by Andrew Moffa
Every two years, the Olympics take up two and a half weeks of our time. The Summer Olympics capture the world’s attention in a way no other sporting event does. The Winter Olympics, however, have always lagged a little behind. With fewer events and not as many recognizable stars, the Winter Olympics have always been a distant second.
It is now up to Sochi, Russia to close the gap as the 2014 Winter Olympics are set to begin today. We will all have our own reasons for watching or not watching these Olympics, but these games truly have it all. Here are just a few of the storylines to look out for:
Cementing a Legacy
Speed skater Shani Davis, a Chicago native and two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in the 1,000 meters, is one of the most accomplished American Winter Olympic athletes ever. Despite this, Davis is back looking for more, and with another victory in the 1,000 meters, would become the first man to win three consecutive gold medals in any Winter Olympic event. Along with his most successful event, Shani Davis will also be competing in the 500 and 1,500-meter races.
Searching for Redemption
Lolo Jones, the American track star who has competed in two Olympic games as a hurdler, will be a member of the U.S. bobsled team in Sochi. Her addition to the team has been the cause of much controversy, but Jones seems ready to silence all her critics with a strong performance in her new sport.
As someone who has continuously rooted for Jones even after all the drama surrounding her two previous trips to the Olympics, I hope she is able to perform well in Sochi. While a medal may not totally erase the bad memories she had on the track in Beijing and London, it should do a lot to make people think more positively of her.
An Inspirational Comeback
One of the names many of us became familiar with after the 2010 Vancouver games was Steven Holcomb, who led the U.S. four-man bobsled to its first gold medal in many years. Holcomb is back as the pilot of the four-man sled and is searching for another gold. Holcomb’s story is quite the inspirational one, as he underwent experimental eye surgery in 2008 to correct a rare disorder he had that distorted his vision and could have led to permanent blindness.
Soon after the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Holcomb revealed in his biography that he had been battling depression back in 2008 and even attempted suicide. Holcomb is truly someone who has battled back from the brink, and it would be great to see him again standing atop the podium at an Olympic games.
Repairing a Legacy
One of the few names an average fan of the Olympics may recognize is Bode Miller. This veteran skier is set to compete in his fifth Olympic games. Similar to Jones, Miller’s name is often associated with drama and controversy. Back in 2006, Miller came into the Turin Games with a legitimate chance to earn five medals and place himself in the pantheon of Winter Olympic athletes.
Miller crashed and burned, however, leaving Italy with zero medals and a ruined reputation after admitting to skiing drunk and hung over. In general, Miller exemplified all the qualities Olympic athletes are not supposed to have. He did not seem to take his craft seriously and lost a large fan base after his antics in Italy. Determined to put his past Olympic performances behind him, Miller stunned the world in Vancouver, earning three medals, including his first-ever Olympic gold. Most expected Miller to hang up the skies after Vancouver, but he is back as a changed man.
The 36-year-old is now a devoted husband and father and is serving as a role model for the younger members of the U.S. Alpine Skiing team. While Sochi may just seem like a victory lap for Miller, he is expected to contend in all the events he races in and has a real chance to earn another three medals. Bode Miller’s story may be a very complex one, but it is great to see him back in a positive light and I hope he can make the Sochi Olympics his own fairytale ending.
Accomplished Veterans Back for More
One sport many people have a hard time thinking of as one that belongs in the Olympics is snowboarding. Although it is thought of as an event in the X Games, all of the snowboarding events were a large part of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and will once again garner a lot of attention from fans and media alike in Sochi.
Two athletes to look out for in the snowboard half pipe events are American veterans Shaun White and Gretchen Bleiler. White, the most recognizable face of extreme winter sports, is looking to win his third straight Olympic title in the half pipe.
While White is a much more mature person than he was in Turin in 2006 as an 18 year-old hungry for media attention and known primarily for his flowing red hair, the San Diego, Calif. native is as focused as ever and will be the one to beat in Sochi.
Bleiler first made a name for herself in the 2006 Olympics, when she won the silver medal, but she fell short of medaling in Vancouver despite being favorited to win the gold medal. With several X Games gold medals already to her name, the 32-year-old is ready to add an Olympic gold medal to her collection.
The Rising Star
One of the common themes of the recent Olympic games, especially the Summer Olympics in London, has been the emergence of young stars that capture the hearts of Americans everywhere.
In Sochi, most think it will be 18-year-old alpine skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin. She just finished high school last month, made her World Cup debut at age 15 and was a world champion two years later. A slalom specialist, the Vermont native will look to carry a U.S. alpine skiing team that will be without legend Lindsey Vonn. As if I have not already given enough reasons to watch the Sochi Olympics, here is my final plea. The Olympics are truly an event unlike any other.
There is something special about seeing so many athletes representing their countries and fighting to earn a spot atop a podium listening to their country’s national anthem.
I will definitely be watching. Will you?