|The Sochi Games begin Feb. 7, 2014, and will be the 22nd Winter Olympiad. (US Presswire)|
We are officially, as of the publishing time of this post, 365 days away from the start of the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, the first time that country has played host to the smaller version of the Olympiad. With that in mind, it's time to give you a few facts and info on how things are coming along over on the other side of the world.
Want to know about Sochi? We've already posted a primer on the site of the Games and the overarching storylines that have been laid out. Give that a look once you're through perusing this post. But before we go any further, there is an interesting subtext to all of this. Socci is just not that cold a place. Reports had Thursday's high as 64 degrees. It's going to need to be at least 15 degrees cooler than that 365 days from now, yet there's no controlling/guaranteeing that will happen. The country is reported to actually be saving/storing snow from this season, just in case its needed to use on the mountains for next year.
Yes, it's going to be quite an interesting lead-up to these Games. There is a potential that they could be a disaster from a logistics and climate standpoint. It's akin to hosting the Winter Games in Virginia. It gets cold, but it's not regularly doused in white for three months a year.
What's the biggest story? On the American side of things, it instantly became Lindsey Vonn's accident on the mountain, which was really scary, but in journalism terms, this is now setting up to provide the ultimate U.S. athletic narrative. If Vonn can come back from two torn ACL's and a broken leg -- and win any kind of medal -- it will be the biggest headline for this country, bar none. We don't yet know if she'll truly be able to recover in time to qualify, however.
OK, then what's the biggest Olympic-specific story over in Russia? You mean aside from packing up snow like Christmas ornaments? Well, this one's not the angle Russia wants to put out there, but the country is drilling itself into debt on its way to throwing a massive party, spending $51 billion on the Games to this point -- already breaking Beijing's near-$50-billion mark for the '08 Games. It's more than four times the original estimated budget costs, which almost always get obliterated whenever anything the fuses sports and architecture comes to be. The reason its in the red over this is the same reason every country breaks its piggy bank over the Olympics: there is bravado and pressure to prove to the world just how awesome your country is.
And yes, those involved with the Games say that the building/finishing process is running a little behind, but the same way a bunch of high school kids always seem to manage to pull the musical off just in time after the week of dress rehearsal indicates otherwise, Sochi and Russia should be ready for the world in a year.
What's the motto for these Games? Seemingly every slogan for every Olympic Games comes up short of being truly catchy or innovative. Russia's "Hot.Cool.Yours." not only falls in line with that, but it's also grammatically rebellious and doubles as a worthy candidate for a punk-rock indie band name.
Will there be more of those weird, kinda-creepy mascots again? Oh, absolutely.
Is that Shaun White dude snowboarding again? He's awesome. Yes, he is awesome, and yes, he'll be there. You know: if there's snow. If not, the guy rolls a mean skateboard.
Who's that other guy, the figure skater for the U.S. that won in Vancouver? You're thinking of Chicago-born Evan Lysacek, hero to housemoms everywhere. He pulled a groin and needed surgery for a sports hernia, causing him to recently pull out of the 2013 World Championships, but the Olympics are the big kahuna, and he'll be back on the ice.
Will the NHL season go dark for two and a half weeks again so the best players in the world can represent their countries and give us super-awesome Olympic-style hockey? In a word: probably.
Will more/all events be shown live on NBC this time, instead of online-only for real-time competition results? Unfortunately, no. If you're the type that likes to not be spoiled, you'll either have to sneak some time in during the workday or do your best to dodge results until you get home and watch the big competitions at night -- and good luck doing that in this era of sports coverages and chatter. So why is it not changing despite the haranguing that hovered around the London Games? We covered this on the blog last summer, but basically, NBC makes most of its money based off ads for prime-time, appointment television. Sochi is eight hours ahead of East Coast time, so it will be unavoidable yet again. We can only hope the streams are more reliable this time, then.
What else should I know? Well, it's going to get political. As we move on to new eras in sports, the issue of gay athletes remains a tender one but still a movement with some progression -- except in Russia. New Zealand speedskater Blake Skjellerup is gay. The Russian government is working on legislation that would actually make gay public displays of affection illegal in Russia. What's worse: the bill is expected to pass.
What can also be expected: massive backlash against Russia. The world -- and especially Europe, which hugs much of the western Russian border -- is far too embracing of gay culture to idly stand by and watch discrimination become legislated. So stay tuned.
In other news, Russia is basically rebuilding a Cold War-era city that needs everything from new roads to rail lines to tunnels and a new power grid capable of not crapping out given all the hotels and stadia being built. If you want more information, there are plenty of primers in advance of the Games. I think this one covers a lot of cool info/facts.
Upcoming qualifying events for the Olympics
Feb. 20 through Mar. 3: Nordic World Championships.
March 12 through March 20: Figure Skating Worlds.
March 13 through March 17: World Cup Alpine Skiing.
May 3 through May 19: Ice Hockey Worlds.
The basic math: 15 sports + 98 events = 294 medals on the line. Those sports are:
- Alpine skiing (10)
- Biathlon (11)
- Bobsleigh (3)
- Cross-country skiing (12)
- Curling (2)
- Figure skating (5)
- Freestyle skiing (10)
- Ice hockey (2)
- Luge (4)
- Nordic combined [biathlon] (3)
- Short track speed skating (8)
- Skeleton (2)
- Ski jumping (4)
- Snowboarding (10)
- Speed skating (12)
Do you have any video to get me pumped for this? Oh, certainly. In fact, this one was released on the Olympics' official YouTube channel today, specifically saved for the 365-day anniversary. It's pretty accurate, except for the abundance of all the snow.
You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.