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Winter Wonderment

Sochi, Russia, set for thrilling Winter Olympic Games

The Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the gold-medal favorites in ice dancing heading into the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

The Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the gold-medal favorites in ice dancing heading into the 22nd Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

From Feb. 7-23, all eyes of the sports world will turn to Sochi, Russia, host of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games, as the best athletes on the planet compete for their countries in one of the most thrilling and monumental competitions the world has ever known.

An array of 98 events in 15 sports awaits the viewing public as national pride takes center stage and legends are made nearly on a daily basis. There’s no greater spectacle in sports than the Olympics, and for approximately 2,500 athletes representing more than 80 nations, it is the pinnacle of their competitive careers.

From figure skating, speed skating, luge, curling and bobsleigh, to ice hockey, alpine skiing, ski jumping, snowboarding and biathlon, there is an event for every sports fanatic. Part of the Olympics’ majesty is that it also makes sports fans out of non-sports fans, transfixing the globe like no other event.

Ice hockey and figure skating are customarily two of the Games’ flagship events, drawing big crowds and huge television audiences alike. The Winter Games in Sochi should be no exception, with U.S. Figure Skating and USA Hockey top medal contenders every step of the way.

For figure skating, that means men’s and women’s singles, mixed pairs, mixed ice dancing and a newly created team event that will somewhat resemble the gymnastics team competition in the Summer Games. Team USA will be looking to follow up on a two-medal performance from the 2010 Games in Vancouver, where Evan Lysacek took gold in the men’s singles and the team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dancing silver.

“We’re going to have a very strong team in Sochi,” U.S. Figure Skating Executive Director David Raith says. “What’s exciting for us is that we’ll be in the thick of every one of these competitions, and everyone’s looking forward to it. I think Sochi’s going to be an adventure, and we’re working with the Olympic committee to make sure our athletes have all the backing and support they need to compete at the highest level.”

Lysacek is working to make the U.S. team after recovering from a hip injury, but Davis and White are favorites to challenge for the top prize.
“They have 14 straight competitions that they’ve won, and they are odds-on favorite to win the gold medal in Sochi,” Raith says.”

Also favorites to compete for gold are the trio of USA Hockey squads, who each put in stellar performances at the 2010 Games. The men’s and women’s teams each took home silver medals after dropping close games to host Canada, while the U.S. Sled Hockey Team captured gold in the Paralympic Games after not allowing a single goal in the entire tournament.

Much like the famed band of amateurs did in 1980’s “Miracle on Ice” performance, the men’s team captured the imagination of the country by advancing to the gold-medal game to face Canada. Now made up of National Hockey League stars, Olympic hockey is one of the more compelling sports the Winter Games have to offer.

“Since the NHL has participated in the Games – which goes back to 1998 in Nagano, Japan – it has been, I think, arguably the best hockey tournament in the world,” says Dave Ogrean, executive director of USA Hockey. “It’s the only hockey championship where every one of the best players in the world is made available. From that standpoint, I think it will again be sensational.”

In 2010, the men’s team lost a 3-2 overtime thriller to the Canadians, but goalie Ryan Miller still received the tournament’s MVP award after a brilliant tournament. The gold-medal game set records for TV viewership and mesmerized North America.

“Statistically, it was the most-watched hockey game in the history of the sport in the United States, and the TV audience in the U.S. for that game was more than double the size of the highest-rated Stanley Cup Finals game ever,” Ogrean says. “From that standpoint, it was enormous. It was something that people who aren’t even day-to-day hockey fans were captured by, and it’s all been part of the steady steps of growth the sport’s experienced in this country for many, many years.”

The U.S. women lost 2-0 in the final game, but the U.S. Sled Hockey team struck gold weeks later with a 2-0 defeat of Japan in the Paralympic Games. After three top-notch tournaments in 2010, hopes are high for Team USA in Sochi at the Olympic Winter Games and the Paralympic Winter Games, set for March 7-16.

“Coming off the Olympics in 2010 – where we were the only country to play in all three gold-medal games – and given the continued development of our programs, we’re going over there expecting to come back with a medal in all three of those tournaments,” Ogrean says. “There are at least five countries that can say and expect the same thing. It’s extremely competitive, but we’re going over there to come back with the highest award.”