The first gold medal of PyeongChang 2018 will be awarded in the women’s cross-country skiathlon, an event that Norway’s Marit Bjørgen is aiming to win for the third time running. There are also golds to be claimed in short track speed skating, speed skating, biathlon and ski jumping.
Cross-country skiing, women’s skiathlon: 16:15 local time
Known as the pursuit when it was first added to the Olympic programme at Turin 2006, the skiathlon is a 15km race that begins with a mass start. The first half of the race is skied in the classical style, with competitors then changing their skis and completing the second half using the free technique. The first skier over the line is the winner. Victorious at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen is gunning for a third straight win in the event in PyeongChang 2018’s curtain-raiser. The Olympic test event – held in February 2017 at the Alpensia Cross-Country Centre as part of the World Cup calendar – was won by Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, who was full of praise for the course.
Short track, men’s 1,500m: 19:00 local time
The Gangneung Ice Arena will provide the setting for 13-and-a-half laps of thrills and spills. Predicting a winner is no easy task. Defending champion Charles Hamelin of Canada has continued to excel over this distance since his Sochi 2014 triumph, though the Republic of Korea’s Lim Hyo-jun, Hwang Dae-heon and Sin Da-woon will all be anxious to impress in front of their fans. Hyo-jun and Dae-heon were both prominent figures in the 2017/18 ISU World Cup season, while Da-woon is the reigning world champion.
Speed skating, women’s 3,000m: 20:00 local time
The first of the speed skating events at the Gangneung Oval will pit two of the sport’s recent greats against each other: the Netherlands’ Ireen Wüst and Czech Republic’s Martina Sablikova. The pair have virtually identical records in the event − at Turin 2006, the Dutch skater won gold and Sablikova came seventh, positions they then swapped at Vancouver 2010, before Wüst regained the title at Sochi 2014, while the Czech took silver. The Dutchwoman pipped Sablikova again at the 2017 ISU World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships held in Gangneung. Who will win this time is anyone’s guess.
Biathlon, women’s 7.5km sprint: 20:15 local time
The shortest of the biathlon events, the 7.5km sprint features two shooting rounds (one prone and the other standing), with athletes taking aim at five circular targets in each round. For each miss, competitors are required to complete a 150m penalty loop. The final standings in the event determine the start order for the 10km pursuit, with the time gaps between skiers being recorded and the winner starting first, followed by the rest of the field in ascending order. The 7.5km sprint is highly unpredictable and produced seven different race winners during the 2016/17 season. The most consistent of them was the Czech Gabriela Koukalová, who won the crystal globe in the event and the 2017 World Championship title in Hochfilzen (AUT). Meanwhile, defending champion Anastasia Kuzmina of Slovakia will be going for a third consecutive Olympic gold in the event.
Ski jumping, men’s normal hill: 21:35 local time
Producing the longest possible jump while earning high marks for style is the name of the game in ski jumping, which will see its first event of the Games decided on the HS109 hill at the Alpensia Ski Jumping Centre. Poland’s Maciej Kot took the honours at the Olympic test event in February 2017, finishing ahead of Austria’s Stefan Kraft and Germany’s Andreas Wellinger. Kot’s fellow Pole Kamil Stoch is the defending Olympic champion and still very much on the scene, while a clutch of other Austrian, Polish and German jumpers will also fancy their chances. In what is traditionally an unpredictable event, the top ski jumpers from Norway, Japan and Slovenia will also be harbouring hopes of a podium finish.
Elsewhere at the Games…
The men’s luge competition gets underway with heats one and two at the Alpensia Sliding Centre, while Gangneung hosts the opening matches in the preliminary round of the new curling mixed doubles event. Finally, Japan takes on Sweden and Switzerland faces the unified Korean team in the preliminary round of the women’s ice hockey competition.