It’s long been the case that countries hosting large international events will come under a fair amount of strife, and really events don’t get much bigger than the Olympics. Google Sochi and your screen will swiftly fill up with startling headlines about protest zones, spies and journalists being arrested, leaving you thinking that you’d mistakenly run a search on the history of Russian conflict.
The main offender of this contention has been the highly controversial law Russia passed over the summer banning gay ‘propaganda’. Both Olympic countries and individual athletes have voiced strong opinions over the issue, while it’s also attracted opinions from the wider media.
Lady Gaga made her view on the matter very clear whilst being interviewed by Alan Carr. “I don’t think that we should be going to the Olympics at all," she stated before urging Tom Daley not to compete: “I hate saying that, because I’m so excited for those like Tom Daley to go and to win and to rejoice". This is perhaps when Alan Carr should have interrupted and pointed out that diving isn’t actually in the Winter Olympics.
But putting politics aside for a moment, we've decided to turn our attention to the athletes. As the qualifying cut off is getting increasingly closer it is throwing up some pretty interesting stories, so here are a few of them to whet your Olympic appetite.
[part title="Is 'Cool Runnings' Set for a Sequel?"]
Despite Jamaica not qualifying for the last two Winter Olympics in Bobsled, Jamaican Winston Watts, who competed in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 Olympics, is on a mission to get the Jamaican bobsled buzz back on track.
With a little persuasion from former teammate Lascelle ‘King’ Brown, who now competes for Team Canada, Watts is dragging himself out of retirement at the ripe old age of 46 to help put Jamaica on the road to Sochi.
In case you’re wondering, no they’re not practicing on a makeshift wooden bobsled on wheels in the sweltering heat of Jamaica like Cool Runnings might have you envisaging. Most of the team have upped sticks to the US after a sentimental lawyer in Evanston got so swept away by the film that he provided them a home away from home to practice in a more 'traditional' bobsled setting.
Whether they’ll make it past the qualifying stage is yet to be seen, but we’re all rooting for them. “Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up, it’s bobsled time!"
[part title="Can an Out of Shape Nerd Make it to Sochi?"]
From time to time we all have those random moments where you suddenly feel that you can pull off something preposterous, like entering the Olympics for example. But once the drunken haze clears, most of us come to our senses. But not 36 year old US venture capitalist Paul Bragiel. His whimsical thought became a die hard ambition.
With ample funds in place, he put his day job on hold and went in search of a sport and a nation to take him on to fulfil his Olympic dream. Ten months later, the self described “chunky, out of shape computer nerd", was a Colombian citizen ready to pit himself against some of the world’s best cross-country skiers in a bid to qualify for the Olympics.
However flippant Bragiel might sound, be rest assured that he didn’t just happen upon cross-country skiing. The decision was down to hours of analysis into which of the sports would be most accessible for someone who frankly didn’t have a leg to stand on. His short list included luge, bobsled, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing. By process of elimination he was left with cross country skiing, something he had never before tried.
Obviously getting selected for the US cross country skiing team would be virtually impossible, so with his choice of sport taken care of he just needed a country to take him on. As luck would have it, despite his lack of Spanish language, Colombian President Santos welcomed Bragiel into Colombia for his Olympic bid. Thus far things had been relatively simple, now all he had to do was qualify.
Unfortunately the qualifying standards are no easy feat. He needs to finish within eight to 12 minutes of the world’s best skiers in five international competitions. In April, Bragiel competed in his first distance run of 15km, which saw him finish in close to three hours. To put that in perspective, it would take the fastest Olympians 35 minutes. It was at this point that his reluctant coach gave him 1% chance of reaching the Olympics.
But ever the optimist, Bragiel has a race planned every week until the qualifying cut off point in mid January, and he still believes he can make it. If like us you’re hooked on this very unlikely story you can follow Bragiel’s journey here.
[part title="What are the Chances of the Jamaican ‘Dream Chaser’?"]
Despite the unlikelihood of it, there have been a handful of unlikely candidates who have made it into the Winter Olympics and 42 year old Jamaican Michael Williams wants to join them. While Cool Runnings planted the seed, it was the more recent feats of Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong of Ghana and Jamaica's Errol Kerr performances in the 2010 Winter Olympics that truly drove him on his latest mission.
I thought I'd love to combine the two, represent Jamaica and ski for Jamaica some time in my life. Jamaica is really proud there's another guy trying to do what the bobsleigh guys did in 1988
Watching their determination in the 2010 Olympics pushed Williams to take action, so he got on the phone to the Jamaican Olympic committee and more importantly set out to learn how to ski. Three years ago, he’d never skied before.
Now just a few months away from Sochi, despite his unparalleled enthusiasm, Williams still faces a monumental challenge. In short he needs to lower his 763-point average down to 140 by mid-January 2014 to be in with any chance of qualifying.
No easy task, but you can’t say he’s not trying. Williams is training eight hours a day straight to try and fulfil his dream. With his best finish last season coming 43rd out of 45 finishers we’re not holding our breath. But here at MPORA we love the underdog so we are keeping our fingers and toes firmly crossed for him. Keep up with his progress on his Facebook page here.
[part title="Will the 'Flying Tomato' Make it Three in a Row?"]
Shaun White doesn’t really need much of an introduction. While he might not be the most liked athlete in the world, you’d be hard pushed to deny his talent. He’s pretty much mastered and pushed the boundaries of everything he’s turned his hand to in snowboarding and the Olympics is no different.
The 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics saw him take home gold in the halfpipe and given how highly competitive Shaun has proved himself to be, we’ll bet our bottom dollar that he’ll want to make it a hat trick.
With the introduction of slopestyle into the Olympics this year, Sochi offers Shaun the opportunity to better his consecutive wins by sweeping up the floor and winning both the halfpipe and slopestyle disciplines, something I'm sure current slopestyle favourite Mark McMorris will have something to say about.
Even Shaun showed some unheard of doubt when he admitted that he’s still got some work to do in the slopestyle department.
If you're curious how Mark McMorris and Shaun White might weigh up against each other then check this out.
[part title="Can Torah Bright Qualify for all Three Snowboarding Disciplines? "]
While an Olympic gold medal for most athletes would be enough, Torah Bright has other ambitions. In Olympic snowboarding there are three disciplines - Halfpipe, Slopestyle and Boardercross. Super determined Torah has decided to take them all on, something that no other snowboarder has ever attempted. Will she do it? We’ll just have to wait and see…
[part title="Will a 'Superunknown' Take Home the Slopestyle Gold?"]
Despite being an early starter at three years old, it wasn’t until 2006 when Tom Wallisch realised his potential. He entered and won Level 1’s annual ‘Superunknown’ competition, which is open to anyone and everyone to send in their own video edits to be judged. He was promptly hailed as a talent, something which went on to send his filming and competition career spiralling.
'These people think I deserve to be a pro skier. I guess I could try that. I might have to try a little harder at this.
Taking the bull by the horns, Tom subsequently moved to Utah to concentrate more on his skiing. Obvioulsy this is a move that seriously paid off as at the X Games in Aspen last year Tom took home the prestigious Slopestyle gold. His luck kept on rolling when a few months later it was announced that slopestyle had been invited for the first time ever into the Winter Olympics.
So far it's all been falling nicely into place for Tom, so we're looking forward to see how he fares in Sochi.