As we bring one of the largest US sporting events to a close (um, that'd be Super Bowl XLVIII for those who might be drawing a blank), we usher in another one with an even broader reach: The XXII Winter Olympics. Starting days and weeks ago, the world began to descend upon the coastal city of Sochi, Russia; and, tonight, the festivities and competition officially get underway! (For those of you closely paying attention, some events did already get underway yesterday - you're right. There's apparently just too much to complete in terms of competition to strictly fit it within the two weeks.) With the motto "Hot. Cool. Yours." this Olympiad appears poised to bring us the best of the world's best at 15 winter sports even amidst the 40 and 50 degree temperatures of its sub-tropical climate. There are 88 nations taking part in these Winter Olympics and, while this participation may be dwarfed by what's seen in a typical Summer Olympic Games, well - you just don't get the excitement of people flying 50 feet in the air on skis or speeding at 30+ mph on knife blades during the summer games!
So, what are some things to be on the lookout for over the next couple weeks? Well, I'm so glad you asked!
As I mentioned above, there are 15 sports to follow during these Winter Games, some with athletes that trigger immediate name recognition (Shaun White, anyone?) and other sports that exist in relative obscurity. I can't put this unique amalgamation of events we call the Winter Olympics any better than Matt Norlander did in his recent CBS post about Sochi, so I won't try: "As always, the major ski events are the best. Skeleton is the most terrifying/can't believe it's still actually allowed event. Curling: not just for hipsters anymore. Luge is fun but overrated. Short track speed skating still confuses 99 percent of humans. And if you're able to watch cross-country skiing with any amount of joy, I salute you."
The stories to keep your ear to the frozen tundra for are the following:
Shani Davis' Glide to Gold: Shani Davis is quite the athlete and modern-day figure for the Winter Games - the first black athlete to ever medal at the Winter Olympics in 2006 - he has dominated the 1,000-meter event in Torino (2006) and Vancouver (2010) and is looking to three-peat. He's an inspiring personality and a driven athlete. Stay tuned to see if Davis raises the impact of United States by making history.
New Winter Sports: New sports are always intriguing, but this Winter Games has some especially exciting ones! No doubt, you've probably heard about the ski slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle events, in which athletes will be scored after descending a downhill course consisting of rails and a variety of jumps, as they combine big airs and technical tricks into a run.
Not crazy enough for you? How about the ski halfpipe event. Or, better yet, how about adding-in a relay element to those frozen luge tubes? Well, if that sounds good, luge relay is for you. And there's much more to be on the lookout for including women's ski jump, an event that has seen some of it's own athletes take legal action to ensure they have the opportunity to compete.
Curling: Why you might ask? Because it's one of the only sports where you can dress like this and - at least in the non-professional circuit - enjoy a beer that's as cold as the ice you're sliding along. Aside from that, maybe not a ton else...
Controversy: There's no shortage of this accompanying the Winter Olympics in Sochi. From accusations of corruption in the pursuit of the Olympic bid, the site's infrastructure expense, journalist's media use and monitoring to the issue of gay rights, these games appear to have a set of shadows all competing for gold in their own right in media headlines. That said, that's all we'll speak of it and you can take it as you like, just be sure to enjoy some of the games and the spirit from which they were born: healthy international competition, sportsmanship and diplomacy that briefly transcends global politics and biases.
Those are a few things we'll be on the lookout for, but what are you most looking forward to about these Winter Games?
Image courtesy of Sam Churchill