Australia’s Brendan Kerry will compete in the men’s figure skating which starts tonight.
Australia’s Brendan Kerry will compete in the men’s figure skating which starts tonight. GETTY IMAGES

Let the Games begin

OLYMPICS: Winter Olympics officials hope the arrival of the Olympic torch in Sochi, and the start of competition this afternoon, will finally focus attention on the Games and off the dramas that have plagued the lead-up.

The spotlight was again on security concerns yesterday after two Austrian athletes - alpine skier Bernadette Schild and skeleton racer Janine Flock - received kidnap threats.

Counter-terrorism experts were examining the validity of the threats but International Olympic Committee officials said they were confident athletes and spectators would be safe.

"Every big event nowadays is under threat," IOC president Thomas Bach said. "We have to address this. The alternative would be to surrender to terrorists." Organisers were no doubt keenly awaiting the arrival of the torch last night after it spent 121 days on the road, covering about 65,000km - the longest torch route in Olympic history.

More than 14,000 people have helped the torch along a journey that even included a trip to the International Space Station.

Even the Olympic flame hasn't been able to avoid controversy, however.

Speculation has suggested 2004 Olympic rhythmic gymnastics gold medallist Alina Kabayeva could be given the honour of lighting the cauldron. Russian media reports have linked Kabayeva romantically to president Vladimir Putin as far back as 2008.

Putin, who divorced his wife Lyudmila last year, has been asked about the relationship but has refused to confirm the claims.

He also said he was unaware who would light the cauldron during tomorrow night's opening ceremony.

"We have many outstanding sportspeople who are significant and known in the whole world and I am not going to interfere in this process," he said.

Australia's decision on who will carry the flag into the opening ceremony has also been made, but team manager Ian Chesterman said he wouldn't reveal who it was until today.

Aerial skier Lydia Lassila, a gold medallist in Vancouver four years ago and competing in her fourth winter Games, is the favourite ahead of snowboard cross gold medal contender Alex "Chumpy" Pullin.

Meanwhile, the start of competition will see qualification rounds contested in the figure skating, freestyle skiing, women's moguls and snowboard slopestyle, which is making its Olympic debut. Eighteen-year-old figure skater Brookelee Han, who was born and raised in the US but qualifies through her Australian father, will be in action, as well 19-year-old Brendan Kerry. Our ice dancing hopes lie with six-time Australian champions Greg Merriman and partner Danielle O'Brien.

Vancouver gold medallist Torah Bright and Scotty James, who made his debut four years ago as a 15-year-old, will lead the charge on the slopes.

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