The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics will get underway on February 4th and run through to the 20th.

We don’t have any natural ski slopes in Ireland and have not yet won a medal at the Winter Games but this year we have no fewer than 14 athletes battling to represent us across six different categories.

We first sent a team to the 1992 Games in Albertville and since then have cheered on 32 Winter Olympians in the Green jersey.

The team will be drawn in part from the wider Irish family, with many of the Olympic hopefuls coming from the greater diaspora, currently training and living in countries including Norway, France, the USA and Australia, where winter sports are more prevalent due to access to snow.

In February Beijing will host the skating events, and Zhangjiakou and Yanqing will provide the venues for the skiing, snowboarding, and sliding competitions.

It will not be easy to raise the excitement with the games taking place in our morning’s but it is the Olympics and if we get close to a final or a medal, the interest will soar.

Plans are already underway for the OFI Dare to Believe schools programme to run a Road to Beijing activation in the new year. This will bring the Winter Olympic Games to school children right around Ireland.

Here are the athletes, at this stage of qualification, who are perhaps closest to representing us.

ALPINE SKIING

Team Ireland is on track to qualify one female spot and one or two male spots in the Alpine Skiing events. For the women’s place, 2018 Olympian Tess Arbez, whose Irish roots are in Carlow, is the front runner for the spot, with young USA based athletes Emma Ryan (Dublin and Longford) and Elle Murphy (Dublin) also contesting this spot.

In the men’s event Skibbereen may have an athlete to cheer for with Jack Gower having recently declared for Ireland, his late grandmother was born in Dublin and raised in the West Cork town renowned for their rowing prowess. Also seeking qualification is Dubliner Cormac Comerford, Australia based Alec Scott and Winter Youth Olympian Matt Ryan, whose sister Emma Ryan is targeting the women’s event. Their father is from Dublin and their mother is from Longford.

 

Cross-country Skiing

Pyeongchang Winter Olympian Thomas Maloney Westgaard has already accumulated enough qualification points for the Beijing Winter Games, and will compete in the 15km event in Beijing 2022. Westgaard’s mother hails from Galway, and met his Norwegian father whilst on holiday, before moving to a small fishing island in Norway. This event is one of the oldest winter sports and is an endurance sport, often compared to running on ice.

Freestyle Skiing

Brendan Newby, better known as Bubba, competed for Team Ireland at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in this event, and is on the cusp of achieving qualification once more. The Cork-born athlete is based in the USA where he competes in the exciting halfpipe event.

Luge

The entire Irish Luge Federation is founded based on the drive and ambition of Elsa Desmond, whose paternal grandparents are from Cavan and Cork. The UK based athlete has recently qualified as a doctor, and should she qualify for Beijing 2022, she begins work just days after her event concludes. Luge is an event where the athlete lies on their back on a sled while sliding down a track. This is the fastest sport at the Winter Olympics with the speeds reaching up to 145kmph.

 

Short-Track Racing

For the first time in the history of Ireland competing at the Winter Olympics, we have an ice skater in contention for one of the spots in Men’s 1500m in Short Track Racing. Liam O’Brien (Cavan/Leitrim) is an Australian based skater, who alongside the McAnuff brothers (Ryan and Sean) has been competing for qualification points during the Olympic Qualification series which ended last weekend. With 36 athletes set to compete in Beijing, O’Brien is currently ranked between 34-37 on the qualification status, and has qualification within his grasp, pending the publication of the final qualification list on the 13 December 2021.

 

Skeleton

Skeleton, the event where athletes compete on a sled sliding head first down a track, is the event in which Team Ireland has had the most success at the Winter Olympics. In 2002 at Salt Lake City Clifton Wrottesley finished fourth in this event, just outside the medals.

For Beijing, 2022 Dubliner Brendan Doyle is currently competing in events in the USA seeking qualification in the Skeleton. Over the coming weeks his results in races in the USA and in Germany will determine his Olympic qualification. Based in Ireland for much of the year, Doyle needs results in eight competitions across his race calendar for November and December, where he is targeting fourteen competitions. After five events, he has reached his target in three events. Doyle’s story of overcoming a serious assault while in the Gardaí and subsequent mental health challenges is one of the most visceral you will hear of an Irish sporting star next year.

Snowboard

The most experienced Olympian on the Team Ireland list is Seamus O’Connor who has competed in the past two Olympic Games in the Halfpipe. The US based Snowboarder’s paternal grandparents are from Drogheda and Dublin, competing since he was five, O’Connor turned professional when he was 13. He has now achieved the qualification target for Beijing 2022 and is set to compete in his third Olympic Games, becoming the first Irish person to do so.

 

Maggie Rose Carrigan is an Alpine Snowboarder and is seeking qualification in the Parallel Giant Slalom. The American born athlete has an incredible story of resilience, she was diagnosed with scoliosis as a child and following surgery at 11 years of age she is now competing with the best in the world. In the women’s event in Beijing 2022 there are 31 spots on offer

 

Sport for Business Perspective

The Winter Games come hot on the heels of the delayed Summer Games and may benefit from a greater halo effect from there than might often be the case. Neverthelss, over 120,000 people travel from Ireland in a normal year to go skiing and if you have never watched the Skeleton or the Speed Skating at this level, then you are in for a treat.

 

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