There's something very special about the Winter Olympics. Every four years, the world descends on a sleepy, nondescript corner of the world, and shines a light on the most esoteric of sports. This year, it's Sochi, the remote Russian resort city perched on the coast of The Black Sea. The lead up to what are being dubbed "Putin's Games," after the country's mercurial leader, have been nothing short of a disaster. While the intention was to shine a light on a new Russia, most of the focus has fallen on the country's prehistoric anti-gay laws, and the looming threat of terrorism from the various criminal factions that operate within the region.
But, we're here to tell you that Sochi isn't all doom and gloom. If you look past the endless security, beyond the protests and the boycotts, there's real magic to be found. There's an 18-year-old wunderkind who's ready to turn the slopes into her coming out party, and her 55-year-old counterpart who's living proof that age is just a number. There's a fearless speed skater who will pursue immortality right before our eyes, while a superstar and his snowboard will attempt things we've never seen before. And, it will all play out in rolling hills, twisting tracks, and state-of-the-art venues befitting of the grandest stage of all. It's the Winter Olympics people, and this is your primer.
Photo: Via Instagram.
These Are The New Events
If you’ve had it with the Biathlon or you’re just fed up with the Skeleton, there are a whopping 12 new events at this year’s games. Among them are men's and women’s ski Halfpipe, ski Slopestyle, snowboard Slopestyle, and snowboard Parallel Slalom; women’s Ski Jumping, Biathlon Mixed Relay, Figure Skating Team Event, and Luge Team Relay. Sigh, it looks like we’re going to have to wait another four years for Nude Snowman Building.
Photo: Via Instagram.
The Essential U.S. Olympians To Follow On Instagram
Whether they finish atop the medal board or not, expect Team USA to dominate the social media olympics, with over 100 U.S. athletes expected to document the thrilling highs and deflating lows of Sochi on Instagram. Here are 10 must-follow accounts:
Alpine skiers Bode Miller (@millerbode) & and Mikaela Shriffrin (@mikaelashiffrin);
snowboarder Shaun White (@shaunwhite)
speed skaters Shani Davis (@shanidavis) & and Heather Richardson (@hlynnrichardson);
women’s ice hockey player Amanda Kessel (@AmandaKessel8);
men’s ice hockey player Patrick Kane (@88pkane);
cross country skier Kikan Randall (@kikkanimal);
ice dancer Meryl Davis (@meryledavis) and
figure skater Ashley Wagner (@ashwagner2010)
Photo: Courtesy of NBC.
Your Sochi Television Primer
Approximately 190 million people tuned in to the Vancouver games, which explains why NBC shelled out $775 million for the rights to Sochi. The network plans on delivering the most comprehensive coverage ever, which means around-the-clock coverage of every major event. This year also marks the first time that NBC is making every single event available online, so we hope your bandwidth is right. As for television, four must-watch events are:
Sunday, Feb. 9: Men's Downhill (The competition will air tape-delayed between 7-11 p.m. EST)
Saturday, Feb. 15: Men's Hockey: (U.S. vs. Russia, 7:30 a.m. EST)
Tuesday, Feb 17: Ice Dancing Free Skate, 10 a.m. EST, NBCSN. (U.S. skaters Meryl Davis and Charlie White face off against gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.)
Sunday, Feb. 23: Men's Hockey Gold Medal Game (6:30-10 a.m. ET, NBC). This game will air live across all US Time Zones.
Photo: Via Instagram.
The Norwegian Men’s Curling Team’s Pants Are The Best Pants
Curlers have long had a reputation for being aesthetically, well, dull. Just don’t tell that to the four emboldened men of Team Norway, who’ll debut a brand new outrageous pants design for the Sochi Games. The curlers caused a stir four years ago in Vancouver, when they took to the ice in a nifty number featuring checkered diamonds in the colors of their country’s flag. The pants became a phenomenon; a Facebook page devoted to the slacks currently has over 543, 562 followers. Make that 543, 563.
Photo: Via Instagram
The Coolest Sochi Venue Is The Bolshoy Ice Dome
Only in Russia would a fleet of grown men pummel each other inside a giant Fabergé egg. At least that’s what the $180 million Bolshoy Ice Dome — which will host the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments — looks exactly like.
Photo: Via Instagram.
Weather. Weather. Weather.
Earlier this year, Olympic officials began stockpiling snow, like, 500,000 cubic meters of it, because believe it or not, Sochi’s climate is sub-tropical. While organizers are hoping that real snow does fall once the games begin, they’ve also got an army of artificial snow makers at the ready. If all else fails, instead of skiing down the mountain, athletes will just have to run really, really fast.
Photo: William Manning.
The Biggest Rivalries Will Happen In the Rink
Four years ago, Sidney Crosby scored a Golden Goal in overtime to help Team Canada defeat Team USA and capture the gold medal in Men’s Ice Hockey. It was one of the most hotly contested hockey games in history, and with both teams once again stacked with some of the NHL’s top stars, a rematch feels inevitable. Meanwhile, the Canadian women’s hockey team will look to capture their fourth straight gold, all coming against their American counterparts. With both teams on a collision course to the gold medal game, will this be the year Team USA finally breaks through? We can’t wait to find out.
Photo: REX USA/Vesa Moilanen/Rex.
Slovenian Pop Star Tina Maze Is Set To Dominate The Slopes
If Slovenian ski star Tina Maze’s name sounds like that of a pop star’s, that’s because it is. The 29-year-old World Cup champion is also a singing superstar in her native country, thanks to her song "My Way Is My Decision," which has more YouTube views than any other Slovenian artist. And, if she doesn’t win gold in Sochi, the Grammys are only a year away.
Photo: REX USA/MediaPunch Inc.
Mikaela Shiffrin Is America’s New Golden Girl
Get used to the name Mikaela Shiffrin, because you’re going to be hearing a lot of it. With ski goddess Lindsey Vonn sidelined by a devastating knee injury, the 18-year-old phenom looks primed to snatch the vacated spotlight. The precocious Shiffrin is already the defending slalom World Cup champion, which has her poised as a potential multi-medalist in both Slalom and Giant Slalom. Did we mention she’s just 18?
Photo: REX USA/Isifa Image Service sro/Rex.
The threat of terrorism is very real at every Olympic Games, but it’s never been such a hot-button issue as it is at Sochi. The Russian resort city is just an eight-hour drive from some of the most dangerous regions in the world, including Chechnya, home of an Islamist insurgency that has a long-standing beef with Putin and his policies. Already, Doku Umarov, the leader of a terrorist group in North Caucasus has sworn to attack the games. Russian officials have promised that their security will be at its tightest, which should make for an interesting, if uncomfortable atmosphere.
Photo: REX USA/Willi Schneider/Rex.
Meet Mexico's Eccentric Skier
The Mexican ski team is comprised of one man. His name is Prince Hubertus. He is 55-years-old. He will wear a mariachi-inspired uniform. We love you, Prince Hubertus.
Photo: REX USA/Rob Latour.
Lolo Jones Is A Bobsledder Now
Do not adjust your screen. Lolo Jones, America’s most famous hurdler, is headed to the Winter Olympics. The track star took up bobsledding after her disappointing London Games, and qualified just weeks before Sochi. Jones’ selection has come under fire recently, with many critics arguing that she was only selected for her fame. Whether or not that’s true is really besides the point. Women’s bobsled just became the must-watch event of the games.
Photo: REX USA/Tal Cohen/Rex.
How Will Russia’s Anti-Gay Laws Affect The Games?
With the games fast approaching, the protests over Russia’s anti-gay laws are only intensifying. Human rights groups from all over the world have called on major sponsors like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola to denounce the laws, and to run ads that promote equality. Some gay Olympians have also spoken out against Putin, most notably Australian snowboarder Belle Brockhoff, who said that when she’s done competing, she plans on “ripping” the Russian president. Something tells us she won’t be the only one.
Photo: BEImages/Gregory Pace.
What Will Johnny Weir Say?
When former figure skater and LGBT icon Johnny Weir takes the mic as a commentator for NBC Sports, there’s no telling what he might say. Weir has come under fire from the gay community, who think he should boycott the Olympics to protest Russia’s stance against homosexuals. Weir has never been one to hold his tongue, so expect him to address the controversy directly when the whole world is watching.
Photo: REX USA/Martti Kainulainen.
Why Everyone Needs To Watch Curling Right Now
Curling has emerged as the hipster sport of choice for the Sochi Games, because no one really knows anything about it. That’s set to change. After gaining steam in Vancouver, the men and women with brooms are sure to become the breakout stars of the Olympics. That’s right, people. They play with brooms. Need we say more?
Photo: REX USA/Roope Salonen.
Will “The King” Make Olympic History?
Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen a.k.a. “The King”, needs just two medals to become the most decorated winter Olympian ever. The 39-year-old has a mind-boggling 11 to date, and will be looking to surpass his cross country skiing compatriot Bjørn Dæhlie's record of 12. His best chance at some added bling will be the team relay, where his younger teammates will be expected to carry the load. Either way, 11 medals is virtually unheard of for any athlete, which begs the question: Hey Ole, can we have one?
Shani Davis And His Pursuit Of Immortality
Of all the boldface names headed to Sochi, U.S. speed skater Shani Davis just might be the boldest. After winning gold in the 1000m race in both Torino and Vancouver, Davis is looking to become the first athlete to win three consecutive golds in any Olympics ever. More importantly, he’s the first African American speed skater to win a medal. Blaze that trail, Shani. Blaze that trail.
Photo: REX USA/Antti Aimo-Koivisto/Rex.
Shaun White’s Last Stand
Wouldn’t it be special to see the greatest snowboarder to ever do it, go out on top? American rider Shaun White will be looking for his record third consecutive gold in the Men’s Halfpipe, an event he helped redefine since breaking through as a fiery-haired teenager at the 2006 Olympic Games. The rivals looking to steal White’s throne include the dynamic Swiss Iouri Podladtchikov in halfpipe, and the young Canadian upstarts Mark McMorris and Sebastien Toutant in Slopestyle. Expect fireworks.
Photo: REX USA/Lehtikuva OY/Rex.
Figure Skating Vs. Ice Dancing: What's The Difference?
To the untrained eye, figure skating and ice dancing look like the exact same sport. Thankfully, our eyes are trained (and we just read Wikipedia), so we can tell you that the major difference between the two disciplines is this: Figure skating involves jumps and ice dancing doesn’t. Leave it to us to answer life’s most burning questions.
Photo: REX USA/Rex.
Skeleton Is Insane
If you’ve ever felt the urge to watch grown men and women leap onto a sled and barrel down a winding track face first, while traveling at speeds upwards of 70mph, then boy do we have the sport for you. Hint: It starts with an “S” and ends with a “keleton”.