September 15, 2014

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25 things to know that will make the 2014 Games more interesting

Though Bode Miller is the headliner, Ted Ligety, above, is the U.S. skier to watch. He left the Vancouver Games without a medal and is determined it won’t happen again. (AP photo)

Though Bode Miller is the headliner, Ted Ligety, above, is the U.S. skier to watch. He left the Vancouver Games without a medal and is determined it won’t happen again. (AP photo)

Lindsey Vonn missing the Olympics is like Kobe Bryant sitting out the All-Star Game.

There’s still plenty to see.

How will aging Russian hero Yevgeny Plushenko fare in figure skating? Will Shani Davis catch history, and what’s going on with Canada’s women’s hockey team?

While there is a lot of focus on security at the Sochi Olympics, here are some other things to think about while watching today’s Opening Ceremony.

1. Sochi is a resort city on the Black Sea with a population of about 350,000. Brutal dictator Joseph Stalin vacationed there in the 1930s. The town provided numerous hospitals for Soviet troops in World War II until German advancement turned it into part of the front line in February 1943.

2. The 98 events at this year’s Games are 12 more than Vancouver.

3. Gay former Olympians Caitlin Cahow (hockey) and Brian Boitano (figure skating) are among the official U.S. delegation to the Games; an obvious move by President Obama to show disapproval for Russia’s anti-gay policies. Tennis legend and activist Billie Jean King had to decline at the last minute to be with her ill mother. A senior member of Italy’s Olympic Committee called the contingent “absurd.”

4. Nerves are so frayed about a possible terrorist attack that the U.S. Navy will position ships in the Black Sea in case a mass evacuation is necessary. Sure does make those German shepherds that Philly police brought out during the 1980 World Series seem puny.

5. Sochi is on the same latitude line as Toronto. With an average February temperature of 43 degrees, it is the warmest site for a Winter Games.

6. NBC and its derivatives will have 539 hours of coverage with NBCSN (230-plus) and NBC proper (185) carrying the majority.

7. Nancy Kerrigan will be an analyst for the figure-skating coverage. Tonya Harding, hopefully, will be nowhere to be found.

8. The outrageous outfits worn by Norway’s curling team are zany/painful, but they also belie the team’s ability. The Norwegians took silver in Vancouver and should again be among the biggest challengers for Canada, winners of the last two Olympic golds.

9. Bode Miller is the headliner, but Ted Ligety is the U.S. skier to watch. He’s especially salty after coming up medal-less in Vancouver four years ago. “He fouls me harder than anybody else on the basketball court,” Miller said of Ligety. “He tries to take me out in soccer. He’s just very competitive.”

10. American superstar skier Lindsey Vonn will miss the Games with a knee injury, but Lindsey Van is a pioneer in women’s ski jumping, which, after years of legal wrangling, finally will make its Olympic debut. It has been a men’s event since 1924.

11. Another debut sport is relay luge, which sounds like a four-car pileup on Route 422 waiting to happen. Participating teams send down three sleds — one female, one male and a doubles team. At the end of each run, the sledder must hit a pad that opens a gate for their subsequent teammate. It’s not nearly as easy as it sounds, and the competition is susceptible to all sorts of mayhem.

12. Yuzuru Hanyu has a chance to become Japan’s first gold medalist in men’s figure skating. He was practicing when the epic tsunami hit his hometown of Sendai in 2011, and he evacuated the arena still wearing his skates. He has been training in Canada ever since.

13. Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who turned 40 on Jan. 27, has 11 Olympic medals (six gold) and needs one to tie countryman Bjorn Daehlie as the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time. Daehlie, a cross-country skier, won his last Olympic medal at Nagano in 1998.

15. Tracy Barnes made plenty of eyes water when she voluntarily gave up her spot on the U.S. biathlon team to her sister, Lanny, who was ill during qualifying and still barely missed making the team on her own merits. “If you care enough about a person, you will make any sacrifice for them,” Tracy Barnes said.

16. U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association chef Allen Tran says one of the most popular condiments among his athletes is the wonderfully tangy Sriracha sauce.

17. German speedskater Claudia Pechstein is competing in her sixth Olympics. It would be her seventh, but a 2-year doping ban caused by irregular blood levels (not a failed drug test) prevented her from competing in Vancouver.

18. The Jamaican bobsled team got to Russia, but some of its equipment did not — at least right away. No bobsled, no cry. The Jamaicans are thrilled to be in Sochi, even if there is practically zero chance of them getting to the podium.

19. Canada and the USA men’s hockey teams met for the gold medal in 2002 and 2010, when the Olympics were held in North America (Salt Lake City and Vancouver). But when held elsewhere, on generally larger ice surfaces, neither country medaled during the NHL era.

20. Rinks in Sochi will be 15 feet wider and the neutral zone will be 8 feet larger than most NHL surfaces. There also will be 2 feet more behind the goalies. The premium on skating is probably a huge reason Bobby Ryan didn’t make Team USA, but a guy such as James van Riemsdyk did.

21. U.S. halfpipe skier Angeli VanLaanen had Lyme disease for 14 years before it was detected. Once it was diagnosed, she spent 3 years away from skiing because of treatment.

22. The original budget for the Games was $12 billion USD, but more than $51 billion has been spent. Vancouver spent $8 billion in 2010.

23. While Sochi has been spiffed up for the visitors, much of the surrounding area is a wasteland. Resident Vladimir Zarytovsky described to the Associated Press some of the squalor in which his fellow Sochians live, including the community outdoor bathroom. “You have to put on rubber boots if you want to go to the toilet,” he explained.

24. Speedskater Shani Davis and snowboarders Seth Wescott and Shaun White are trying to become the first U.S. males to win a gold medal in three different Winter Olympics. Davis is qualified in three events and would also be the first speedskater ever (regardless of country) to win gold in three consecutive Olympics.

25. “If you’re not scaring yourself,” said fellow snowboarder Scotty Lago, “you’re not doing it right.”