Winter Olympics

Winter Olympics (129)

Amy Williams tamed Canada’s notorious Whistler track on this day in 2010 to claim skeleton gold and become Britain’s first individual Winter Olympic gold medallist in 30 years.

On a course where Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili tragically died the previous week, Williams steered four near-perfect runs to claim victory by over half a second.

Kerstin Szymkowiak took silver a full 0.56 seconds behind Williams, while her Germany team-mate Anja Huber earned the remaining podium place with bronze.

Williams set a track record of 53.83 on her first run and shattered it by going 53.68 on her first of two final runs, she then led from start to finish to follow figure skater Robin Cousins in the British Winter Games hall of fame.

Speaking about the course, situated to the north of Vancouver, Williams said: “I love this track. Once you get over the fear factor you learn to love it and the speed is your friend.

“You’ve got to work with it and relax and if you do that it’s a great track to slide.”

Her record-breaking run helped her set a 0.3 second lead overnight and despite fears that nerves could play a part when she returned to the track, the 27-year-old insisted she had never let her position play on her mind.

“I surprised myself because I wasn’t really nervous,” added Williams, who won Team GB’s only gold medal at the Vancouver Games on what was her Olympic debut.

“I slept absolutely perfectly and I was quite excited. It doesn’t feel like an Olympic Games – it just feels like a normal World Cup race except with more people shouting for me.

“I’m not very good at statistics so I didn’t realise I’m the first gold medallist for a long time. But I think it shows that if you have the determination any country can be good at any sport and you just have to concentrate and do your best.”

Lizzy Yarnold became Britain’s most successful Winter Olympian on this day in 2018 when she overcame illness to retain her skeleton title in Pyeongchang.

Yarnold, from Sevenoaks in Kent, snatched victory on her fourth and final run with a new track record to make it back-to-back gold medals after her triumph at Sochi 2014.

Laura Deas claimed bronze as Britain won two medals in the same event for the first time at a Winter Olympics.

Yarnold went into the final day 0.10secs off the pace after complaining of feeling dizzy, but cut the deficit as overnight leader Jacqueline Lolling of Germany slipped back to third place after the third round.

The Sochi 2014 champion trailed Austria’s Janine Flock by 0.02 ahead of the final run, meaning Yarnold was the penultimate slider to take to the track and had to watch her rival’s performance.

The Briton clocked a track record of 51.46secs to take the lead in thrilling fashion and Flock floundered, relinquishing her spot on the podium to spark jubilant celebrations among a sizeable British contingent at the Olympic Sliding Centre, including Welsh racer Deas.

An emotional Yarnold, who became Britain’s most decorated Winter Olympian, said: “I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. I don’t really know how it happened.

“After the first run I wasn’t sure whether I was going to be able to finish the race because my chest infection was so bad I was struggling to breathe and I got here only with the help of my team.

“I guess four years ago, three years ago, the whole team all dared to dream that this was possible and I just went with them all and we managed it.”

With Deas finishing third behind Lolling, and Izzy Atkin having earlier secured bronze in the women’s ski slopestyle, it was the first time Britain had won three Winter Olympic medals on the same day, overtaking the record two from Chamonix in 1924.

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A four-year doping ban has been imposed on Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva, with her results at the 2022 Winter Olympics disqualified.

News that Valieva had tested positive for a banned substance, trimetazidine, during the Russian national championships in December 2021 emerged during the following year’s Winter Games in Beijing. She was 15 years old at the time.

The subsequent legal case reached the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled on Monday that Valieva had been unable to establish that the anti-doping rule violation had not been committed intentionally.

The start of the four-year ban is backdated to the time of the failed test, meaning it will run until Christmas Day 2025.

CAS confirmed all Valieva’s results subsequent to the failed test had been disqualified and that she would have to forfeit any medals won during her period of disqualification, which would include the team gold she won with Russia in Beijing.

The United States finished second to Russia in the team event, but CAS said “the consequences linked to the retroactive disqualification of Ms Valieva from past events, including from the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, were not within the scope of this arbitration procedure and will have to be examined by the sports organisations concerned”, which means that any decision on reallocation of medals will have to come separately.

The International Olympic Committee has been contacted for comment.

Despite news of her positive test emerging after the team event, Valieva was cleared to compete in the individual event, but failed to finish in a medal-winning position. Even if she had secured a spot on the podium, the IOC had stressed before the individual competition that medals would not be awarded until a full investigation had been completed.

In its decision on Monday, CAS said it had found Valieva’s age at the time of the doping violation had no bearing on the sanction it should impose, and that there is a burden on athletes of all ages to prove there had been no intention to commit the violation.

The CAS decision is final and binding, but parties in the case have the right of appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal within 30 days on limited grounds.

Winter Olympic athletes face “serious barriers” to speaking out over the climate challenges facing their sports, a leading ecology expert believes.

Research by the Future Host Commission for the Olympic Winter Games revealed in October that climate change could result in the number of viable hosts being reduced to just 10 countries by 2040.

Rising temperatures have also hit venues serving the general public, resulting in truncated seasons, unaffordable prices or even closure which affects both the next generation of winter sport athletes and their audiences.

Speaking ahead of the Winter Olympics’ 100th anniversary on Thursday, Dr Madeleine Orr – founder and director of the Sport Ecology Group – told the PA news agency: “I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a winter athlete who is not (concerned). That said, it’s not always a conversation that’s coming up in the open for a number of reasons.

“Athletes have been on this for a long time. They’re not dumb. They know the risks, and they’re aware of it, and they don’t love it, but they’re hemmed in a little bit because there are some serious barriers to speaking up on this.

“You’re potentially risking funding, you’re potentially risking embarrassing people that you work with, it’s a very fine line to get your message across in a soundbite without stepping on someone.”

The IOC is exploring a number of options, including establishing a permanent group of “climate-reliable” sites, ideally ones with existing venues, which would rotate hosting duties.

Orr added: “If you’re one of these Olympic cities for the Winter Games, you will have a long-term use plan because you are going to become a guaranteed spot on everybody’s calendar, and that will keep people employed and it’ll keep it fruitful.

“It’s a reaction to climate change I think that makes sense. I do think it’s not perfect, but I do think it’s probably the best bet.”

Recent editions have relied at least partially – if not near completely in the case of Beijing 2022 – on artificial snow, but Orr said: “It’s not a solution when it gets too warm. You can blow snow out of your gun as much as you want, but ultimately if it falls on the ground and it’s more than three degrees outside and it’s melting, you’ve achieved nothing.”

Orr is concerned about how the IOC might address the potential competitive advantage for permanent hosts.

Establishing long-term hosts might encourage venues to invest in equipment to make access more equitable and affordable.

But as communities continue to lose accessible venues, from outdoor ice rinks to lower-altitude ski resorts forced to compensate for shorter seasons by raising prices, Orr fears the Winter Olympics risks losing out on both interest and the sponsors that allow a more diverse range of athletes to participate.

Asked if there will be a Winter Games in another 100 years, Orr replied: “While it’s not possible to predict at this stage, I would also say the economy of winter sports are going to shut it down faster than climate, which is to say it’s already expensive as hell. It’s already exclusive.

“In 100 years is it going to be climate change that shuts down the Winter Olympics? No, I think they could probably tech their way out of that and find a way to host it. I just think you might not have an audience for it.”

Few sporting events can boast such unrelenting drama and consistent controversy as the Winter Olympics, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on Thursday.

From fearless bobsleigh pilots to sequined ice queens, cool-headed curlers and thrill-seeking snowboarders, the Games and its stars have chiselled their own unique place in the world’s sporting calendar.

Here, the PA news agency’s Olympic correspondent Mark Staniforth picks out eight of his favourite moments from the six Winter Olympics he has covered, starting with Salt Lake City in 2002.

Steven Bradbury, 2002

Bradbury’s claimed Australia’s first Winter Olympic gold medal in tumultuous fashion when all four of his rivals in the men’s 1,000m short-track final crashed out on the final corner. Veteran Bradbury, competing in his fourth Games and almost half a lap behind at the time of the incident, duly picked his way through the wreckage. “Oh my God,” Bradbury recalled thinking as he crossed the line, “I think I just won.”

Rhona Martin, 2002

Martin led her self-styled squad of east Ayrshire housewives into the Olympic curling final against all the odds, having languished on the brink of elimination in the heats. Cue messages from prime ministers and a curling-frenzied nation agog into the early hours as Martin delivered her famous ‘Stone of Destiny’, sealing a dramatic win over Switzerland and writing her name into British sporting folklore.

Lindsey Jacobellis, 2006

As if to emphasise the anarchic spirit of snowboard-cross, included in the Olympic programme for the first time in Turin, American favourite Jacobellis attempted a completely unnecessary trick off her final jump and fell, handing gold to Switzerland’s Tanja Frieden. In a (very) belated twist, Jacobellis would finally make up for her missed opportunity by winning gold in the same event in Beijing in 2018.

Kim Yu-na, 2010

Shimmering in a dress of cobalt blue, the brilliant South Korean figure skater lit up the Pacific Coliseum with a mesmerising and world record-breaking free skate. Kim’s performance, which earned a still unbeaten total score of 228.56, capped another dramatic and emotional women’s singles event, in which home favourite Jeannie Rochette took bronze, despite being told of the death of her mother within days of arriving in Vancouver.

Amy Williams, 2010

Just a week after the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training accident, skeleton racer Amy Williams tamed the notorious Whistler track to become Britain’s first individual Winter Olympic gold medallist in 30 years. The unfancied Williams set a new track record during four dominant runs which saw her sweep away the rest of the field by a cumulative total of over half a second. “Speed is my friend”, grinned Williams afterwards.

Lizzy Yarnold, 2014

Britain’s improbable dominance of the Olympic skeleton discipline continued in Sochi in 2014 as Lizzy Yarnold built on a dominant World Cup season to emulate her since-retired compatriot Williams and win Winter Olympic gold. Yarnold went on to overcome a series of health problems and successfully defend her crown in Pyeongchang in 2018, when she was joined by team-mate Laura Deas on the podium.

Billy Morgan, 2018

Four years earlier in Sochi, Morgan had drowned the memory of a disappointing 10th place finish in the men’s snowboard slopestyle competition by indulging in apres-ski with a toilet seat hanging round his neck. Four years later, against all conceivable odds, he turned the toilet seat into an Olympic bronze medal, courtesy of one brilliant final jump in the inaugural men’s big air competition.

Figure skating, 2022

A 15-year-old delivering an unforgettable short program routine then floundering in front of the eyes of the world; a team-mate landing quads for fun then storming off dissatisfied with silver, vowing never to skate again but returning three days later in the post-Games gala dressed as Wonder Woman; Nathan Chen’s skate-perfect rendition of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’: the figure skating competition in Beijing set fire to an otherwise grim and Covid-stricken Games, and created a controversy that continues to burn.

Kamila Valieva’s figure skating fate could remain unresolved until at least the end of the year after the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced it will hear simultaneous appeals at its head office in Lausanne in September.

It is over 16 months since Valieva learned she had tested positive for the banned heart drug Trimetazidine at the Winter Olympics in Beijing, and medals for the team competition, in which the then 15-year-old helped Russia win gold, are yet to be awarded.

The International Skating Union (ISU), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) filed separate appeals in the wake of a RUSADA disciplinary commission finding in December that Valieva had committed an anti-doping violation for which she bore “no fault or negligence”, and would not face sanction.

The ISU and WADA both wish to sanction Valieva with a period of ineligibility from the date of the infraction, December 2021 – the case of the latter, four years – both of which appeals would result in the disqualification of Russia from the team event.

Bizarrely, RUSADA has also appealed against the findings of its own disciplinary commission, wishing to reserve the right to sanction Valieva accordingly, although such a sanction could still involve a mere reprimand.

The meeting instigated by the CAS will take place between September 26 to 29, pursuant to which all parties would have the right to lodge an appeal to Swiss prosecutors within 30 days, and CAS confirmed that “it is not possible to indicate when the final decision will be announced”.

Valieva learned one day after helping her team to gold in Beijing that she had returned a positive sample from a test taken at the Russian Championships in December 2021, but that the result had been delayed due to a Covid outbreak at the Swedish laboratory.

Despite appeals, Valieva was allowed to continue competing in Beijing, but under intense scrutiny she fell twice during the final evening of the women’s competition, and slipped tearfully out of medal contention.

Her traumatic experience drew a remarkable intervention from International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who criticised members of Valieva’s team, including her coach Eteri Tutberidze, for their “tremendous coldness”.

The ISU announced earlier this month that it was extending its ban on Russian and Belarussian athletes competing in international competitions due to the invasion of Ukraine.

However, Valieva continues to compete in Russia, and last year debuted a new routine that included excerpts of news reports about her drug test, and concluded with her referencing the media storm by drawing a hood across her face.

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