Winter Olympics 2014: Star-watch - who to look out for in Sochi

A panel of 12 well-known sporting figures comprising nine Olympic gold medallists, an unlikely British hero, a GB Paralympian great and the Minister for Sport tell Alan Hubbard who they think will dominate your television screens when the action starts in Russia next Saturday

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Bode Miller Nominated by Franz Klammer

Franz Klammer, now 60, won Olympic gold for Austria in 1976 and a total of 25 World Cup downhills. His foundation assists young skiers affected by injury:

First may I say how much I am looking forward to Sochi and meeting up again with my old friend Sebastian Coe. We go back a long way and have often skied together. I am also looking forward to being a spectator, and watching the Alpine events where, for me, the American Bode Miller will emerge as the big star of the Games.

They call him the old man of skiing because he has turned 36 now, but he remains one of the most exciting competitors I have ever seen, both in the downhill and Super G. He has such incredible athletic balance. It would be wonderful to see him win another Olympic gold.

He had knee surgery last spring but I am told he expects his knee to be stronger than it has been for the past 10 years. He has certainly had some encouraging results since his operation.

He is the most decorated Olympic skier in American history with five medals including one of every colour at the 2010 Games. There will be many outstanding skiers in Sochi but Miller is still the one to watch.

It is a great shame that his injured compatriot Lindsey Vonn is unable to race because she is such a terrific competitor and an attractive personality. But the Americans might have a surprise in store with an 18-year-old named Mikaela Shiffrin who has already made a big name for herself in the slalom by winning the world championship.

Arianna Fontana Nominated by Wilf O'Reilly

Wilf O'Reilly won two gold medals for GB at the 1988 Winter Olympics; he now lives in Holland and is an adviser to the Dutch national team

As in the summer of 2012, women should prove the more dominant personalities, particularly in speed skating where Italy's Arianna Fontana will be a popular hit on TV. She's 23 and quite petite, with a spontaneous turn of speed.

She has won only bronze medals in short track at the last two Olympics but can go for gold this time. She is very explosive, which makes her so good over the shorter distances. This season she has shown how quickly she can go from high speed to overdrive, unlike many of her rivals who simply stay at high speed.

Up against her is Britain's Elise Christie. She is one of the best female speed skaters we have produced and has had a great year. I hope to see her on the podium.

Overall the competition is more open than ever. Koreans and Chinese used to dominate, but this time over a dozen can win, particularly in the men's events.

Shelley Rudman Nominated by Jessica Ennis-Hill

Jessica Ennis-Hill is the Olympic and former world heptathlon champion

On the back of the success of Team GB in the London OIympics there is a lot of talk of medal hopes for the team in Sochi – and none more so than my good friend Shelley Rudman in the skeleton. We both train in Sheffield at the English Institute of Sport and, when she is home, work out in the gym together.

Shelley is a complete inspiration – she has already won a silver medal at the Turin Winter Games and is balancing being a full-time athlete with being a mother to Ella. She is going into Sochi as the reigning world champion in skeleton and I know she will be expecting a lot from herself – she is the ultimate professional and has so much experience of the skeleton and will be leaving no stone unturned in her preparation.

If I think about it I get nervous remembering how I felt so close to the 2012 Games, but know that Shelley will have it all worked out in her head. I will be tuned in to watch her, and also Shelley's fiancé Kristan Bromley too. Kristan is a former skeleton world champion and has been to three Olympics before.

I wish everyone in the team lots of luck and hope that in just a small way the success of our team will be an inspiration to them all.

Zoe Gillings Nominated by Sir Steve Redgrave

Sir Steve Redgrave, five-times Olympic rowing gold medallist, is a keen winter sports enthusiast

If anyone can provide the "wow" factor for Britain it is is Zoe Gillings. The snowboarder from the Isle of Man deserves a taste of glory at last.

This is her third Games but in the past four years she has struggled for funding. She's had to find the money to keep going which, at 28, is really hard. But somehow this seems to have given her quite a lot of focus, an extra edge.

I can empathise with her, as her situation resembles that of British rowing at the start of my own career when we had little funding and had to make every penny count.

Zoe is a remarkable competitor. In her event, snowboard cross, six competitors explode from a starting gate to race each other down a custom-built course comprising eight turns and several jumps and rollers. Being a bit of a skier myself, and taking part in the TV reality show "Jump" in which you must have a go at several winter sports including ski cross, ski jumping and the skeleton, I am full of admiration for athletes like Zoe who make something that can be quite dangerous look so easy.

I have a sneaking feeling she is going to surprise everyone and do rather well. I certainly hope so.

Noriaki 'Kamikaze' Kasai Nominated by Eddie Edwards

Eddie Edwards was Britain's lone ski jumper at the 1988 Olympics, finishing last in the 70m and 90m events. He is currently a mentor in the Channel 4 winter sports reality show Jump

This year I'll be looking out for two things — one is the new sport of ski- cross, a sort of helter-skelter time trial over artificial features like jumps, rollers or banks in which skiiers go down in groups of four. Lots of potential for thrills and spills there.

The other, naturally, is the ski jumping. I'll be glued to the box whenever Japan's Noriaki Kosai is about to take flight. At 41, he's the world's oldest competitive ski jumper, appearing in his seventh Olympics. Watch him take off. He has a crazy style — they don't call him "Kamikaze" for nothing.

I'd also love to be up there with him, even though I'm 50 now. But the BOA don't want to know. They never have. Maybe 2018 though, as I'm fitter than ever and could jump further than I did in Calagary. Honest.

Lizzy Yarnold Nominated by Amy Williams

Amy Williams, Britain's only gold medalist in Vancouver in 2010, will be working with the BBC and is a Team GB ambassador

For a nation without a track we have a pretty cool record at the skeleton and I hope I will be interviewing another British winner as my successor on the top of the podium.

I want all the girls to do well but I have a special affinity with Lizzy Yarnold, my friend and tenant at a flat I own in Bath.

Lizzy is the one in form after her outstanding World Cup successes. She has dominated the series this winter and if she can keep in that bubble of confidence at the Olympics she'll be untouchable.

She is a raw talent, strong and powerful and someone who really lives the sport, as I did. I hope to grab a coffee with her once I get to Sochi as I have a few final tips to give her.

Lizzy follows the same sort of training programme as I did and we have a similar, very focused mentality.

I certainly don't rule out Shelley [Rudman] either. She has the experience and is technically very good. This track could suit her.

Short of grabbing a sled myself and having another go, l would love to see both on the podium. They have every chance, and one could get gold.

James Woods Nominated by Seb Coe

Lord Coe, a double Olympic 800 metres gold medalist, is chair of the British Olympic Association

You might say James Woods is the snowman showman. He's a great character, 18 years old and a really funny guy, quite small but obviously very talented — all the attributes you would expect of someone who does crazy things on skis. And he even went to the same school as me in Sheffield.

Like many of his slopestyle skiing rivals, his love of the sport developed from his days playing at skatepark. He explained slopestyle to me as "having two-sided skis with twin tips so you can go backwards and forwards and jump around like a lunatic!"

If he wins a gold medal in Sochi he will be a household name, and not just in Sheffield.

Another who might cause a stir is the cross-country skier Andrew Musgrave, who recently beat the Norwegians at their own game by winning their national championship, coming in ahead of all their top Olympic prospects.

Katie Summerhayes Nominated by Helen Grant

Helen Grant is Britain's Minister for Sport and a keen skier

The 18-year-old British slopestyle skier is a rising star in this hugely exciting event making its Olympic debut.

Like her great friend and fellow slopestyle skier James Woods, Summerhayes can be a real inspiration to Britain's youngsters to take up the sport and be a positive role model, especially for young women, with her dedication, skill and energy.

With snow domes and dry slopes our main skiing facilities in this country — many with rails, boxes and jumps for learning tricks — freestyle is arguably the most accessible ski discipline for young people here. Anyone can give it a go.

Last year Summerhayes was Britain's first female skier in 19 years to win a World Cup medal and, although only just back from injury, she landed a silver medal at a World Cup event in Gstaad last month. So I wish her all the best in Sochi and know she'll do all she can to make Britain proud.

Tatyana McFadden Nominated by Tanni Grey-Thompson

Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson is Britain's most celebrated Paralympian, winning 16 medals, including 11 golds. She sits as a Crossbencher in the House of Lords

The world will be fascinated by this truly amazing female athlete. We last saw Tatyana McFadden here winning the London Marathon; now she will compete as a cross country skier in Russia, the land of her birth — but represent the US. Like me she was born with spina bifida, leaving her paralysed below the waist. Her mother was too poor to keep her and after six years in a St Petersburg orphanage, walking only on her hands, she was adopted by a visiting American woman, a single mother, and taken to Baltimore. The poignant twist is that Tatyana has been reunited with her birth mother who will watch her compete in the Nordic events.

Had Heather Mills been competing, she would have attracted a lot of publicity. But would it have been good or bad? The jury's out on that.

Nick buckland and Penny Coomes Nominated by Jayne Torvill

Jayne Torvill won Olympic ice-dance gold with Christopher Dean in 1984, scoring perfect sixes. They now mentor celebrity contestants in ITV's 'Dancing on Ice'

Since Chris and I retired from competitive skating there has always been a hope that someone would follow in our footsteps. Nick Buckland and Penny Coomes, who will be Britain's ice-dance representatives in Sochi, are dynamic performers.

They were third in the recent Europeans — a remarkable performance considering Nick underwent surgery for an erratic heartbeat last year — and will be striving for an Olympic medal. Like Chris and I, they began their career in Nottingham. They are both 24 and a couple off the ice. They have friendly, outgoing personalities although judges put more of a premium on good technique. Had we been competing now, we would have to adapt our style because we were allowed more creativity. These days it is a more athletic, technical exercise.The best advice we could give them going into Sochi would be to stay focused, keep fit, try your best and, whatever happens, learn from the experience.

Jennifer Jones Nominated by Rhona Howie (formerly Martin)

As Rhona Martin, Howie skipped Team GB to Olympic gold in 2002. She is now performance director of British Curling

I have great hopes of a Team GB gold, but Canada, Sweden, China and Switzerland are all in the mix. It could come down to a battle of wits between GB captain Eve Muirhead and Canadian skip Jennifer Jones.

Jones is a canny tactician and her renowned mind games on the ice may represent the biggest threat to GB. She is a real character — experienced and flamboyant, a 39-year-old mother and qualified lawyer who is not afraid to take risky shots. Plays the big angles beautifully.

She is a big star in Canada and well acquainted with Eve. They recently faced each other in the Inter-Continental Cup, which GB won. Eve is always cool under pressure while Jones is very demonstrative. Theirs should be an intriguing tussle. It could go down to the very last stone, as did our final against Switzerland. If it does, at least British viewers won't have to stay up late, as they did with us, as the time difference is more amenable.

Kim Yuna Nominated by Robin Cousins

Robin Cousins was Olympic men's figure-skating champion in 1980 and will be in Sochi as a BBC commentator and GB Team ambassador

It is usually the ladies figure skating which captures the eye of TV viewers in the Winter Games and this year I think we will all be captivated by the defending women's champion Yuna Kim, of South Korea. She is only 23, but is already the Grand Dame of skating, a beautiful woman on and off the ice who I predict will be the belle of this Olympic ball. She has such a graceful, classic style and amazing technique.

There are some other excellent skaters, especially the Russian teenagers Julia Lipnitkaika, who is only 15, and Adelina Sotnikova, 17, but they are kids; similarly the interestingly named 18-year-old American Gracie Gold. But this contest will see a woman taking on the girls and I believe the woman will win and become the world's skating sweetheart.

People ask me if the British glory days on ice of Jayne and Chris, John Curry and myself have gone for good but I sincerely hope not. While I can't see any GB skaters winning medals in Sochi, skating is improving in this country. We have some good prospects for the future, notably the ice-dance pair of Nick Buckland and Penny Coomes, and we must be looking to use these Games as a springboard for those in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2018.