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
  • 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,, 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 –
  • 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.