Ladies first in Sochi's Black Sea bubble

Kim, Takanashi and Shiffrin set to be headline-makers as Games tries to outdo Summer rival

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 9:33pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 January, 2014, 9:57pm


Kim Yu-na, Sara Takanashi and Mikaela Shiffrin have the task of dragging the Winter Olympics out of Sochi's Black Sea bubble and transforming a spectacle overshadowed by its summer cousin.

With the Russian resort under security lockdown, and with US$50 billion lavished on the February 7-23 showpiece, the likes of figure skater Kim, ski jumper Takanashi and teenage slalom queen Shiffrin are set to be headline-makers.

Their grace and power will undoubtedly overshadow even Ole Einar Bjoerndalen.

Who? He's the Norwegian biathlete who has 11 medals stretching back to 1994 and needs just one more to join compatriot Bjorn Daehlie as the most decorated winter Olympian of all time.

It's not easy to do well every time, but I've made preparations enough to gain plenty of confidence
Kim Yu-na

The fact that biathlon struggles to be TV-friendly is symptomatic of the Winter Olympics' struggles to break out of its core markets - there will be around 3,000 competitors compared to 10,500 at the London Olympics.

At least Kim has the advantage of figure skating's wide exposure.

The 23-year-old South Korean world champion is the defending gold medallist from Vancouver in 2010, although she heads to Sochi slowly building her form after injury.

"I'm in good shape," said Kim, as she bids to become just the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles and the first since Germany's Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988. "It's not easy to do well every time, but I've made preparations enough to gain plenty of confidence," she says.

Kim will quit after Sochi, as will her Japanese rival Mao Asada, the 2008 and 2010 world champion and silver medallist at Vancouver.

Japan failed to win a single gold four years ago, but in 17-year-old Takanashi, they should bury that statistic as women's ski jumping makes its historic bow at the Games.

Last Sunday, Takanashi soared to her eighth World Cup win this season.

With major rival Sarah Hendrickson of the United States coming off five months of rehab following a cruciate ligament injury in August, Takanashi looks as close as a sure thing for gold.

Women's ski jumping is not the only new arrival in Russia.

In all, 12 more golds will be won this time thanks to the addition to the Games programme of, for example, a team event in figure skating as well as slopestyle as the X-Games complexion of freestyle and snowboarding becomes even more important.

In Alpine skiing, the US will look to shrug off the injury- enforced absence of Lindsey Vonn by pinning their hopes on 18-year-old slalom queen Shiffrin, the world champion and winner of last year's World Cup crystal globe.

Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal, the winner of two men's downhills and two Super-G events this season, looks unstoppable although the erratic talents of Bode Miller, now 36, and with five Olympic medals to his credit, may have an impact

In slalom and giant slalom, the technical rather than speed events, the US will look to Ted Ligety to hold off the charging Austrian, Marcel Hirscher.

Japan will look to Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Vancouver bronze medallist, to challenge Canada's Patrick Chan, the triple world champion, for the men's figure skating title.

But former champion Yevgeny Plushenko, the 2006 Turin gold medallist, will thrive on home support after his controversial selection.

The raw power of ice hockey superpowers Canada, the defending champions, and old rivals the US, should again see them into the gold medal game.

Whoever gets there, a host of NHL stars such as Canada's Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin of Russia, will light up the competition.

Ovechkin will be cheered on by tennis star fiancée Maria Kirilenko battling for flashbulb space with Russian rival Maria Sharapova, who is also due to attend the Games as a presenter for US broadcaster NBC.

Agence France-Presse