BILLY MORGAN, Lizzy Yarnold, Dom Parsons, Laura Deas, and Izzy Atkin. They all made the podium in Pyeongchang, but I bet you couldn’t have named all of them, if any. That’s right, the Winter Olympics continues to be dwarfed by the summer version among Britons.
Team GB achieved a historic medals total in the 2018 Winter Olympics, yet there remains a sizeable difference in British public interest of the events in Pyeongchang and the Summer Olympics. Figures reveal that this was the least watched Winter Olympics on record.
The TV ratings provide for chilly reading. The BBC’s TV coverage of the tournament in Pyeongchang was watched by 33.2 million people, significantly less than the 45.24 million that tuned into the BBC during the summer games in Rio de Janeiro, and the 51.9 million that watched London host the summer contest in 2012. Moreover, in a poll of 78 Nouse readers, the results were again damning. Only six per cent expressed a preference for the winter games over the summer version, with 71 per cent preferring the latter.
When looking to explain why the Olympic fever is less profound among Brits for the winter version, it is too crude to attribute lower TV ratings to the advent of streaming. There is a simple explanation for Team GB’s peripheral presence in the winter medals tables and general apathy towards the Games.
Contests on snow and ice tend to be faster, less predictable, and more dangerous, but they are still subordinate to the summer sports. The two key words here are snow and ice. We don’t experience much of that in the UK and when we do it cripples the nation, to the hilarity of media agencies in countries adept to sub-zero temperatures. As such, Brits do not have access to, or great knowledge of, sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and curling, whereas most Britons would have grown up partaking in Summer Olympic
sports such as swimming, athletics, cycling, and therefore are able to engage more with these sports.
By extension, this means that Britain does not produce many Winter Olympians. 59 athletes represented Team GB in Pyeongchang, whereas a considerable 366 competed for the nation in Rio. With more athletes comes a higher chance of podium finishers, and we Brits like to watch winners, evidenced by viewership being highest for the BBC on the day of Yarnold’s gold medal-winning skeleton performance. It appeals to our heightened sense of patriotic feeling during such global sporting events. In Pyeongchang, Team GB lagged 19th in the medals table, whereas in Rio they finished second with 67 medals. Indeed, this year was the first-ever time Team GB had a medalist on skis.
The summer games also draw bigger crowds as there are more personalities, more dominant athletes for the neutral fan to enjoy. It shouldn’t be concluded, however, that the Winter games is devoid of personalities: Shaun White, Rico Gross, Peggy Flemming, to name a few, but I did have to google them.
Athlete-crowd interaction being more difficult in the Winter games for some sports perpetuates the apathetic problem. Temperatures in Pyeongchang during the opening ceremony reached -5 degrees Celsius, forcing athletes to wear battery-powered, electrically-heated jackets. It is a lot to ask of any fan to sit among the stands in such chilly conditions. Hence, the stadium was half-full at best.
In sum, then, while Brits will continue to enjoy a two-week love affair with curling every four years, the Winter Olympics will never be as salient as the summer games.