Quibbl Sports brings an analytical lens, an international scope, and a penchant for getting way too into things to the only 2018 Winter Olympics preview you will ever need. Today we’ll cover roughly half the events; look for the rest in Part 2. Bookmakers’ odds discussed this preview can be found at OddsShark and Bwin.
By Gavin Byrnes
Let me tell you right now [takes enormous swig of Powerade] that if you want to read about hockey, or figure skating, or any athletes from the United States, there are innumerable previews that will give you just that. What you’ll get from ME [chugs Powerade at frankly irresponsible speed] is REAL OLYMPIC ANALYSIS, without our jingoistic emphasis on American athletes or fear of biathlon, the best damn sport in the damn world. So [Powerade drips down neck and soaks shirt] let’s get to it.
Medal Events: 11. Combined, Downhill, Giant Slalom, Slalom, Super-G (men’s and women’s); Team Event (mixed).
What’s Going On: They ski down a dang hill, and there are gates at various intervals depending on how much zig-zagging is required by the competition structure. For example, in the Downhill, they barely have to deal with the gates at all and focus on zooming as fast as possible and hopefully not slamming into a fence in a way that will make you never want to ski again. (I know from which I speak because once I smashed my face into a mountain and now the bunny slope terrifies me). In the Slalom, the gates are G.D. everywhere (and they don’t resemble “gates” so much as those inflatable Gumby-esque things you see outside car dealerships) and the skiers change direction to whip through them so fast you wonder how their knee cartilage is intact. Olympic athletes are special people.
Which Countries Are Good: Austria, duh. Norway’s good; Switzerland’s good; the US has some decent people (you may have heard of Lindsey Vonn).
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry: Canadian-born skier Shannon-Ogbani Agbeda will become Eritrea’s first Winter Olympic athlete, competing for the nation of his parents. I will be rooting for him.
Hell Yeah: Austrian Ramona Siebenhofer has 20,000-1 odds to win the women’s Super-G. Because the Beverly Cleary Ramona books ruled when I was a callow youth, I will also be pulling for her. Go Ramona. Make Klickitat Street proud.
Medal Events: 11. Individual, Sprint, Mass Start, Pursuit (men’s and women’s); Relay (men’s, women’s, and mixed).
What’s Going On: Awwwwww yes. This is the one where they cross-country ski for a while and then have to calm their heart rate enough to hit tiny targets — and if they miss they need to take penalty loops that can knock them out of the running. (If that had been the title of a Friends episode, I would definitely have watched that show.) Biathlon is without hyperbole my favorite sport to watch on television, and the thrill of a leading competitor botching the final shooting stage like a cold, lethal Jean Van de Velde has never gotten old. This is one you’ll want to watch online rather than on NBC, as the United States has never won a medal and our national broadcasting attention suffers accordingly.
Which Countries Are Good: Norway is the traditional power of biathlon, but they have been less hegemonically dominant as of late. Germany and France led the qualification standings for both men and women, while Russia (oh, sorry, OLYMPIC ATHLETES FROM RUSSIA), Czech Republic, and Italy join Norway as top nations.
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry: The only country with a lone competitor in biathlon is Great Britain, whose delightfully named Amanda Lightfoot competed in the Sochi Olympics, failing to finish in the top 70 of any race.
Don’t Get Me Started on How Furious I Am About This: The greatest athlete in Winter Olympic history is Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who has won 13 medals (including 8 golds) since 1994. At 44, Bjoerndalen is still an active biathlete, BUT NORWAY LEFT HIM OFF THE TEAM. Granted, he failed to reach the Norwegian team’s high qualifying standard… but this man is Olympic royalty, and I am royally peeved to not be able to watch him at the Games.
Medal Events: 12. Distance: Freestyle, Skiathlon, Classical, Relay (men’s and women’s); Sprint: Individual, Relay (men’s and women’s).
What’s Going On: Also known as “Coward’s Biathlon,” cross-country skiing involves skiing around and then NOT firing a gun for some reason. It can get the heck out of here if you ask me. I’m just kidding; it’s a fine sport whose competitors have worked very hard and I will watch it. But could you throw a guy a bone and at least shoot SOMETHING? Like a tree, or a clay pigeon?
Which Countries Are Good: The usual suspects. Nordic countries, Germany, Russia, and the United States. Norwegian sprinter Johannes Høsflot Klæbo, whose name required use of the “Insert Symbol” function twice, is a -165 favorite (you’d have to bet $165 to win $100) to win the men’s individual sprint. Those seem like pretty good odds!
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry? Given its name, you could argue that Ecuador might be the least likely country to find at the Winter Olympic games — and you would have been right up until 2018. The extremely, uh, equatorial country makes its debut in 2018 with cross-country skier Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez, which oh my god yes what a name. Let’s root for more unexpected nations in the Winter Games (snowball’s in your court, Equatorial Guinea), and for my man Klaus Jungbluth Rodriguez.
Remember That Shirtless Guy: The 2016 Summer Olympics and the bodies of everyone watching them were rocked by Tongan taekwondo practitioner and oiled-up specimen Pita Taufatotua. Turns out Mr. Taufatotua can also cross-country ski! And here he is again!. Taufatotua is Tonga’s second ever Winter Olympic athlete, after 2014’s luge competitor Bruno Banani, who changed his name from Fuahea Semi as part of a marketing scheme for a German lingerie company. What? See, NBC? There is weird and interesting stuff going on all the time! I don’t want to hear about the same dang Americans every dang year!
Medal Events: 3. Men’s, Women’s, Mixed Doubles.
What’s Going On: Ah, curling. The Settlers of Catan of winter sports. In other words, it gets a lot of attention as esoteric and sorta performatively nerdy, but true dipshits like me have discovered it, been excited by it, and moved on to other things. It’s the one that’s sort of ice shuffleboard, and boy is it fun to watch them shave the ice with the brooms they have. They’re really going at it!
Which Countries Are Good: Canada is very good, although their mixed doubles team has already lost to Norway. Sweden is also good, and Switzerland have traditionally been strong in mixed doubles, which has been around for ten years but is making its Olympic debut.
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry? Because curling is a team sport with very limited spots, there aren’t really any countries that will make you sit up and say “Wow, that’s not a winter country.” But, like, Denmark isn’t gonna win or anything.
Curl in the Family: American mixed doubles team Rebecca and Matt Hamilton are brother and sister, which is nice. As far as I know, they did not change their names Bruno Banani style as part of a branding scheme for the hit musical.
Long Track Speed Skating
Medal Events: 14. 500m, 1000m, 1500m, 5000m, Mass Start, Team Pursuit (men’s and women’s); 3000m (women’s); 10000m (men’s).
What’s Going On: If you’re looking for the bonkers awesome version of speed skating where everybody is running into each other and as often as not the winner is just the person who managed to not get plowed into by somebody else, you’re going to want to skip down to short track. Long track is the one where tall Dutch people skate very fast in a circle and don’t heckin’ run into each other at all.
Which Countries Are Good: As I just noted, this is Netherlands territory. In 2014, Dutch skaters won 23 of the 36 awarded medals, including 8 of the 12 golds. No other country won more than 3. The betting odds for the women’s sprints favor Japanese speedster Nao Kodaira, while Americans and Russians hold the next best chances of denying Dutch gold.
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry? Colombia, a world power in inline skating, qualified their first Olympic speed skaters in 2018, one man and one woman.
Dang It, I Said I Didn’t Want to Talk About Americans: Okay, but inline skater Erin Jackson took up speed skating last year and qualified for the Olympics after only four months training on ice (joining Maame Biney as the first two black women to represent the U.S. as speed skaters). You will hear about this several dozen times during the course of the Games, but holy cow that’s some impressive athleticism.
Short Track Speed Skating
Medal Events: 8. 500m, 1000m, 1500m (men’s and women’s); 3000m Relay (women’s); 5000m Relay (men’s).
What’s Going On: THIS. Skip ahead to 1:30 in that video if you must, but the build-up is pretty fun too. While I have an established preference for biathlon, I’ll understand if somebody picks short track speed skating as their favorite Winter Olympic sport. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and literally hinges on a razor’s edge at every moment.
Which Countries Are Good: South Korea, China, Canada, and the United States are probably the best, but given that anybody could fall at any moment and a random Australian guy could win (spoilers for the video I hope you watched), I don’t recommend betting on short track speed skating. I would also like to note two competitors: One, the aforementioned Maame Biney, a Ghanaian-American teen sensation who is extremely going to be a star of the coverage. And two, Hungarian speedster Sandor Liu Shaolin, who (spoilers for A Feast for Crows) has a name that makes him sound like a monk TWICE OVER.
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry? Women’s 1500m competitor Cheyenne Goh will be Singapore’s inaugural Winter Olympic athlete. I’m not saying I’m going to root for the people in front of her to crash and allow her to walk into victories… but I wouldn’t exactly be upset if it happens?
Don’t Balk, Choi: 19-year-old Korean Choi Min-Jeong won a combined 7 gold medals at the 2015 and 2016 World Championships, and says she has a chance to sweep all four golds in Pyeongchang. She’ll be the one to beat in every race.
Medal Events: 4. Normal Hill (men’s and women’s); Large Hill, Team (men’s).
What’s Going On: Why don’t you take a dang guess.
Which Countries Are Good: OddsShark has three countries at 7-2 or better odds for the men’s team competition: Norway, Poland, and Germany. On the women’s side, I’ll be rooting for current FIS cup leader Daniela Haralambie of Romania, because I am a simple man who, in this particular case, can look past a few extraneous letters in honor of a hero’s sacrifice.
Who Is… Not Exactly Wintry? If it mattered to your well-being that Turkey had never qualified for an Olympic ski jumping event, I regret to inform you that those halcyon days are over. Fatih Arda İpcioğlu has become the first Turk to qualify for the Olympics in ski jumping and the first man to make me realize that there is, in Turkish, a letter that is a capital I with a dot over it.
Yo, This Woman Is Four Foot Eleven: Ok, so I might have to change my rooting interest in the women’s competition to Sara Takanashi of Japan. She is under five feet tall, she has won four ski jumping World Cups at the age of 21, and she finished a heart-breaking fourth place in Sochi. Sorry, Harambe. I’m Team Sara now.
As Kill Bill, Post-1945 Germany, and the Bible have taught us, sometimes a thing just has to be delivered in two parts. Check back later for Part 2 of this preview, in which we’ll cover the rest of the Olympic sports to come!
Questions? Comments? Dare we say… QUIBBLS? Get at us in the box below!