Le Pays De France - An armchair guide to the Beijing Olympics' peak moments

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An armchair guide to the Beijing Olympics' peak moments
An armchair guide to the Beijing Olympics' peak moments

An armchair guide to the Beijing Olympics' peak moments

The Winter Olympic competition stretches over 18 days, offering the chance for remarkable athletes to showcase their talents in sports that might not be instantly recognisable to the casual fan.

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So what are the must-see moments? AFP picks out some suggestions:

Thursday, February 3: King defends his crown

The freestyle skiers make an early start with the moguls in which Canadian Mikael Kingsbury, an 18-time world champion and perhaps the most dominant competitor in any sport at these Games, starts the defence of his men's title.

Friday, February 4: Opening in style

Film director Zhang Yimou, who masterminded the spectacular opening ceremony at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, will reprise that role for the Winter Games. He promises a "totally innovative" unveiling, but said the global pandemic and colder weather will limit its scale compared to 14 years ago, when 15,000 performers took part.

Sunday, February 6: High-speed ski duel

The top two in the men's skiing speed events this season, Aleksander Aamodt Kilde and Marco Odermatt, face off in the downhill. The 29-year-old Norwegian has won an impressive five races this season. Odermatt, a 24-year-old Swiss, has won six.

Monday, February 7: Big stars take to the Big Air

The freestylers take to a hill in an event where the venue is a star. Big Air Shougang, built on a former steel mill, is the world's first permanent big air venue and the only snow-sport venue in Beijing itself.

American-born 18-year-old 'triple threat' Eileen Gu, who has opted to represent the host nation, opens her campaign in the big air event, in which she won bronze at the last world championships. She is the world champion in slopestyle and halfpipe.

Tuesday February 8: Hanyu chases a skate hattrick

Ten gold medals events in 10 different sports on a crowded day, but the competition to watch might be one in which a medal is not decided, as Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu, who returned to competition in late December eight months after injuring ankle ligaments, opens his pursuit of a third men's figure skating gold. That feat has only been achieved by Swede Gillis Grafstroem between 1920 and 1928.

Wednesday February 9: Shiffrin and Vlhova battle in slalom

A showdown in the women's slalom between two extraordinary stars. Petra Vlhova has won five World Cup slaloms this season and is chasing a first Olympic medal. The Slovak must overcome the one woman to stand up to her in the discipline this season, Mikaela Shiffrin. The American has two World Cup slalom victories this season and is seeking to regain the title she won in Sochi.

Chloe Kim was catapulted to stardom when she won the women's snowboard halfpipe four years ago at 17 and threw the gold medal away in disgust at her newfound stardom before taking a 22-month break to go to college. She has come to terms with her celebrity, even appearing on the Masked Singer (in a jelly fish costume) and starts the defence of her title.

At 35, Shaun White whose late rediscovery of form put him in contention for his fifth Games, starts his pursuit of a fourth halfpipe gold.

Saturday February 12: China's speed-skate hero defends gold

Wu Dajing, who saved face for China by winning their only gold medal four years ago when he took the 500m speed skating on the last day in Pyeongchang, starts the defence of his title. Although the heavily restricted distribution of tickets will deprive him of some home support.

Sunday February 13: Women open Jamaica's tripe bob bid

For the first time, Jamaica has teams in three bobsleigh events and the first, slides into action in the two-woman monobob event.

Tuesday February 15: Italian squadra hits the slopes

Thrills and spills as all-or-nothing Sofia Goggia, who has won all the women's downhills in which she hasn't crashed this season, leads a powerful Italian 'squadra' with Swiss star Lara Gut-Behrami offering the most likely resistance, although Shiffrin might compete in pursuit of a medal.

The team that isn't there attempts to continue its domination of women's figure skating. Competing as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" they took gold and silver four years ago. Going into these Games, Russians occupy the top four places in the world rankings and, led by 15-year-old Kamila Valieva, swept the European championship podium in January.

Saturday February 19: Golden Saturday

Another golden day with nine on offer across eight sports, including the anarchy of the two mass-start finals in speed skating and the grace of the pairs in figure skating.

Sunday February 20: Final face off

The men's ice hockey is one of four closing-day finals. The teams are shorn of their National Hockey League stars but that only raises the prospect of a repeat of one of the most celebrated Winter Olympic moments: the 1980 'Miracle on Ice', when a makeshift US team completed its unlikely run to gold. Once again the Russians, as defending champions are the team to beat, whatever name they compete under.