Becky Flaum
Updated Feb 07, 2014 @ 9:00 am

For two weeks, every fourth winter, the world gathers somewhere super cold and our best athletes do insane things like careen down mountains on skis and flip in the air over ice. This is the Winter Olympics. This year, the games are being held in Sochi, Russia, as you no doubt have heard.

The Winter Games are not as popular in the United States as the Summer Games, partially because the majority of our nation’s climate is not sub-polar… and partially due to the fact that the United States does exponentially better at the Summer Olympics than at the Winter Olympics. The USA has won 2,400 medals in the summer and only 238 in the winter. Add to that the extreme controversy shrouding these games, and it could mean people will pay even less attention as a form of protest.

But there is always one person in your office, family or circle of friends that gets REALLY into it. And every day during the Olympics, they’re all, “Did you see Ted Ligety on the slopes?! How about that Shani Davis?!” And if you respond like you don’t know or you didn’t watch… you will be subjected to a play by play of a sport you know nothing about by someone whose knowledge is limited to what they learned by watching the Olympics. Or worse, if some major upset happened, you will be clueless as the Twitterverse explodes and forces you to give a crap.

So here are eight athletes, events and controversies to at least have a passing knowledge of so you can sort of follow your Facebook feed for the next 14 days.

They should be calling this Olympics “Putin’s Games”; he’s put himself all over them.

There’s never been another world leader whose country hosted the Olympics that’s been this involved in the Olympics than Vladimir Putin. The Russian President has always tried to make himself synonymous with athletics and manliness, posing with tigers and hunting bare-chested. Not only is his manly rep on the line, but so is the reputation of the entire country. But things have not gotten off on the right foot for Putin or Russia. First and foremost, the harsh anti-homosexual laws that Putin put into place just last summer. You’ve got shady budgets and fraudulent finances that involve Putin and some of his buddies who are less than savory characters (one is an alleged drug lord). There’s the embarrassing bathroom situation. And hotels not being completed. And lastly, what they are apparently doing to the stray dogs in Sochi is appalling. Russia has a huge hole to dig itself out of, and it’s not looking good.

While it might be considered a small stand, I’m glad that the President is sending gay athletes as part of our Olympic delegation.

Is it the drastic stand against Russia’s appalling anti-homosexual laws that a lot of people hoped for from the President? No. Is it a great way to show our own support for the LBGT community and the athletes that represent our country? Absolutely. It is also a clear dig at Russia’s policies. Another jab is the exclusion of the President himself, any of his family or Cabinet members, which is customary.

I’ll miss seeing Lindsey Vonn on the slopes, but we’ve still got Ted Ligety and Bodie Miller.

Famous skier and Tiger Wood’s girlfriend Lindsey Vonn is out this year with a torn ACL, but the US men’s ski team is loaded with medal hopefuls. Take for instance, 36-year-old Bodie Miller who holds an American record for five medals in ski events. Then there’s Ted Ligety, who, besides having the most fun name since Peekaboo Street, Ligety won the 2013 World Championships in Austria and is a favorite to take home some gold himself.

I haven’t been this excited about bobsledding since I watched Cool Runnings.

There are two reasons to be pumped for bobsledding this year. First of all, the Jamaicans are back! I imagine John Candy is rooting for them from up above (feel the rhythm, feel the ride!). And secondly, US track star Lolo Jones joins the women’s 4-person bobsled team along with track teammate Lauryn Williams and both are poised to become the first women to medal in both the summer and winter games.

I’d love to see Shani Davis finally win the 1,500 meter.

American speed skater Shani Davis was the first African American athlete to medal in a Winter Olympics back in 2006. He’s won the 1000 meter in the last two games, but he has never placed first in the 1500, only silver. If he could medal in both the 1000 and 1500 meter, it would be quite a feat. USA! USA! USA!

I hope Shaun White’s wrist heals up in time for him to win America’s first gold!

Probably the most famous Olympic athlete in the world is the carrot topped snowboarder and Mila Kunis lover Shaun White. This week, though, while practicing one of the “slopestyle” snowboarding courses, White fell and jammed his wrist. This course has already taken out two other athletes, and that’s just in practice! White is a hopeful to win some of the US team’s first golds in slopestyle on Saturday if he stays healthy. Not to be overshadowed, however, check out women’s snowboarder and fellow pioneer of the sport, Kelly Clark.

I love a good rivalry, especially if it involves ice dancing!

It’s the United States versus Canada in this couple’s ice dancing rivalry! No, it isn’t Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan proportions of drama, but this back and forth has been going on for the last four years. For the US, we have Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are two-time world champs in ice dancing, with golds in the world championships in 2011 and 2013. Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won silver in 2012, but in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Virtue and Moir took home the gold. Who will take the top spot on the podium this year?!

Russia actually has a shot in men’s hockey for this first time in, like, 25 years.

What I know about hockey is limited to the movies The Mighty Ducks and Miracle. And in Miracle the Russians lost and Kurt Russell had luxurious hair. But this year, the Russians are back in the medal conversation with NHL All-Star Alex Ovechkin as their team captain. But Canada is still looking to hang on to their gold medal status. On the women’s side, it’s another Canada/US rivalry with the United States hoping to come out on top this year.


If you want to get into the whole Olympic experience: check medal counts, get injury updates and get all the news on the snowy drama in Russia, check out these sites.

The BBC – For a more international perspective

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