After all the preparation, all the sweat, blood and tears that goes into training for an event that comes around once every four years, the wait is finally over for the world’s elite cold-weather athletes.
With all the political posturing, corruption allegations and NBC shoving it down our throats for the past year behind us, it’s time to light the Olympic flame for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Yes, the frigid sister of the Summer Olympics opens today with snowboarding, ski and figure skating events.
We will have to wait til Friday night for the pageantry of the opening ceremony, and I’m interested to see what Vladimir Putin and his merry band of Ruski choreographers have planned. Good luck topping Beijing in 2008 (Summer Olympics). But, comparing the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics is like comparing apples and oranges.
For me the Winter Olympics have always been a distant second to the Summer Olympics. I find in this world there are just somethings that are one or the other. Boxers or briefs, taste great or less filling and Summer or Winter Olympics. For me it’s less filling, Summer Olympics and well let’s leave some mystery about the other.
As a 5-time snowboarder and 3-time skier, the most experience I’ve had actually participating in sports featured in the Winter Olympics is barreling down a snow bank on a plastic sled — the poor man’s luge.
That being said, there are many reasons to tune in to the Winter Olympics being broadcast on NBC from Feb. 6-23. Whether it’s basking in the grace of figure skating, rooting for a local athlete as they shred down the mountain, experiencing a previously misunderstood or unknown sport or just good old fashioned patriotism, every sports fan should grab some sofa time and watch the Winter Olympics.
Here are the five reasons I will be tuning in.
Snowboarding – Whether it’s slopestyle, halfpipe, snowboard cross, slalom or giant slalom the US has dominated this sport. With 19 all-time gold medals, seven of them gold, the US has 10 more medals than the next closest country (Sweden). On top of seeing our country’s best carve up the competition, there will be a local element as the Auburn Ski Club sent two of its members to compete in the slopestyle event. Keep an eye on Ryan Stassel and Karly Piper Shorr as they try to bring hardware back to Northern California. Another local connection is to the brother/sister combo of Taylor and Arielle Gold, who’s uncle, Ed Townsend, owns and operates Grass Valley Sign. Slopestyle events run from Feb. 6-9. Halfpipe events will be aired Feb. 10-12, snowboard cross runs Feb. 16-17, and the slalom events are Feb. 19-22.
Hockey – Hockey is a sport that usually wrestles with soccer as fourth on my list of sports I enjoy watching, but it flies up the rankings when it’s Olympic Hockey.
We see the world’s best players on a regular basis in the NHL, but when playing for their country there is an added urgency to win and represent your country well. Canada holds the medal edge in this event with 18 all-time medals, including 11 gold. The US is second with 15, but only three golds, the most famous being the Miracle on Ice team in 1980. The Russians are third with 10 medals, but eight of those are gold. This year’s US men’s team will be looking to avenge its 2010 loss to Canada in the gold medal game in Vancouver. In 2010, the US had 20 players with no Olympic experience, this year the team is more experienced, hungrier and taking the mentality of ‘gold or bust.’ The women’s team, filled with talent and experience, will be looking to do the same. Hockey runs from Feb. 8-23.
Curling – This year I will finally crack the code on why ice-based bocce ball is an Olympic sport. The sport that, as legend has it, started in 1541 utilizes the skill set needed to sweep a floor, combined with talent of pushing a stone on ice. The Canadian’s lead the world in curling medals with eight, including three gold. The US has won only one curling medal and that was bronze in 2006. Curling will run from Feb. 10-21, and I will be watching closely.
Luge – Luge is the pinnacle of what starts out as solo sledding down a large snow bank as a kid. The only difference is at the Olympic level lugers hit speeds of 90 mph, and instead of soft snow to break a potential fall, it’s a rock hard chute of ice. The sport is both exciting, scary and technical. The Germans dominate this sport and have three of the top five contenders this year. The US has never had a man or woma win a singles luge medal. Luge runs from Feb. 8-13.
Skeleton – The event that shows the greatest amount of courage is the skeleton. The skeleton is basically the luge but riders go belly down and face first. I will be watching this in awe of the bravery and foolishness it takes to compete in such a low-profile and dangerous sport. No one makes millions being an Olympic skeleton rider, but they can definitely pay with their life if something goes wrong. While the US has struggled in the luge, it has fared well in skeleton, leading in medals with six, including three gold. Skeleton runs from Feb. 13-15.
With that I will end this column with the traditional American sports war cry, U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A.
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.