SOCHI, Russia — They come around only every four years, so it’s easy to forget. That’s especially true in the Winter Olympics, where new sports seem to multiply in the snow and only true fans can tell the difference between a Biellmann Spin and a Double Cab.
But while the memorable images from Vancouver included Sidney Crosby scoring the winning goal for Canada and the snowboarder formerly known as The Flying Tomato doing dazzling flips, Sochi will provide some iconic images of its own.
Here are some things you might see in Sochi you haven’t seen in other Olympics:
PUTIN AND LOTS OF HIM: These Olympics are not only his baby but his burden, and Vladimir Putin spent at least $ 51 billion to make them a reality in the Black Sea resort area where he has a vacation home. The Russian leader spent the week leading up to the games visiting athletes and making sure things were nice and tidy which, of course, they weren’t. Putin also showed off his softer side by petting an endangered Persian leopard in his cage. “We liked each other,” he said.
MOUNTAIN MAJESTY: The mountains towering above Sochi will be the star of these Olympics like no other. They rise majestically outside of town like the Matterhorn at Disneyworld and will be featured every time NBC comes on the air. Look closely behind them and you might see something not so beautiful — thousands of Russian security forces hunting down Islamic terrorists who have threatened to disrupt the games.
JOHNNY WEIR: When last seen in the Olympics, Weir had lost his aura somewhere in a black hole. He also lost the bus schedule, which made him rush to figure skating arena in Turin, his feathers all askew. Now he’s returning to the games, this time with a microphone in hand for NBC. Flamboyantly gay, he should fit in just fine in a city where the mayor insists no gay people live.
WOMEN JUMPERS: For years, ski officials refused to let women go flying off ski jumps like men, convinced that their delicate bodies couldn’t take the punishment. The fact it took that silly notion so long to be dismissed says something about the Olympics, but now that teenager Sarah Hendrickson and others get their chance they should provide a few thrills on the hill.
BIATHLON PLUS: The combination of skiing and shooting has already been a bit weird for an Olympic movement promoting peace and harmony throughout the world. Now they’re taking it a step further, by having biathletes bag the stray dogs that seem to roam freely everywhere. OK, they’re really not, though the Russians are being a bit secretive about what they do to dispose of the animals that have made their way into hotel rooms, security zones and may even try to stage a run through the opening ceremony.
SKIING’S NEW STAR: Tiger’s girlfriend couldn’t make it to these games, but that doesn’t mean all is lost for viewers back home. A new star could be born Mikaela Shiffrin, an 18-year-old who is already being called the next Lindsey Vonn. She’s your typical teen next door, if that teen was a slalom world champion whose mastery of the technical side of skiing draws raves from racers years older.
RUSSIANS ON TOP: There was a lot of handwringing in Moscow over the desultory performance of the Russian team in Vancouver, which won just three golds and 15 medals overall. Expect that to change on the home snow and ice as new talent and old favorites like Evgeni Plushenko and Alex Ovechkin push the medal count for the home team. Ovechkin is under the most pressure to deliver gold for a hockey team that used to dominate but hasn’t won since 1992.
SKATING FREE FOR ALL: Figure skating draws viewers, and in Sochi there will be even more to watch with the addition of a team event. Six skaters — one male, one female, one pair and one ice dance couple — compete for each team, though contrary to popular belief they aren’t all on the ice at one time. That would be called hockey.
A LOT OF HURT: Shaun White pulled out of the slopestyle event after hurting his hand in a fall and declaring it a bit too dangerous. There were spills on the slopes, too, where the women’s downhill training was temporarily halted so workers could soften a harrowing jump near the end. Then again, the Winter Olympics has always resembled a NASCAR race on ice, with some viewers tuning in to watch the carnage.
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