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Winter Olympians back in action

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Ollie Williams | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009

We're now less than 100 days away from the 2010 Winter Olympics, which begin in the Canadian city of Vancouver on 12 February.

As a member of our Olympics reporting team and an ice hockey commentator, I'll be in Vancouver (and Whistler) alongside Rob Hodgetts and Anna Thompson, covering the Games for the BBC Sport website.

But the Games won't just emerge out of nothing. The world's top winter sports athletes are already getting stuck into the winter season - there is action all over the place as they cram in training sessions and try to get the kind of results, and confidence, that will see them on to medals in Canada.

Here's a round-up of what's been going on, including links to the best stuff on the BBC and elsewhere, and a look ahead to the coverage we've got coming up.

Solden

Solden, in Austria, is almost always the first place to look when the winter sports season gets going. It's the traditional venue for the start of the skiing World Cup circuit.

This year, Solden's men's giant slalom competition was won by Swiss skier Didier Cuche for the men, ahead of American star Ted Ligety, both of whom usually feature near the top of the standings.

Cuche won the 2007 world championship bronze medal in giant slalom, and holds the world title in super-G, another alpine skiing discipline (all of which are explained in our guides). Ligety has the 2009 world bronze to his name, and won Olympic gold in the combined event in Torino in 2006.

In the women's event, Finland's Tanja Poutiainen nipped in ahead of Austrian local favourite Kathrin Zettel to win by a margin of one hundredth of a second. Poutiainen won silver in the giant slalom at the last Olympics, but has never won a world or Olympic title, so it's a great start to her campaign.

However, another Austrian star, Nicole Hosp, tore her knee ligaments and is going to miss the rest of the season. She won the giant slalom world title in 2007, and would have been a medal contender at Vancouver.

The news from Solden wasn't great for Britain's Chemmy Alcott, either. Alcott is GB's only real hope in women's skiing right now, and last month she told Anna she has "the self-belief to win gold", but she also needs results - and finished down in 19th in Solden. Here's Swissinfo's report on proceedings, and the results are here.

The next event is slalom in the Finnish resort of Levi on 14 and 15 November. Check the skiing governing body's full calendar of World Cup events for more. And once you've done that, take a look at Ghana's "snow leopard" Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, who spoke to us last week.

Britain's snowboarders have been in action too. Ben Kilner, a 21-year-old from Banchory in Aberdeenshire, is hoping to reach Vancouver to compete in the half-pipe event, and finished 14th in the sport's second World Cup event of the season in Switzerland.

He didn't reach the final but, in his own words, "the result keeps me on track for Vancouver so I'm really pleased with that". Next up is the third round on 6 and 7 January 2010 in Kreischberg, Austria. There's more on the SnowsportsGB website, and Kilner was in London not so long ago, showing off at Battersea power station. We spent a bit of time speaking to him here.

Ben KilnerBritain's Ben Kilner - a snowboarding powerhouse in the making?

The hundred-day countdown mark gave the British Olympic Association a cue to voice fears that London 2012 fever might overshadow British achievements in Vancouver.

BOA boss Andy Hunt said: "There's no way that I want winter athletes to ever feel like second-class citizens. They are absolutely fundamental to the Olympic movement, both in Britain and around the world."

Britain's winter sports competitors get roughly 1.5% of the funding available to the summer sports - and usually have to train abroad for their troubles, too. (There being no skeleton run or ski jump in the UK, among other facilities.)

We've heard tales of British winter sports athletes flogging goods from their car boots to make ends meet and pay training costs, and certainly there are others who fund themselves in the absence of official backing.

So novel ways of raising cash are nothing new, but the US speedskating team still raised eyebrows when they got US late-night TV comic Stephen Colbert involved.

Colbert's show is now sponsoring the team - or at least, the show's fans are. The show itself is paying nothing, but will encourage its viewers to donate. The US team say they don't know if they'll get $5 or $500,000.

Is it time for a GB response? Should the next series of X Factor - or perhaps more appropriately, Dancing On Ice - focus on finding winter sports talent, with the phone voting profits going to the athletes? I'm thinking Hole In The Wall On Ice would be appointment-to-view television in our living room.

Britain's skeleton team are one of our best bets for a medal in Vancouver. Shelley Rudman brought home silver in 2006, GB's only medal of the Games, and is heading back into action alongside partner and fellow skeleton star Kristan Bromley this year.

Their first two World Cup events are on 12 and 20 November at the US venues of Park City and Lake Placid respectively. Before they left the country, the BBC went filming with the pair.

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Nationality issues are causing consternation in both the British and French camps ahead of the Winter Olympics.

Ice dancers Mark Hanretty and Christine Chitwood have given up on their bid to get into the British team for Vancouver - because as far as organisers are concerned, Christine is still American.

Though she married an Englishman in August, her visa has yet to drop through the letterbox, and it'll be two more years before she can claim UK citizenship. All of which leaves Sochi 2014 as their target.

Eunice Barber

Remember French athlete Eunice Barber? Initially from Sierra Leone but a French competitor since 1999, Barber (right) is a former world champion in the heptathlon and long jump.

Her next trick was going to be a bid for women's bobsleigh gold in Vancouver, having re-trained to represent France in the event. But it takes two to tango long jump bobsleigh, and Canadian-born Lesa Mayes-Stringer, the only woman capable of driving the French team's sled alongside Barber, has been denied French nationality for a second time.

"There is not much hope left," according to Charles Dumont, technical director of the French winter sports federation, quoted in the Vancouver Sun. "But we will try to mobilize support in political circles."

Finally, keep an ear out for BBC Radio 5 live's next Winter Olympics special, coming up on Thursday, 12 November from 2000 GMT, with Eleanor Oldroyd presenting. I'll pop details of who's appearing on the end of this blog as soon as I know, and the whole thing will be on iPlayer too.

Questions about the Winter Olympics? Want to know more about one of the sports, one of the athletes, or BBC coverage? Leave a comment below and I'll get onto it for you, or you can ask me on Twitter.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    What about the Ice Hockey Ollie? Is there going to be any Great Britain involvement in Vancouver at all? Who would be your tip for the Gold?

  • Comment number 2.

    I'm really looking forward to the ice hockey, it should be one of the highlights of the Games.

    Men's ice hockey at the Olympics is usually a pretty open affair. The world rankings place Russia and Canada as the top two teams with only a very thin margin separating them - and the Canadian team will be mortified if they don't win gold at the country's national sport on home ice. I'm going to make myself a complete hostage to fortune and add that the US team doesn't overly excite me. Sweden are defending champions but I fancy Sidney Crosby's Canada against Alex Ovechkin's Russia in the final.

    Russia isn't the same force in the women's game, and I think a lot of people would go for a US-Canada final. Again, the Canadians with home support will take some stopping.

    There are no British teams at the 2010 Winters. Britain's men are 25th in the 2009 world rankings, whereas you had to be in the top nine after 2008 to automatically qualify. So the GB team went into a qualifying tournament instead, but went out in the first stage.

    It's fair to say the British team are still some way off getting to a Winter Olympics, but I'm hopeful it'll happen one day - and if it does it may well be the women who get there first.

    The GB women are ranked 20th at the moment and in the women's game, only the top six reach the Games automatically. Again, the British team were sent into Olympic qualifers, but they finished second to Norway in the first group stage, which knocked them out. (You needed to win your group in two separate stages to reach the Games - it's not easy.)

    The difference with the women is I think they've got a clearer path to breaking into the top tier of the sport. It'll still be very difficult, but even if I can't envisage a British ice hockey medal in my lifetime, I can see us scraping into an Olympic tournament at least. I wrote a piece on the women's team a while back - it's a bit old now, but may give you some idea of how things stand.

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    I'm looking forward to the new winter sports season.

    Any news on the cross country team or biathlon? There was some talk loast year about a couple of young x-country skiers, Andrew Musgrave and Andrew Young. And the biathlon team had a new well respected manager in charge last year. Although minority sports as far as Brits are concerned it would be good to catch up on some news about them.

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear ken

    I realise that poor grammar is universal these days but I am more concerned that your post is 'off topic' and may be removed as a result.

    Gang violence is a summer Olympic sport is it not?

    best regards,

    The UK

  • Comment number 6.

    Davedug - the biathlon winter season doesn't kick off for a few more weeks (the first World Cup event is early December) but once they're back in action I'll be keeping tabs, and we may well speak to British competitors on one of 5 live's special programmes looking ahead to Vancouver.

    There's quite an interesting "day in the life" with British Biathlon's Adele Walker here though.

    Same applies to cross-country - the World Cup starts on 21 November and I'll be back with a similar blog mentioning any results. Musgrave and Young are GB's World Cup team.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ollie - so what are the BBC's Winter Olympics coverage plans?

  • Comment number 8.

    Jordan D - it's not for me to pre-empt any official announcement of our TV or radio coverage but Jonny Bramley, our executive producer, gave a very brief summary in a blog comment late last year.

    My concern is more with the online side of things and that will be broadly similar to the way we covered the Beijing Games: online video, comprehensive live text commentaries, and reports/blogs. I'm aiming to get around as many sports as I can, and cover plenty of different nations alongside the GB team where possible.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi Ollie,

    Just wondering what information you have on the short track skating that will be happening? Although not the best known sport, will it be shown?

    At least two Brits qualified over the weekend for the olympics during an event in Montreal. So hopefully this will be shown on the telly as well?

  • Comment number 10.

    Hi Mike - I'm not sure where you got the news that a couple of Brits qualified. My knowledge of the short track qualification system isn't the greatest (it's explained here but not easily digested while sat in front of FlashForward on a Monday night), but to my knowledge, it's points from the World Cup events last week and this week that would get the Brits through.

    There were some good performances in Montreal last week, but I believe they still need to go to Marquette from Thursday 12 November onwards and do well to earn places in Vancouver. The British governing body's website, which I am pretty sure would be shouting it from the rooftops had anyone definitely qualified, reports on the good performances but gives the impression there is work still to be done.

    If members of Team GB do reach the short track in Vancouver then I'd expect us to air it, and you'll certainly get coverage online if not on TV. But we don't have a full schedule just yet. Again, I'll do my best in Vancouver to get to the short track and, if Brits are there, report on their progress.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hey Ollie, massively looking forward to the ice hockey as well, Russia is looking very strong, but the BBC didn't really treat it as a "highlight" sport in the last Olympic games, as far as i remember a lot of the matches were cut down into short highlights. Are the BBC going to show more live matches this time round? It is a great chance to raise the awareness of the sport in this country.

  • Comment number 12.

    Ollie,
    Good day. 75 Days to go. There must be some news on what we can expect to see and when by now?

    Come on BBC, i get to know which 'celebrity' is skating or dancing on the latest instalment of reality (cos we all figure dance) tv, well in advance.

    Cheers
    Go Canada

  • Comment number 13.

    Patience, m'boy! (Or girl.) All shall be revealed, but it's not within my power to do so just yet. Won't be long, though.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi ollie,

    Any news on freestyle skiing, am really interested in moguls . I am hearing that GBR ski team Ellie Koyander has qualified for Vancouver ?

  • Comment number 15.

    Bumpscoach - thanks to the wonders of Twitter Ellie says: "I've met all of the Olympic criteria (+100 FIS pts) - just need to hold my position within the World Top 30 before Jan '10." So there you go, she's in a very strong position to reach Vancouver. I'm sure there will be more about Ellie soon.

  • Comment number 16.

    Ollie,
    Good day to you Sir, well i got a "Patience my dear boy" last time.
    So here we go again...
    News of the line up/coverage yet for 2010 in Vancouver yet?
    We are getting very close now, if you do not know can you ask someone.
    Cheers
    Flamer
    Go Team Canada

  • Comment number 17.

    And you've been very patient - I've chased this up, as it should really come from one of our senior editorial team, and we should have a full blog on coverage details in the next few days. But, if that's too long to wait, take a look at this page, hot off the press from our publicity office:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2010/01_january/19/winter.shtml

  • Comment number 18.

    Cheers Ollie...Superstar

    Now after me...

    Go Canada!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm wondering if the schedule of what is on BBC TV has been posted yet and secondly are you able to give us a link of where it will be posted?

  • Comment number 20.

    Hello Ollie,

    i would like to ask about ice hockey coverage live. Is`a any chance watch matches in Tv ? I am big fan of Czech ice hockey team . Thank you for answer.

    Rom

 

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