Mike Kasdan gets you ready for the XXII Winter Games in Sochi with his preview of the athletes and sports to watch and all the Olympics story-lines
Male Olympians To Watch
I. Shani Davis
Shani Davis has taken the mantle from Apollo Ono in men’s speed-skating. And then some. A four-time medalist, two-time gold medal winner in in the 1000 meters, and the first black athlete (from any nation) to win a Winter Olympics gold medal, Davis is now looking to become the first American man to win the event in three straight Olympic games. He’s looking tuned up and ready to go:
— Shani Davis (@ShaniDavis) January 19, 2014
II. Shaun White
A virtuoso snowboarder, two-time gold medalist and X games repeat champion, White has dominated the sport.
His soaring acrobatic feats and mop of red hair earned him the nickname, The Flying Red Tomato. The locks are now gone, and the 2014 version of Shaun White is rocking a more GQ look. But he’s still the odds-on favorite in half-pipe to become the first American olympian to win three straight golds in the Winter Games.
III. Bode Miller
This Olympics will surely be the last for the thirty-six year old Miller. While the bad-boy veteran alpine skier has been an outspoken and controversial figure for much of his career, Miller’s five Olympic medals put him in a class of his own. Now a married father of two, Miller is gunning for a sixth medal on a surgically repaired knee while dealing with the recent death of his younger brother. His final hurrah will be one to watch.
IV. Ted Ligety
Champion alpine skier, Ted Ligety, has had quite the run and is peaking just in time for the games. Since striking gold in giant slalom in the 2006 Games, Ligety has won four world championships in the event. In 2013, Ligety medaled in every event he competed in, winning six of those events and then going on to win the world championships gold in giant slalom, Super G, and Combined.
Not only was he named Olympic Sportsman of the Year by the USOC, but to top it off, he finally made it into US Weekly (!)
— Ted Ligety (@tedligety) January 22, 2014
V. Alex Ovechkin
Back in the day, the CCCP (aka The Soviet Union) and the famed KLM line was the most-feared force in international hockey. Now, NHL super-duper star, Alexei Ovechkin, looks to lead the hometown Russian squad back to Olympic glory.
After a disappointing finish in 2010, Russia is considered one of the top teams in the mix for gold. And Ovechkin, sports royalty in Russia, is its leader.
Talk about pressure.
Will Alex The Great deliver?
Female Olympians To Watch
VI. Mikaela Shiffrin
Teen skiing sensation and Colorado native, Mikaela Shiffrin, is considered by many to be the most likely breakout star of the Sochi Games. With Lindsay Vonn down and out with a bad knee, there is a void just waiting to be filled. Billed by Sports Illustrated as “The Next Lindsay Vonn?,” the reining slalom world champion appears poised to take the mantle and lead the U.S. women.
— Mikaela Shiffrin (@MikaelaShiffrin) January 16, 2014
VII. Lindsey Jacobellis
A silver-medalist in Snowboard Cross in 2006, and seven time winner at the X Games, Jacobellis looks to redeem her disappointing performance in the Vancouver Games in 2010. Now a ripe old 28 years (for a snow-boarding Olympian), the question is has she finally arrived? She thinks so:
— Lindsey Jacobellis (@LindsJacobellis) February 5, 2014
VIII. LoLo Jones
“Celebrity athlete” and former track star LoLo Jones was last seen not medaling in Beiing in 2008 or in London in 2012. But she sure is famous anyway. And her story took a surprising twist when she made the transition from track star to bob sledder. Her off-the-field popularity had led to questions of whether she was deserving of a spot on the U.S. women’s bobsled team.
Coming into Sochi, she continues to use her star power and sex appeal to draw attention to herself.
Let’s see if she can get it done on the field. If she does, it will be quite a story.
IX. Gracie Gold
Eighteen year old figure skater Gracie Gold represents the United States’ best shot at a gold medal in one of the classic beloved events, women’s figure skating. America is eager for a successor to Michelle Kwan. And after gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Olympic Preview, it just may be Gold.
— Gracie Gold (@GraceEGold) January 29, 2014
The Sports To Watch
Picture = a thousand words:
The shuffleboard of the Winter Olympics, curling involves sliding polished stones across a sheet of ice towards a target area.
And even though its popular to make fun of and to question why and how this can be an Olympic sport, it has a long and treasured history.
Yes, its bizarre.But its also compelling. Especially when its called by special guest announcer, Ron Burgundy.
It’s where X Games meets the Winter Olympics.
Frontside 1080! McTwist!!
(OK, I have no idea a what McTwist means. I’m just not that cool. But damn is it fun to watch).
XIII. Ice Hockey
International hockey is always fun to watch, both on the men’s side and the women’s. A preview of the wide-open field on the men’s side – the field is led by Canada, Sweden and Russia – can be found here.
The U.S. is a contender too.
At this point, we should probably roll that 1980 footage of the Miracle on Ice, shouldn’t we? “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”
That’s the one that mashes up cross-country skiing with shooting a loaded weapon.
My one suggestion here is to ratchet up the difficulty even further: try it with downhill skiing instead. If you do that, you pretty much have a James Bond film. Guaranteed intrigue!
XV. Snowboard Slope Style
Bob Costas has said of this new event: “I think the president of the IOC should be Johnny Knoxville. Because basically this stuff is just Jackass stuff they invented and called an Olympic sport.”
Good enough for me. THAT’s one I’ll be watching!
And Then There’s The “Fashion” – Sartorial Sochi
XVI. Germany’s Rainbow Warriors
When Germany debuted their colorful outfits, they sparked speculation that their chosen uniforms were a political statement against Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law. (See below XX.)
Turns out they just like rainbows.
XVII. The United States – Yeesh
Et tu Ralph Lauren?
The reviews are in. And I’m with the one fan who tweeted, “It’s like the ugly Christmas Sweater meets the 4th of July.”
XVIII. Chech Republic
The Chech ski jumping team is styling in their fur hats:
XIX. Norway – For The Win!
Meanwhile, Norway’s curling team simply nails it.
#Winning #Norway #FTW
(Note: The second place award should go to “the Mexican prince’s” mariachi-themed ski-outfit).
Grab Bag: Other Olympics-Related Stories
XX. Gay Rights Controversy
— Queer Nation NY (@QueerNationNY) February 5, 2014
Its a difficult issue that lies at intersection of politics, economics, and sports, and many have struggled with whether to personally boycott these games.
Throughout its history, the Olympics has had a way of shining light on human rights abuses. It can take many forms, whether it be serious political protest, satire or otherwise. (For a creative take on drawing attention to the issue that is sure to make you smile, check out this luge-themed ad that was released by the Canadian Institute of Diversity and Inclusion).
In all events, with the eyes of the world trained on Russia, this story is not going away. And that’s a good thing.
XXI. The Slaughter of the Homeless Dogs
There have been numerous reports that Russian officials in Sochi have ordered the killing of stray dogs, ahead of the Olympics so as to keep a clean image for athletes and spectators. After an uproar by animal rights activists, more recent reports say the dogs are “merely being relocated.”
XXII. Ah, Sochi
Speak of clean image, the reporters descending on Sochi for the Olympics are reporting on – um – their hotel rooms and conditions. And its not pretty:
In my Sochi hotel. You’re welcome to pop by and sit forlornly in my Chairs of Desolation. pic.twitter.com/msoqXAIcj4
— cathalkelly (@cathalkelly) February 5, 2014
The story has become such a big one that even the parodists are getting in on the action. The New Yorker’s “Borowitz Report” ran a mock article entitled “Sochi Hotel Guests Complain About Topless Portraits of Putin in Rooms.” The Onion is surely not far behind.
Readers back home are also poking fun at the reporters, who all get to attend the Olympics for free, for complaining about their accommodations:
Just arrived at Sochi, I could have sworn my hotel room looked different online pic.twitter.com/pDGXy90ch3
— samir mezrahi (@samir) February 5, 2014
Meanwhile, Chess Champion Gary Kasparov hopes the attention will shift to Russia’s real problems:
I hope the journalists in Sochi complaining about a lack of doorknobs & wifi pay as much attention to the lack of free speech & elections.
— Garry Kasparov (@Kasparov63) February 5, 2014
Yup, my friends. So there you have it: The Sochi Games of the XXII Winter Olympics.
It’s going to be fun.
It’s going to be dramatic.
And it’s certainly going to be interesting.
Photo Credits: Flickr Creative Commons/linitzskiS (Olympic Rings); Associated Press/Natasha Pisarenko (skeleton); Associated Press/Julie Jacobson (half pipe); Associated Press/Kathy Kovacevic (Norway curlers); Roman Vondrous/CTK/Zuma Press (Chech uniforms); Twitter (remainder)