10 Sports Stories To Watch At The Sochi Olympics
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The Sochi Winter Olympics officially open Friday, and while much of the focus before the Games has trained on the cost, corruption, an anti-gay law, safety issues, and Russia’s general unpreparedness, there will be plenty of stories to watch that involve actual Olympic sports too.
For American fans, the United States enters Sochi four years after winning 37 medals, including nine golds, at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was the largest medal haul for the U.S. in Winter Olympics history, and the Americans are no doubt looking to repeat their success. Here are 10 stories American and international Olympic fans should find interesting over the next two weeks:
1. Front Runners: While some events are expected to come down to the wire, some athletes are widely expected to dominate their events. American skier Ted Ligety (giant slalom skiing) is already one of the faces of this Olympics thanks to a creative marketing video. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (ice dance), Shani Davis (long-track speed skating), and JR Celski (short-track speed skating) are all Americans widely expected to medal in their events. Other athletes, like Canada’s Patrick Chan (figure skating), Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal (alpine skiing), and South Korea’s Yuna Kim (ladies’ figure skating) enter Sochi as heavy medal favorites.
2. The Underdogs: The Olympics are famous for the underdogs who come through in the big moments. Skiers Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso are big American names and former Olympic medalists, but both will try to play the spoiler role in Sochi, and both have a good chance to reach the podium in multiple events. Another underdog to watch is figure skater Jeremy Abbott, who, if he skates two clean programs, has an outside shot at a medal (Abbott began the Olympics with a rough showing in the team figure skating event Thursday). In the biathlon, the only not-new sport in which the Americans have never won a single medal, the U.S. thinks it has a chance in Sochi. Tim Burke won the 2013 biathon world championship and is among the contenders to hit the podium in Russia.
3. Gender Parity: Women’s ski jumping, which finally made the cut after many years of lobbying by athletes and federations alike, is new to the Olympics in Sochi. One of the leaders of the fight for inclusion is American Lindsay Van, who along with teen phenom Sarah Hendrickson is expected to contend for gold. While the women will only compete in one event (the K-95, or “normal” hill) to the men’s three (K-95, K-125 or “large” hill, and team event), this groundbreaking inclusion paves the way for full ski jumping parity in the future.
4. World Records: Many of Sochi’s venues sit at sea level, so if you’re tuning into the Games to see speed-based world records broken in events like long- and short-track speed skating, you’re likely going to be disappointed. There are other records, however, that could fall. In figure skating’s men’s pairs and ice dance events, there’s a chance that athletes pushing themselves to gold could reach record high scores.
5. Two-Sport Athletes: You might recognize two names on the American women’s bobsled team from the Summer Olympics in London. Sprinter Lauryn Williams and hurdler Lolo Jones both made the American team in the two-person bobsled, albeit on separate teams. The inclusion of high-profile track athletes like Jones and Williams garnered more attention for women’s bobsled, but it also caused controversy, as several women who missed the team expressed displeasure at the track stars’ inclusion. Both Jones and Williams have medaled on the bobsled grand prix circuit in recent years. Williams won a team gold in London and an individual silver in Athens; Jones is looking for her first Olympic medal.