The temperature in the South Korean province of PyeongChang currently sits at a bone-shuddering -8°; the perfect setting for the Winter Olympics.
The snowbound version of the Olympic Games kicks off on Friday, February 9, and while it may lack the star names and the razzmatazz of its summer counterpart, the winter games are no less intriguing to watch and wager upon.
The 2018 Games are set to tread new ground with more than 100 medal events taking place, including newcomers to the Winter Olympics in mixed-team alpine skiing, mass-start speed skating, mixed-doubles curling and big-air snowboarding.
They’ll sit neatly alongside the usual suspects that include skiing, bobsleigh, figure skating, ice hockey and that most unusual of sports known as biathlon, where skiing super-fast with a loaded rifle on your back is actively encouraged.
There have been three key news stories that have already set the scene for the games. These may well have implications as to where punters invest their hard-earned money in the various betting markets offered by sportsbooks such as Black Type and the like.
There has been systemic doping abuse in Russia dating back decades, and finally their chickens have come home to roost via a series of lifetime bans handed out to those chiefly responsible.
As an organisation, the Russian Olympic Committee has been suspended for their part in the doping scandal that engulfed the Sochi Games in 2014, and ultimately four Russian athletes have been stripped of their medals. Most jarring was that their flag-bearer at the opening ceremony, Aleksandr Zubkov, who was banned for life after winning two golds at Sochi.
Incredibly, 19 independent organisations investigating the gravity of Russia’s doping programme suggested that they be banned from participation in all sports, but the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) has decided to offer some of their athletes an olive branch.
And so, any Winter Olympic hopefuls that can prove they complied with doping regulations, and who have been tested by non-Russian agencies, can perform in PyeongChang under the banner of ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’, with a neutral flag waved and the official Olympic anthem played during any medal ceremonies.
This is an important point for punters, as Russia have tended to dominate the medals table at previous games – topping the pile in 2014 with 29 medals including eleven gold. They (inclusive of results from the Soviet Union) sit second in the all-time Winter Olympics medal table, and their trimmed-down squad in South Korea could find it hard to add to that collection. That said, they are the favourites to win ice hockey gold at 6/5 with William Hill – although there are mitigating circumstances behind that.
When National Hockey League (NHL) commissioner Gary Bettman announced that players who were contracted to his franchises would be banned from competing in the Winter Olympics, it necessitated a huge shift in the ice hockey betting market.
Canada fell to 7/2 overnight, while the worst hit team – the USA – are now a massive 14/1 to claim the gold medal in PyeongChang.
It’s a huge moment, not least because the US and Canada contested a semi-final at the 2014 games, but also because the Canadians made the final of the 2017 World Championships too, where they were bested by Sweden.
So two of the main contenders for one of the most eagerly-awaited competitions at the games have been severely hampered by commercial decisions beyond their control, with both North American teams having to send shadow squads instead of their best players due to the NHL ruling.
It’s a crying shame that the crowds both in PyeongChang and those watching on from around the world won’t be able to see some of the very best players on the planet strut their stuff on the biggest stage.
It’s fair to say that the northern and southern halves of the Korean peninsula have a fractious political relationship, and yet the Winter Olympics seems to have brought about a thawing of tensions.
The athletes from both nations will parade together at the opening ceremony under the Korean Unification Flag, while in the women’s ice hockey event a joint Korean team will take to the ice.
They lost their first friendly match 1-3 to Sweden, but showed enough skill to suggest they could sneak into medal contention – which would be a huge moment for both sides of the divide.
For those seeking a mechanism for world peace, perhaps ice hockey has been the answer all along.
Russia may have dominated the medal table at the Sochi Games, but as we know their victory was somewhat tainted by their status as a proven drugs cheat.
Just three medals behind them overall were Norway, the nation that actually tops the all-time table with a whopping 329 medals. With the likes of USA and Canada hampered by factors beyond their control, once again we would expect the Scandinavian countries to dominate the podium in many of the individual disciplines.
Norway dominated the 2017 World Skiing Championships, a section which will account for a large number of medals at the games, and they should pick up plenty of others in various events too. You can see why Unibet has made them the short 7/10 favourites to top the medal table once again.
Holland is an interesting name on Unibet’s card at 20/1. There are 22 separate speed skating disciplines to be fought out in PyeongChang, and the Dutch will fancy their chances of picking up plenty of golds.
They dominated the 2017 World Speed Skating Championships, winning gold in eight of the 14 events, and with the likes of Sven Kramer, Jorrit Bergsma and Kjeld Nuis set to dominate again they could net a tidy haul for the Netherlands, a result worth looking at on top betting sites.