Breakneck speeds and gorgeous scenery... it’s little wonder that alpine skiing provides the headline events at the Winter Olympics. The biggest names hurl themselves down mountains on two thin strips of heavily-engineered wood, weaving between gates, in a race to the bottom.
The fine margins mean only five skiers have successfully defended their Olympic titles, suggesting we are in for another explosive and unpredictable time at Beijing 2022.
We only have to glance back four years for arguably the biggest shock in the history of the Winter Games. Everyone was already packing up and preparing to crown Anna Veith (Austria) as super-G champion when little-known snowboarder Ester Ledecka (Czech Republic) suddenly stormed to the top of the standings.
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Ledecka would follow up the triumph with victory in the parallel giant slalom on her more familiar snowboard – becoming the first person in history to win gold medals on different equipment at the same Winter Games.
The women’s field is stacked again for China. Mikaela Shiffrin (USA) is already in the GOAT conversation, despite being just 26, and will be looking to add to her two Olympics titles from Sochi 2014 (slalom) and Pyeongchang 2018 (giant slalom).
She will face stiff competition from Petra Vlhova (Slovakia), the defending overall FIS Alpine Ski World Cup champion who is yet to experience the podium at an Olympics. Elsewhere, Lara Gut-Behrami (Switzerland), Alice Robinson (New Zealand), Soffia Goggia (Italy), Corinne Suter (Switzerland) and Marta Bassino (Italy) are also set to light up the slopes.
In the men’s competitions, there is a Marcel Hirscher-shaped hole. Now the legendary Austrian has retired, new names must come to the fore…

'There is a lot more pressure' - Shiffrin on returning to Olympic Games

What are the events?

Alpine skiing is a catch-all term for a series of races. On the menu in Beijing:
  • Downhill
  • Super-G
  • Giant slalom
  • Slalom
  • Combined
  • Team (mixed)
Downhill: Only one thing matters: speed. Well, and remaining upright. There are gates for the skiers to navigate, but these follow the natural flow of the slope and are mainly there to prevent crafty shortcuts. Skiers have been known to top 100mph, while gradients can hit 85% and jumps can propel an athlete up to 60 metres before hitting the snow again. It's all about finding the best line while staying aerodynamic. Whoosh.
Super-G: Aka super giant slalom. The thrill of the downhill combined with the intricacies of the giant slalom. Good news for the athletes: the vertical drop is not as severe as the downhill. Now the bad news: no practice runs are allowed. Instead, the skiers have 90 minutes to digest the course on the morning of the race and then do the whole thing from memory. What could go wrong?
Giant slalom: Takes place across two courses on the same day, with the times added together to find our champion. More technical than the super-G but rip-roaring speed still advised.
Slalom: Arguably the trickiest of the lot. Lots of short turns packed together at an average of one gate per second, demanding the highest level of technical prowess, focus and nerve from our hopefuls. Like the giant slalom, the slalom features two different courses with times added together for the final results.

Slalom explainer: What makes it so tricky?

Combined: This sees athletes tackle a downhill and a slalom – both on different courses to those used in the individual events – with their two times, err, combined to give the overall rankings. Although the downhill typically takes twice as long, it is success/errors in the slalom that usually decide the podium.
Mixed team parallel slalom: Who doesn’t love a mixed event? Skiers face off on identical courses, racing at the same time side by side. Four skiers from each nation – two men and two women – have a series of head-to-head battles. The team that wins 4-0 or 3-1 advances to the next round. In the event of a 2-2 tie, the team with the best aggregate time wins.
N.B. Only athletes who complete the first course, and avoid disqualification, progress to the final round in giant slalom and slalom. Athletes get one run in the downhill and Super-G.

Team GB participants and medal prospects

We’ve all fallen into the Dave ‘Rocket’ Ryding trap before. Ahead of Pyeongchang 2018, we were talking him up as a potential medallist in the men’s slalom. He finished ninth.
Four years on, he’s got us believing again. He bagged a podium at the Adelboden World Cup in January and finished fifth at the Val-d'Isere World Cup in December.
He remains Britain’s best medal hope in alpine skiing, so we’ve got no choice but to jump aboard the Rocket hype train once more. No British athlete boasts an Olympic medal in alpine skiing, although Alain Baxter won slalom bronze at Salt Lake City 2002, only to have it stripped for testing positive for a banned substance.

'A brilliant performance!' - Ryding takes rare podium in Adelboden

What are the rules?

Don’t miss a gate! Fastest wins! That’s basically it.

Who won the last Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing?

Eleven gold medals were awarded at Pyeongchang 2018 in the various alpine skiing disciplines.
Aksel Lund Svindal (Norway - downhill), Matthias Mayer (Austria – super-G), Marcel Hirscher (Austria – giant slalom and combined) and Andre Myhrer (slalom) won the men’s titles.
Sofia Goggia (Italy – downhill), Ester Ledecka (Czech Republic – super-G), Mikaela Shiffrin (USA – giant slalom), Frida Hansdotter (Sweden – slalom) and Michelle Gisin (Switzerland – combined) claimed the women’s titles.
Switzerland won the team competition.

What is the difference between super-G and downhill?

The downhill is for daredevils. The course is more vertical and longer (up to 4.5 kilometres), while the super-G – aka the super giant slalom – demands speed and technical prowess with more twists and turns.
The super-G has another trick up its sleeve: skiers are not allowed a practice run. Instead, they have 90 minutes to assess the course in the morning and commit it to memory. The upshot? Chaos is inevitable.
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