At this time of the year, well-meaning folk of otherwise sound mind start to get very sniffy about the impending Winter Olympics. Well, time to pipe down. Sure, we don’t have that many mountains, and we don’t have a great tradition of professional downhill racing (though we have some brilliant amateurs — after all we Brits more or less invented ski-racing in the 1920s). But these Games could be a chance for Britain to do better. The target is five medals, more than ever before.
We might not have many downhill racers, but we do have the ‘Fridge Kids’, a bunch of outstanding and attractive young people, full of zest and energy. These twenty-something athletes are competing in the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events on a world stage. They started in the UK’s snowdomes or dry slopes, meticulously crafting their skills after school and at weekends. Many grew up together, some are related, and several have a background in gymnastics. Their sports require immense acrobatic ability, balance and bravery. It’s gymnastics in the air, full of mesmerising tricks and turns at speeds of up to 40 mph. It all looks like spontaneous fun but it has been worked on and practised with all the focus of an Olympic rower or cyclist. In their way, these athletes, almost all unknown, are every bit as special as Usain Bolt, who is not going to die if something goes wrong.
Our best, and only, aerial skier, Lloyd Wallace, was in an induced coma last summer after a serious training accident when he caught an edge and hit the surface head-first at high speed. His recovery was miraculous. Lloyd trains with aerial teams from Belarus and China, where the athletes are national celebrities.
But there’s not much money in it here: freestyle skier Molly Summerhayes, only 20, works in McDonald’s to pay her way. Her sister Katie, an even better medal chance, was seventh at Sochi 2014 and could go higher. Watch out for events like Slopestyle, an obstacle course on snow, jump rails and boxes. The snowboard event was introduced in 2014 in Sochi, and nobody can forget Jenny Jones winning bronze, Britain’s first-ever medal on snow. Her smile, normality and unrestrained pleasure lit up Sochi.
Fridge Kid James Woods, 26, one of our top medal hopes in Slopestyle and Big Air (just what it sounds like and terrifying to watch) looks like he has never met a hairbrush but has already picked up gold medals around the worlds and is quite brilliant. Look out too for 20-year-old Katie Ormerod from Sheffield, who was the first female snowboarder to land an aerial snowboard trick of mind-bending difficulty and risk.
If you get the chance, do watch some of these kids. They are inspiring, even if , like me, you will never get on a snowboard in your life.
Who doesn’t love the Murray family? Andy, a unique sporting hero; Judy, a magnificent coach and the best tennis mum. And, er, Jamie? Fine doubles player of course. But he’s now gone way off piste calling for vastly more prize money for doubles players, adding: ‘There’s a lot of excitement around the doubles game.’ Are you sure, Jamie? There is no excitement about doubles tennis apart from during the Captain’s Plate at the local club. Doubles is a sideshow at tournaments, rarely shown on TV apart from by the BBC, who have 2,000 Wimbledon hours to fill.
There’s not a sane sports fan in the world who could name the doubles winners at last year’s Grand Slams, never mind previous years, because nobody cares that much. Jamie Murray is no. 834 in the world, with nearly $3.5 million career earnings, almost all in doubles. That’s plenty, Jamie. Stick to the Davis Cup, where we all love you.