BBC BLOGS - Ollie Williams
« Previous | Main | Next »

Life goes on after Winter Olympics

Post categories:

Ollie Williams | 10:15 UK time, Tuesday, 23 March 2010

It's easy to imagine that Winter Olympians depart en masse for a nice, warm beach the moment their Olympic Games end.

Almost all of them are barely ever in the spotlight for more than a month every four years, and many are never heard from again - at least, until the next time.

Even skeleton, a sport which has now produced Britain's only medals at the last two Winter Olympics, is unlikely to get much more love than some reports when Amy Williams returns to competition, and the odd line buried on page 57 if she reaches a World Cup podium.

There are a good many reasons why that is the case, but the dazzle of the Olympic torch is sometimes guilty of obscuring the broader view.

Is it just the media and spectators whose enthusiasm dims with the flame, though? Or do the athletes themselves struggle to avoid a post-Olympic low?

The Figure Skating World Championships, beginning in Italy on Tuesday, are the perfect place to find out.

Stacey Kemp and David King at Vancouver 2010Hello again - GB's Stacey Kemp and David King will be back on the world stage

Figure skating has a huge profile at the Winter Olympics. It is instantly recognisable, watched by hundreds of millions around the globe, makes household names of its Olympic winners and is, if anything, becoming more popular with the advent of primetime television dedicated to ice dancing on both sides of the pond.

So a World Championships less than one month after the Olympic Games should be the perfect way to prolong the buzz, yes? Take all the Olympic stars and give them another outing at the highest level - second chances for the wronged, a challenge for the victorious to do it again, and an extra bite at the cherry for millions of fans lapping up every Lutz.

Except it doesn't work that way. Some of the finest figure skaters from Vancouver 2010 are nowhere to be found in Italy - yes, their lives go on after the Olympics, but not in a sporting sense. They have other commitments. In almost any Olympic sport (I'm thinking of tennis and football as exceptions), you don't miss the Games. World Championships a month later, though? Expendable.

Evan Lysacek is a prime example. The men's Olympic champion announced his withdrawal from the World Championships before the Games had even finished, and turned up on television in his home country, the United States, alongside astronaut Buzz Aldrin of all people at the start of a new series of Dancing With The Stars. (Something only Aldrin, of the contestants, has achieved in any meaningful sense.)

In Lysacek's absence you might expect the Olympic silver medallist to have their eye on world gold, but no. That man is Evgeni Plushenko, the outspoken Russian who criticised judges for failing to reward his quad - a tricky and controversial jump included in his routine, but not in Lysacek's - and he is another stay-away. The line from Russia is that Plushenko experienced pain while landing a quad in training, but that sounds to me like the sort of thing he'd have fought through if there had been another Olympic medal at stake.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

"It does feel like an anti-climax in some ways," British pairs skater David King told me from Turin, the city hosting the tournament. "But it's also exciting because you get to see who the future champions are.

"It's going to be more in the mix, the judges don't really know who to put where, and it'll be more performance-based than political I think - hopefully."

The only thing keeping King and partner Stacey Kemp from the ice is a kidney infection picked up by the latter, and King cut a worried figure on Monday waiting for news of her recovery. If they do get to compete, though, they will find several top pairs absent.

"We're pumped, we want to go for the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 and really want to improve now," added King.

"We found it really easy to get back on the ice and get working. But for some of the teams it's their last season and after the Olympics is a low point for them.

"So there are a few top teams who aren't here. That's the way it works, you hang in there long enough, the teams ahead of you drop out and you end up getting medals one day."

And that is the appeal of these World Championships - not in seeing the Olympic masters strut their stuff in a low-key encore, but in getting the first clues as to the gold medallists four years hence.

Top Chinese pairs skaters Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo have retired (for the second and final time, we are told) in the wake of their Olympic gold. They are already yesterday's news. The duo to inherit their crown may well be all but unheard-of right now. These things can change in far less than four years.

You need only look as far as Kemp and King's British stablemates in short track speed skating, a sport governed by the same body in the UK, the National Ice Skating Association.

Elise Christie, at 19 years of age, got through the preliminary heats only once in three events in Vancouver, and even then found herself dumped out of the competition at the quarter-final stage.

By contrast, Christie - marked out for some time as one for the future by her national performance director - battled into the women's 1,000m final at her sport's World Championships in Bulgaria last weekend, narrowly missing out on a medal.

For young Britons, post-Olympic World Championships with a few top names missing are the ideal environments in which to kickstart their next bids for glory at the Games.

"We're determined to get to Sochi and do our best," concluded figure skater King.

"We thought it would be ages to Vancouver and now we're sitting here in Italy thinking 'Wow, that was fast'. So I think it'll come round quite quick. We've got a lot to work on anyway, that'll take our time up."

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Life has already taken a new turn for King at any rate - his partner on the ice is now one step closer to becoming his partner in another sense, after the 25-year-old proposed to her in improbably romantic circumstances on the night of the closing ceremony.

"We were having a team party and everyone had just come back from the ceremony," he recalled.

"On our balcony we had a beautiful view of the whole city and it was lit up at night, so I went down on one knee and asked her.

"It was a good end to the Olympics. I'd been planning it since November last year - we've been dating for five years now and it seemed a good moment to do it."

Counterintuitive though it may feel, the end of an Olympics is a good moment to start a lot of things. Watch the highlights from the Figure Skating World Championships on BBC TV in between Football Focus and the Boat Race on Saturday, 3 April, and see if you can spot the new beginnings that will lead to gold in 2014.

Further reading if you're keen:
BBC Scotland speaks to GB ice dancers Christina Chitwood and Mark Hanretty
Canadians Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison (two of the nicest people you'll ever meet) tell the Canadian Press why they're desperate to make good at the Worlds
A full preview of the leading Worlds contenders from excellent Associated Press writers Nancy Armour and Colleen Barry (via USA Today)


  • Comment number 1.

    There has been plenty of winter sports carrying on after the Winter Olympics!! It's just that the BBC don't want to or can't be bother to show other events apart from downhill skiing and the occasional figure skating. They still have their yearly world cup competitions going on. But it's more like the BBC to ignore them now the Olympics are over and more the commentators around to other sports they know very little about.

    If they decided to use some of the license fee and put more of the minor sports on TV or even on the front page of the BBC Sport website then up and coming skiers such as Sega Fairweather would have to retire at the age of 19 because they can't find any sponsors.

    Surely it is down to the BBC to show more minority sports and give these athletes a higher profile to help them out. Lets face it we will be having the World Cup in June/July, Wimbledon and Golf all at the same time whilst they spend millions on studios and hospitality for the bigwigs.

  • Comment number 2.

    Thank god for Eurosport. Watching the Figure Skating World Champs at the moment. The highlights are not being shown on the BBC until a week after they have finished. Ridiculous!!!

  • Comment number 3.

    I should have mentioned in the blog at the time - you can, if you're in various European territories including the UK, watch the Worlds live online (for free) via broadcast partners Eurovision:

    Apologies for not doing so.

    Regarding the level of BBC coverage of figure skating and, for that matter, any number of other Olympic sports, I can't comment with much authority as I'm a reporter. I don't make those decisions and don't have the full facts to hand - but I do know those decisions are not taken lightly or without thought. They're taken in order to maximise the amount of sport on offer, to the satisfaction of as many people as possible, within the resources and staffing available.

    As for getting minority sports on the front page of the BBC Sport website, happily that's where this blog spent a large portion of Tuesday. Given this blog is dedicated to said sports, as is my job, it'd be nice to think that will continue to be the case! Within my capabilities the aim is to offer as much coverage of Summer and Winter Olympic sports as I can.

    Returning to the topic at hand, Stacey Kemp and David King, kidney infection and all, finished 16th in their short programme on Tuesday and thus squeaked through to the free skate. (There are 25 pairs, you needed to be 16th or above to go through.) Given the circumstances, that is a result.

    There is a report via MoreThanTheGames here, complete with quotes remarkably similar to those found in the above blog...


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.