Blog: Good times at the Games

Al Jazeera's Chris Tortise on the highs and lows so far at the Winter Olympics.


    Steady, aim - Slovakia's Anastazia Kuzmina shoots her way to an Olympic gold [AFP]
    There is a certain magic to the Winter Olympic Games.

    Despite often playing second fiddle to their summer counterpart, the Games often throw up some massive shocks that defy all odds.

    After a spectacular opening ceremony in Vancouver, it was fitting that the first gold medal of the games went to a veteran of the Olympic scene.

    Simon Amman, the winner of the two ski jumping titles in Torino four years ago, produced the form that looked to have deserted him after becoming Olympic champion.

    But despite not being the favourite for the title, his gold was always a possibility.

    The first big surprise of the Games was to come with the winner of the second gold.

    The biathlon is probably the most gruelling of all winter sports.

    A cross-country ski, over a minimum of 7.5km for the women and 10km for the men, is combined with the shooting of targets 15 metres away.

    A missed target can lead to either a penalty loop or a minute added to the competitor's time, meaning every shot is crucial.

    And despite a large list of winners so far on the world cup circuit, Anastazia Kuzmina of Slovakia stepped up to take the title.

    To win on the tour, she missed just a single target and produced a blistering time on the skis in the sprint race.

    Helena Jonsson, probably the favourite after a stunning season, finished a poor 12th and will struggle to pick up a medal in the pursuit.

    Vincent Jay of France won the men's sprint in another shock, with the best Olympian of all time, Ole Einer Bjoerndalen, finishing way down the field.

    Norway have had a poor start to the games, and are yet to win a title, which will be disappointing for their army of fans.

    But Switzerland have started at a blistering pace, racking up three gold medals in as many days, including stalwarts Dario Cologna and Didier Defago.

    Not bad for the small European country.

    Oh, Canada! Alexandre Bilodeau takes gold in the freestyle skiing moguls [GALLO/GETTY]
    Home-grown gold

    The home nation have finally won their first gold, with Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau snatching the title in the freestyle moguls.

    The crowd-pleasing event is spectacular to watch, and for a Canadian to win the medal meant a lot to the partisan supporters.

    Overshadowing the event, is the death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, a first-time Olympian who died in a practice run at the Whistler Sliding Centre on Friday.

    Competition organisers have blamed the competitor for his error, but have since raised the walls at the exit of curve 16 and changed the ice profile, leading to speculation over the track's safety.

    It was an emotional moment for the Georgian team who received a standing ovation at the opening ceremony, but they have rightly decided to continue competing in Canada.

    Such support from the spectators is indicative of the spirit of the Olympic Games, but particularly those who follow winter sports.

    Lots at stake

    Most of the events in the programme are also world cups, meaning there are various rounds from all over the world, with competitors striving for the overall title, as well as some individual events.

    With this format, there can certainly be a cult following, especially in countries that experience extreme winters – think Europe.

    In some countries – principally Scandinavian countries – winter sports outweigh the likes of football in popularity, with massive crowds following the competition.

    There is still plenty more excitement to come throughout the Games, with the skeleton and bobsleigh yet to start, both of which are promising fireworks.

    The big hope for the British will be Kelly Rudman, the former skeleton World Cup Champion, leading a big charge with her teammates.

    Her compatriots also have a strong chance in the curling.

    The Chinese will be looking to continue their figure skating success with more medals in the discipline.

    Bode Miller, who got a bronze behind Defago in the downhill on Monday, will want to push on in the Super-Combined and Super-G, with fellow Americans Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso medal favourites for the women.

    But as no medal is a given, who else will produce an upset?

    Watch this space…

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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