Tomorrow is the first full day of competition at the Winter Olympics, with the opening ceremony taking place in Pyeongchang today. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson has produced an A to Z guide of what to look out for in the next two weeks


AMANDA LIGHTFOOT

The Northern Echo:

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The South Shields skiing star is taking part in her second Winter Olympics, and is the only biathlete on Team GB. Her sport is one of the most gruelling on the entire Games schedule, with up to 15km of cross-country skiing combined with a series of breaks for target shooting. Lightfoot, who is a sergeant clerk in the Adjutant General’s Corps of the Army, is hoping to become the first British woman to finish in the top 60 of an Olympic biathlon.


BBC

The Games will be televised on both BBC and Eurosport, with the former pledging to provide wall-to-wall coverage during all 17 days of action. Most of the live sport takes place overnight in our time zone, so there will be regular highlights programmes hosted by Clare Balding, Hazel Irvine, Eilidh Barbour and Radzi Chinyanganya. There will also be live action on the BBC website and app, with further live coverage available via the red button.


CURLING

Curling is one of the staples of the Winter Olympics, and Britain have travelled to South Korea with realistic medal hopes in the both the men’s and women’s competition. Eve Muirhead skippered her rink to a bronze medal in Sochi, and will be the women’s captain once again this time around. The men’s team is skippered by Kyle Smith, and features Muirhead’s brothers, Thomas and Glen. Both British teams begin their Olympic campaign on Wednesday.


DOWNHILL

If the 100m is the blue riband event of the summer Games, then the men’s and women’s downhill skiing races are generally held to be the centrepieces of the Winter Olympics programme. The men’s downhill takes place tomorrow, with Austria’s Matthias Mayer looking to defend his title. Switzerland’s Beat Feuz is the reigning World champion though, and is likely to start as favourite. The women’s downhill will be staged on February 21, with legendary American Lindsay Vonn bidding to win a second Olympic gold on what could be her farewell appearance.


EMILY SARSFIELD

The Northern Echo:

It is a case of third time lucky for Durham’s Emily Sarsfield, with the ski cross racer finally set to realise her dream of Olympic competition after missing out on Vancouver eight years ago because of injury and Sochi in 2014 because of a wrangle with her sport’s governing body. Ski cross is one of the most exciting sports on display in Pyeongchang, with skiers racing against each other down a course featuring a series of bumps, jumps and moguls. Sarsfield is as fearless as they come, and has been in the world’s top 30 all season.


FIGURE SKATING

There has been a growth in adrenaline sports on the Winter Olympic programme in recent years, but to many, the highlight of the Games will still be the figure skating events. Britain have enjoyed more success in figure skating than in any other winter sport – winning a total of 15 medals – but the days of Torvill and Dean are long gone, and ice dance duo Penny Coomes and Nick Buckland will do well to finish in the top ten. Watch out for ice skating’s latest teenage sensation, 15-year-old Russian Alina Zagitova.


GOLD MEDALS

Russia topped the medal table in Sochi, but their success was drug fuelled and while there will be Russian competitors in Pyeongchang, a number of reigning champions will be missing because they are banned. Norway are the bookmakers’ favourites to top the medal table this year, and the nation is strong in a large number of events. Germany and the US are probably the only countries that could beat them, with the latter especially strong in the sliding sports and the latter dominant in many of the recently-introduced adrenaline events.


HALFPIPE

There are halfpipe events in both skiing and snowboarding at the Winter Olympics, with both events requiring competitors to complete a series of tricks and jumps. Murray Buchan heads the British men’s ski halfpipe team, but American duo David Wise and Torin Yater-Wallace will start as strong favourites. In snowboarding, the women’s halfpipe final is widely expected to be a breakthrough moment for 17-year-old US star Chloe Kim, who has been dubbed women’s snowboarding’s answer to double Olympic champion Shaun White.


ICE HOCKEY

Some of the most powerful Winter Olympic moments have come in ice hockey, with the sport regularly providing a stage for the long-running rivalry between the United States and Russia. This time around, the US team have been hit by the NHL’s refusal to release any of its players for the Games, meaning many of the world’s leading stars will be absent. Canada, who top the world rankings, have also been hit, meaning Russia and Sweden could benefit as few of their leading lights play in the US. Canada and the US are expected to battle it out for the women’s title.


JAMAICA BOBSLEIGH TEAM

It’s Cool Runnings all over again. Jamaica’s male bobsleigh team made history when they competed at the 1988 Games, and this time it is the Caribbean nation’s women who will take centre stage. Jamaica will field a women’s bobsleigh team at the Olympics for the first time, with pilot Jazmine Fenlator having previously been a brakewoman for the US before she switched to her father’s nationality. A seventh-placed finish at last month’s World Cup in Innsbruck suggests a top-ten finish is not out of the question for the Jamaican bob.


KATIE ORMEROD

The Northern Echo: Brighouse snowboarder Katie Ormerod practises for the women's slopestyle at Phoenix Snow Park ahead of the Winter Olympics in South Korea – Picture: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Ormerod was supposed to be lining up in Pyeongchang as one of Britain’s leading medal hopes, but instead the snowboarder finds herself back in the UK with her Olympic dream in tatters. Having injured her wrist in a fall during the first day of training in South Korea, Ormerod suffered another fall on Thursday that left her with a broken heel. As a result, she will not be competing this month despite having been a regular on World Cup podiums this season in slopestyle and big air. Such are the risks inherent in winter sports.


LUGE

It might look like sliding down a hill on a tea tray, but luge is actually one of the most technical of all the Olympic events, with the medal places often decided by a few thousandths of a second. Germany boasts more luge tracks than any other country, and the nation is the superpower of Olympic luge, having claimed all four gold medals that were on offer in Sochi four years ago. Watch out, in particular, for the pairs event, with two competitors squeezing onto a tiny sled as it hurtles down the ice.


MICA McNEILL

The Northern Echo:

The Consett bobsleigh driver is set to be one of the stars of the British squad after a successful crowdfunding drive enabled her to achieve her dream of competing at a Winter Olympics despite the British bobsleigh authorities withdrawing their financial support in October. McNeill will team up with Mica Moore in the two-person women’s event, with the pair having won gold at the Junior World Championships 12 months ago. They compete on February 20-21 and will start with an outside chance of claiming a medal.


NORDIC COMBINED

In terms of the strangest Winter Olympic sport, you’d have to go some to beat the Nordic combined, which blends together cross-country skiing and ski jumping to create a gruelling test of both endurance and courage. It has formed part of the Winter Olympic programme from the very first Games in 1924, and has generally been dominated by competitors from Norway, although German Eric Frenzel will be looking to defend the normal hill gold he won in Sochi.


OPENING CEREMONY

The competition might have begun with curling and some ski jumping preliminaries on Thursday, but the Winter Olympics officially begin today with the traditional opening ceremony in Pyeongchang’s Olympic Stadium, a temporary venue erected especially for the ceremonies that bookend the Games. In a historic show of political unity, athletes from North Korea and South Korea entered the stadium side by side, and members of North Korean president Kim Jong-un’s family crossed the border to attend the opening ceremony. 


PYEONGCHANG

The South Korean host of the Winter Olympics is actually a region rather than a city, covering 565 square miles in the North-East of the country. Boasting two major ski resorts, Pyeongchang beat off competition from Annecy in France and the German city of Munich for the right to host this year’s Games. The region has built a large number of facilities for the Olympics, including a new stand-alone ski resort called Alpensia.


QUALIFYING CRITERIA

Four years ago, the qualifying criteria for the Sochi Games became a huge issue as County Durham ski cross star Emily Sarsfield was prevented from competing despite having achieved the necessary standards to secure a place from her sport’s world governing body. Thankfully, this time around, there was no such controversy with Sarsfield having been named on Team GB after spending the whole of the season inside the top 30 in the world rankings. Her fellow North-Easterners, Amanda Lightfoot and Mica McNeill, also achieved automatic qualifying places for Pyeongchang.


RUSSIA

The Northern Echo:

The spectre of drug abuse looms large over this month’s Games, largely because of the state-sponsored Russian drug programme that blighted the last Winter Olympics in Sochi. Officially, Russia has been banned from the 2018 Olympics, but the IOC has controversially decided to invite 169 Russian competitors to compete in Pyeongchang as independent athletes. IOC member Dick Pound, the former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, claims the decision means “cheating athletes could prevail over their clean opponents”.


SKELETON

Britain’s most successful winter sport in recent years has been skeleton, and there are high hopes of more medals this time around. The women’s event takes place on Friday and Saturday, and will see Sochi gold medallist Lizzy Yarnold attempt to become the first British athlete to successfully defend a Winter Olympic title. However, Germany’s Jacqueline Lolling has won four of the seven World Cup events this season. The men’s skeleton team is led by Dom Parsons, a former 400m runner who finished eighth in last year’s World Championships.


TEAM GB

This is the biggest team Britain have ever sent to the Winter Olympics – and it could also turn out to be the best. Fifty-nine British athletes will compete in South Korea, with UK Sport confident Team GB will beat the best-ever return of four medals, which was achieved in Chamonix in 1924 and in Sochi four years ago. Winter sports can often be extremely unpredictable, but Britain’s medal banker should be speed skater Elise Christie, who will be desperate to make up for a series of Olympic disappointments four years ago.


UNIFIED KOREA TEAM

After marching together at today’s opening ceremony, the athletes from North Korea and South Korea will make more history when the two nations’ women’s ice hockey teams combine to compete in a unified Korean team under the acronym COR. The unified team has already taken part in a number of practice games, and their Olympic campaign begins later today when they take on Switzerland in a pool match.


VONN

The Northern Echo: 'It’s going to be a hard thing to get done with all the ski federations and everything involved, but that’s my goal,' says Lindsey Vonn

She hasn’t competed at a Winter Olympics since 2010, but American skier Lindsey Vonn will still be one of the biggest attractions in Pyeongchang as she looks to claim her second Olympic title. The 33-year-old is the most successful female alpine skier in history having won 78 World Cup races, and while her career has been punctuated by a succession of injuries, she remains at the peak of her powers. She won five of her last eight races before heading to South Korea and will start as one of the favourites for the women’s downhill.

WINDCHILL

It’s the Winter Olympics, so it’s supposed to be cold. But the Pyeongchang Games look set to be especially chilly, and could well break the record for the coldest Winter Olympics of all time. The current record was set by Lillehammer, in Norway, in 1994, with temperatures of -11C. Pyeongchang is nearly half a mile above sea level, and is the world’s coldest location for its latitude. Once windchill is factored in, temperatures for last weekend’s opening ceremony rehearsal were -23C. Even the IOC have felt compelled to issue a warning to spectators about just how cold it could be.


X-GAMES

The Winter Olympics might pride itself on being the ultimate in winter sports competition, but in the last decade or so, it’s had to fight hard to stay ahead of a rival. The X-Games were created in the US in the mid-1990s as a showcase for extreme sports, and immediately became hugely popular. They spawned the Winter X-Games, featuring events such as freestyle snowboarding, half pipe and big air that have subsequently made it on to the Winter Olympic programme. Where the X-Games have led, the Olympics have followed.


YARNOLD

Thanks to some high-profile successes in the last few years, Britain now boasts a number of well-known winter sports stars. Lizzy Yarnold remains the biggest name on the team competing in Pyeongchang though, and was deservedly chosen as Team GB’s flagbearer at last night’s opening ceremony. The 29-year-old has endured a mixed season on the Skeleton World Cup circuit, but having finished fifth in practice last week, the reigning champion from Sochi will still line up with realistic hopes of retaining her Olympic title.


ZOE GILLINGS-BRIER

The British snowboarder will be competing in her fourth Winter Olympics as she tackles the snowboard cross event – but this will be her first Games as a mother. Born in the Isle of Man, Gillings-Brier made her Olympic debut in the first ever women’s snowboard cross event in Turin in 2006, finishing 15th. She also competed in the 2010 and 2014 Games, finishing eighth and ninth respectively, and gave birth to her first child, Lea, in 2016.