his individual medal sweep.
  • German speed skater Claudia Pechstein will be attempting to win the women’s 5,000 metres for the 4th time. She won the event in 1994, 1998, and 2002, but won silver in 2006, and could not compete in 2010 because of a contested drug ban. If she succeeds, she will become only the third Olympian, and the first Winter Olympian, to win the same individual event at 4 Olympics. This has been done previously only by Al Oerter (USA) in athletics discus throw (1956-68) and Carl Lewis (USA) in athletics long jump (1984-96), unless you count Ray Ewry (USA), in standing high jump and standing long jump, but that includes the 1906 Olympics, not recognized by the IOC. Depending on whether you’re a lumper or a splitter, you could also include Danish sailor Paul Elvstrøm, who won the sailing monotype class in 1948-60, but the class changed slightly during those years. However you look at it, if Pechstein wins her 4th gold in the 5K, she will become the first Olympian to have done that in an individual event, but not consecutively.
  • Americans Shaun White, in snowboarding halfpipe, and Shani Davis, in 1,000 metre speedskating, will be going for their 3rd consecutive gold medals in those events, both having won in 2006 and 2010. At the Winter Olympics, this has only been done 3 times, and all by women – Claudia Pechstein (as above), Norwegian Sonja Henie in women’s singles figure skating (1928-36), and American Bonnie Blair in women’s 500 metre speed skating (1988-94).
  • Yevgeny Plyushchenko could become the 2nd figure skater to win medals in 4 Olympics. Its not technically at 4 Winter Olympics, because the first time it was done was by Sweden’s Gillis Grafström, who won gold medals in men’s singles in 1920, 1924, and 1928, and a silver medal in 1932. The 1920 figure skating gold medal was actually at the Summer Olympics.

So let the Games begin. It’ll be a yabba-dabba-doo time, we’ll have a gay old time.

Sochi’s Youngest and Oldest – And How They Rank All-Time

Well, since Hilary began our new policy of starting with Bob Dylan lyrics, we’ll see which Winter Olympics athletes soon “will build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung, and may [they] stay forever young.”

Who are the youngest and oldest athletes that will compete in Sochi and how do they rank historically with the oldest/youngest all-time at the Winter Olympics?

Well, the youngest female will be German ski jumper Gianina Ernst, born on 31 December 1998, who will be 15-041 (years-days) when she competes on 10 February. The second youngest will be American freestyle skiier Maggie Voisin, born 14 December 1998, who competes the next day in slopestyle, and will be 15-059.

The youngest “man” is Japanese snowboarder Ayumu Hirano, born 28 October 1998, who will also start competition on 11 February, in halfpipe, when he will be 15-106. The next youngest male is Austrian freestyler Marco Ladner, born 22 April 1998, who also is entered in halfpipe, and will be 15-295 when he makes his Olympic début.

But none of those approach the Olympic Winter records for youngest competitors. The youngest female Winter Olympian was British figure skater Cecilia Colledge, only 11-072, when she competed in singles at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, while the youngest male to compete at the Winter Olympics was East German figure skater Jan Hoffmann, who was 12-111 at the 1968 Grenoble Games.

So we have yet to see an Olympian born in the 21st century – that landmark will surely occur in Rio de Janeiro two years hence. The first born modern Olympian that we are certain of, incidentally, was 1900 French equestrian Louis, Count de Douet-Graville, born on 27 February 1831, over 157 years before Gianini Ernst and Maggie Voisin.

The oldest competitor in Sochi will be the Mexican Alpine skiing Prince, Hubertus von Hohenlohe, or more properly, Hubertus Rudolph, Prince von Fürstenberg-von Hohenlohe-Langenburg. Billed in some recent media pieces as “The Most Interesting Olympian in the World,” the Prince-Alpine skiier-rock singer-professional photographer was born 2 February 1959, and will have just turned 55-years-old in Sochi. He will become the 2nd oldest Winter Olympian of all-time, surpassed only by a Swedish curler at the 1st Winter Olympics, Carl-August Kronlund, who was 58-156 when he competed at Chamonix.

Prince von Hohenlohe will become the oldest ever Winter Olympic Alpine skiier, although he actually already holds that distinction, as he was 51-025 when he competed at Vancouver in 2010.

The next oldest man in Sochi will be German curler, John Jahr, born 10 April 1965, who will be almost 49 years old when he starts competition.

The oldest female in Sochi will be Angelica Morrone di Silvestri, an Italian-American, who will cross-country ski for Dominica along with her husband, Gary di Silvestri, an American investment specialist. Morrone di Silvestri was born on 25 November 1965, and will be 48-081 when she skis in the 10 km classical in Sochi on 13 February. This will make her the oldest woman to ever compete in Olympic cross-country skiing, by far, surpassing Norwegian Hilde Gjermundshaug Pedersen, who was 41-100 back in 2006 at Torino. The di Silvestris ski for Dominica because they used to vacation there, and well, it seemed like as a good a country as any to represent at the Winter Olympics. The daily mean temperature in Dominica, incidentally, varies year-round between 21.8 and 24.6 degrees Celsius (71.2 to 76.3 Fahrenheit).

Gary di Silvestri turned 47 on 3 February, and will be the 3rd oldest male Winter Olympian in 2014, and also will become the 3rd oldest man to compete in Winter Olympic cross-country skiing, trailing Costa Rican Arturo Kinch, who was 49-309 in 2006, and Thailand’s Prawat Nagvajara, who was 47-078 when he compete in Torino.

Third-oldest Olympian of some sort seems to run in the di Silvestri family. Angelica will become the 3rd oldest female Winter Olympian of all-time, trailing US Virgin Island’s lugeist Anne Abernathy, who was 48-306 at Salt Lake City. The second oldest female Winter Olympian was American curler Joni Cotton, 48-266, also in 2002.

“May God bless and keep [them] always, may [their] wishes all come true … ”

It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part that counts…

“For the loser now, Will be later to win”. I guess when Bob Dylan wrote those words 50 years ago he never for a minute thought they’d be applied to the thorny question of which country is the best at finishing last at the Winter Olympics. The answer is not particularly gratifying if you happen to come from Great Britain. The British might have had an empire on which the sun never set but the conquest of India and large parts of Africa is not ideal preparation for various forms of sliding down a mountain or skating across frozen ponds.

So how did we calculate the table below? Very simply the last place finisher in every Winter Olympic event from 1924 to 2010 is awarded a gold medal, second to last won silver and, of course, third last gets bronze. For ease of calculation we have ignored anybody not included in the final classification so if really wanted to avoid “winning a medal” all you had to do was fall, give up or get disqualified.
The results show Great Britain with quite a lead on this “reverse medal table” which I suppose is legacy of being ever present at the Winter Games without ever being a major player at the Games. Indeed it was a Briton, Cyril Horn, who in this upside down view of Olympic history became the 1st Olympic champion by finishing last in the 500m speed skating at the Chamonix games of 1924.

The rest of top ten can be divided into countries like Japan and South Korea who like Great Britain have usually elected to fill their quota of competitors without ever really expecting to dominate the competition and countries like the USA and Canada who seem to be here by sheer force of numbers.

Argentina in 6th place with 31 “golds” is comfortably the top nation in this table to have never won a medal by the usual method of accounting with Greece next best in 15th. The most successful nation in the history of the Winter Games, Norway, also proves successful in not losing. Norway’s 15 reverse golds puts them outside the top twenty in our list and subtracted from their genuine gold medal total of 107 puts them at +92 and well clear of the USSR at +74 and Germany at +71. Unfortunately for Britain this method of calculation still keeps them at the wrong end of the list with -44 ahead of Japan on -35 with Argentina moving into third on -31.

It has to be said that coming last in an event doesn’t mean that you’re in the same class at ski jumper Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards and the Mexican cross-country skier who took so long to finish at the Calgary Games that a search party was sent out to look for him. Sometimes it’s just that Lady Luck looks you in the eye and then proceeds to knee you in the groin. That’s what happened to American speed skater Buddy Solem in the 10000 m at the St. Moritz Games of 1948. Halfway through the event a warm wind blew in from the south and started to melt the ice. By the time Solem finished his heat you could see waves forming on the ice each time he passed by. He finished 5 minutes behind the next slowest and nearly ten minutes behind the winner.

My advice to Britain? See what you can do to make additions to the Olympic programme. Maybe the introduction of darts on ice, snow snooker or sub-zero cricket may help drop Britain down the table. On second thoughts, let’s forget sub-zero cricket – the Australians might just prove too good at that.

Rank Nation G S B Total
1 GBR 53 67 43 163
2 JPN 44 43 36 123
3 USA 43 60 68 171
4 CAN 42 41 45 128
5 KOR 38 32 30 100
6 ARG 31 25 26 82
7 CHN 29 39 20 88
8 FRA 25 30 30 85
9 AUS 24 15 21 60
10 YUG 24 15 17 56
11 ITA 23 33 22 78
12 HUN 22 24 23 69
13 BEL 21 6 8 35
14 AUT 18 16 26 60
15 GRE 18 15 8 41
16 ROU 17 21 25 63
17 GER 17 16 18 51
18 BUL 16 13 7 36
19 LAT 16 9 15 40
20 POL 15 24 25 64
21 NOR 15 14 15 44
22 UKR 13 17 8 38
23 SWE 13 12 16 41
24 RUS 13 11 18 42
25 TPE 13 6 11 30
26 SUI 11 17 22 50
27 EST 10 6 5 21
28 KAZ 9 12 10 31
29 CHI 9 7 5 21
30 MGL 8 11 10 29
31 NZL 8 7 5 20
32 LIB 8 6 4 18
33 NED 8 5 14 27
34 PRK 8 5 7 20
35 ARM 8 5 2 15
36 BLR 8 3 16 27
37 BRA 7 0 5 12
38 CZE 6 12 11 29
39 MEX 6 8 7 21
40 DEN 6 8 1 15
41 MDA 6 3 4 13
42 CYP 6 2 4 12
43 PUR 6 2 4 12
44 TCH 5 17 10 32
45 TUR 5 12 6 23
46 ESP 5 9 12 26
47 ISV 5 5 3 13
48 SVK 5 4 9 18
49 ISL 5 3 6 14
50 FIN 4 6 9 19
51 CRC 4 5 3 12
52 URS 4 4 7 15
53 LIE 4 3 4 11
54 BIH 4 3 1 8
55 IRI 4 2 2 8
56 SMR 3 6 1 10
57 FRG 3 5 8 16
58 MAR 3 4 5 12
59 HKG 3 2 0 5
60 UZB 3 1 2 6
61 IND 3 1 1 5
62 GUA 3 1 0 4
63 GDR 3 0 2 5
64 LTU 3 0 2 5
65 ALG 3 0 1 4
66 HON 3 0 0 3
67 IRL 2 5 3 10
68 CRO 2 4 7 13
69 MKD 2 3 0 5
70 AND 2 2 1 5
71 BOL 2 1 1 4
72 POR 2 1 1 4
73 KGZ 2 1 0 3
74 LUX 2 0 1 3
75 ALB 2 0 0 2
76 RSA 1 5 1 7
77 SLO 1 4 6 11
78 EUN 1 2 1 4
79 NEP 1 1 1 3
80 SCG 1 1 1 3
81 TJK 1 1 1 3
82 EGY 1 1 0 2
83 SEN 1 1 0 2
84 SRB 1 1 0 2
85 FIJ 1 0 2 3
86 AHO 1 0 0 1
87 CMR 1 0 0 1
88 KEN 1 0 0 1
89 THA 1 0 0 1
90 TTO 1 0 0 1
91 GEO 0 2 4 6
92 IVB 0 1 1 2
93 MON 0 1 1 2
94 GHA 0 1 0 1
95 GUM 0 1 0 1
96 ISR 0 1 0 1
97 PER 0 1 0 1
98 PHI 0 1 0 1
99 VEN 0 1 0 1
100 AZE 0 0 1 1
101 BER 0 0 1 1
102 ETH 0 0 1 1
103 MAD 0 0 1 1
104 PAK 0 0 1 1

The NFL and the Olympic Games


Jim Thorpe

Tonight the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks will face each other in Super Bowl XLVIII so it seems as good a time as ever to delve into the link between the National Football League and the Olympic Games. The connection goes back as far as the beginning of the NFL in 1920.
The first Olympian to play in the NFL (or the American Professional Football Association as it was then called) is still almost certainly the greatest all-round sportsman ever to grace the gridiron – the legendary Jim Thorpe. For publicity purposes Thorpe was even installed at the League’s first chairman. The link continues to this day in the shape of Tampa Bay running back Jeff Demps and Marquise Goodwin, wide receiver with the Buffalo Bills.

The only man to reach the peak of both sports is another track and field legend in the shape of “Bullet” Bob Hayes. Eight years after his triumphs at the Tokyo Olympics he was part of the victorious Dallas Cowboys team at Super Bowl VI and later followed Thorpe into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Michael Carter, shot put silver medallist in 1984 is the other Olympian to earn a Super Bowl ring – he did it just 6 months after his Olympic appearance.

Unsurprisingly the vast majority of the Olympic/NFL have been both American and have come from a track and field background but there have been a number of exceptions. Wrestling is the only other sport where multiple Olympians, including 2 gold medallists, have graduated into the NFL but the last to date left the NFL after the 1969 season.
A unique case is that of NY Giants back-up quarterback Randy Dean. He made fleeting appearances in the late 70s after having been a valuable member of the US handball team at the 1976 Games.
The only non-American to reach this list is Australian high jumper Colin Ridgway. He arrived on a college scholarship to Lamar University in Texas and was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as a punter. His stint in the NFL lasted just 3 games before he was released.

Another unusual case is that of Herschel Walker, the only NFL player to have competed in the Winter Olympics. Already an established star in the NFL, Walker was a late addition to the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation’s bobsled programme for the 1992 Winter Olympics. Joining the squad only after the Minnesota Vikings had ended their season his appearance on the US roster was unpopular with many of his US teammates. Pushing for Brian Shimer he finished 7th.

Finally we should remember one man who never made it to this list. Stone Johnson was a finalist in the 200 m at the Rome Olympics and a member of the US relay team that was disqualified after crossing the line first in the final. In 1963 he was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs against the Oakland Raiders when he sustained a broken neck. He succumbed to his injuries 10 days later. Although he never played a down in a regular-season NFL game, his number 33 was retired by the Chiefs.

Olympic gold and Super Bowl winner
“Bullet” Bob Hayes USA
1964 100m/4×100 Gold
Dallas Cowboys (1965-74) – Super Bowl winner 1972, San Francisco 49ers (1975)

Olympic medal and Super Bowl winner
Mike Carter USA
1984 Shot Put Silver
San Francisco (1984-92)

Olympic gold medal and NFL experience
Jim Bausch – Chicago Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds (1933)
Ron Brown – Los Angeles Rams (1984-90, 1991), Los Angeles Raiders (1990)
Milt Campbell – Cleveland Browns (1957)
Henry Carr – New York Giants (1965-67)

Glenn Davis – Detroit Lions (1960-61)
Sam Graddy – Denver Broncos (1987-88), Los Angeles Raiders (1990-92)
Jim Hines – Miami Dolphins (1969), Kansas City Chiefs (1970)
James Jett – Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders (1993-2000)
Johnny Jones – New York Jets (1980-84)
Glenn Morris – Detroit Lions (1940)
Tommie Smith – Cincinnati Bengals (1969)
Jim Thorpe – Canton Bulldogs (1920 & 1926), Cleveland Indians (1921), Oorang Indians (1922-23), Rock Island Independents (1924-25), New York Giants (1925), Chicago Cardinals (1928)
Gerald Tinker – Atlanta Falcons (1974-75), Green Bay Packers (1975)
Peter Mehringer – Chicago Cardinals (1934-36)
John Spellman – Providence Steam Rollers (1925-31), Boston Braves (1932)

For a full list of all Olympians who have played in NFL (or AFL) please visit this page