KEEPERS TALK WINTER GAMES
Ahead of the opening ceremony in Sochi today, Petr Cech and Mark Schwarzer have been discussing the ice and the snow. Russia host the Winter Olympics for the first time, and so many of the sporting world's eyes will be focused on a city 1000 miles from Moscow in the vast country's south-west corner.
Naturally, the winter games favour some nations above others as a consequence of the conditions in which they take place, so the official Chelsea website caught up with a Czech and an Australian - two locations at either end of the spectrum in that respect - to reminisce on some memorable Winter Olympic moments of yesteryear and look forward to this month's offering.
Petr Cech, evidently abreast of what the competition has in store, began by explaining where his country might have a chance of a medal.
'I am a fan of the Winter Olympics and obviously I'm looking forward to the ice hockey tournament. It'll be the main event,' he says.
'The biggest chance for a medal we have is in speed skating with Martina Sablikova. She is always getting at least three or four medals from every World Championships or other big races, so she is the one who might get the most medals. We also have a very good chance in the snowboarding, where we have Eva Samkova who has been winning most of the events during the year so she has a chance to get a medal.'
Ice hockey is one of Cech's passions. At the age of 13 he had to make the decision between pursuing a future in that sport or in football, because he simply didn't have time to practice both. He was also a goalkeeper on ice and regularly watches his local ice hockey side here in England, the Guildford Flames, as well as keeping up to speed with everything going on in the NHL in America.
Back in 1998, the 16-year-old Cech was captivated by his nation's dramatic triumph in that year's Winter Olympics in Japan. He takes up the story.
'It was in Nagano so the ice hockey quarter-finals, semi-finals and final were all in the morning, so I didn't go to school,' he laughs. 'We all tried to find a way not to miss it.
'That year was the first the NHL allowed all the best players to go and participate, so people called it the 'Tournament of the Century' because every nation could choose any player they wanted from every competition. This time is the same so it will be exciting.'
Four years later, in Salt Lake City, Australia picked up their first ever gold medal in the Winter Olympics, simultaneously becoming the first nation in the Southern Hemisphere to achieve such a feat. The dramatic circumstances in which speed skater Steven Bradbury (pictured below) won gold are etched in the mind of Schwarzer and all his compatriots back home.
'It was huge. He became like a superstar overnight,' recalls our number 23.
'He was fifth in the race, effectively keeping up the rear, and the last turn was just unbelievable. The first four fell over and he just skated through. The expression on his face was something that we all remember. It was a mixture of shock, adulation and a sense of disbelief.'
Australia have won four more gold medals since then, including two at the last games, in Vancouver, and Schwarzer explains how a country renowned for its sun, sand and sea has managed to perform so impressively in colder climes.
'We've got ski slopes in Australia and skiing is very popular there, though obviously we can't compete with the level they have in the States or in Europe.
'People in Australia are very keen not just on skiing but on the other events they have in the Winter Olympics so it doesn't surprise me that we have been successful of late.'