The Sochi Network

The Sochi Olympics event you can’t miss

The Sochi Network

The divine madness of short track speed skating

There is one Winter Olympic event that should be required viewing for every sports fan.

You shouldn't miss it even if you claim to hate the Olympics or are allergic to television, not even if you believe that watching the Games is giving tacit approval to Russia's spotty record on human rights.

The most must-see Olympic TV is the 1,000m final in short-track speed skating. Even though it will be over and done with in the space of 90 seconds, the event – out of the 98 that will award medals – might be the one that best sums up what the Games are really about underneath all the corporate nonsense.

That is because victory in the 1,000m at the Iceberg Skating Palace will only come if that most terrifying of things for an athlete – uncertainty – is overcome. All those hundreds of hours of training, lifting, striving, eating right and sleeping long can be undone in a split second beyond the control of the would-be winner.

And not only that: Britain has two huge medal hopes. But it won't be easy.

In short track, the ice is so slick and the margins are so tight that a single slip, trip or untimely push from an opponent can bring the whole dream literally crashing down.

[LINK: Short track speed skating schedule]

Its capacity for calamity is derided by some as unfair – the critics were loud in 2002 when Apolo Anton Ohno and three others stacked it on the final turn and an unknown and unheralded Australian chancer, Steven Bradbury, pulled off an impossible gold.

But such perceived iniquity is not the concern of the armchair fan, whose primary motive is surely to be entertained. In that sense at least, seeing the fastest skaters in the world hurtle around a 365-foot rink at breakneck speed of up to 40 mph while getting so low that they balance with a fingertip is pleasing to the eye.

Then let's be honest: There is that inherent unpredictability. It is not the crashes that make it compelling to watch; it is the constant possibility of them, quite often when you least expect it.

Yet shouldn't that be how an Olympic gold medal is – precious enough that it can never be guaranteed, ready to be snatched away at any time? That the victor has survived it all – the eager opposition, the treacherous track and the evil clutches of Lady Luck?

There is no such thing as a blowout in the 1,000m. You won't be switching off midway through like you might for a 5-0 ice hockey rout.

Admittedly, with the Olympic record standing at 1:23:747 a somewhat shorter attention span is needed.

So, if you're now sold on short track, why the 1,000m? If we are following the Summer Games model where brevity equates almost directly to interest and the 100 meters is king, then it should be considered that short track has a shorter discipline, the 500m.

And that's where the main British interest is: our flag-bearer, Jon Eley, came fifth and sixth in the event in the past two Olympics, and believes that this time he can claim a medal in his favourite event.

Eley's signature 500m - a short, sharp dash with whoever gets the best start often winning - isn't his only event, however. He'll also be up in the 1,000m, an event which is all the better for allowing greater tactical nuance while somehow still being a flat-out sprint.

That's the event favoured by Britain's other huge Olympic short track skating hope: Elise Christie, a former figure skater turned racer.

She became Britain's first World Cup champion over 1000m in 2012, won bronze in the same event at the 2013 World Championships, and is also the European 1,500m champion, results which make her one of the hot favourites in Sochi - and one of Britain's best medal hopes.

Eley will have a tougher time than Christie in the 1,000m, where he'll face tough competition in the shape of J.R. Celski, the U.S.' best hope. Many think Celski has a better shot in the 1500, where he won bronze in Vancouver, but he has power aplenty and a point to prove.

This event was the one that got away for Ohno, now retired and safely wrapped up in the broadcast booth. His best chance was in 2002 only for the ultimate outsider Bradbury to prevail. The Aussie was savvy enough to hang back, predicting that the pressure and desire for glory of Ohno and three others could cause chaos.

"Crazy stuff can happen," said Bradbury.

That much is guaranteed. Just make sure you're about to see it.

Martin Rogers, Yahoo! / Eurosport

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