Sochi, So Chill

By NATASHA RAI, junior

“Hot. Cool. Yours.” Fresh off the excitement of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee first released this slogan for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Almost two years later, people now see it on billboards and commercials internationally, and the world eagerly watched the opening ceremony. Still, some are reluctant to tune in. First started in 1924, 28 years after the first Summer Games, the Winter Olympics have always been the lesser known sibling of the immensely popular Summer Olympics. Despite the notion that they fascinate only enthusiasts of winter sports, this year’s Winter Olympics have plenty to offer for everybody.

For starters, the 22nd Winter Olympics are to be held in Sochi for the first time in history. Sochi is part of Krasnodar, the third largest region in Russia. As always, the ice events will be held in different locations than the mountain events. This year, however, the two locations are only 30 minutes away from each other, which is the closest they have ever been. The ice venue is built around the vast Black Sea coast surrounding the Olympic Village, while the mountain venue is built in the white-capped Krasnaya Polyanas. Both locations are popular tourist attractions, yet they have still aroused unwanted controversy. Russia’s anti-gay issues have made some countries reluctant to participate. Not only is President Obama not attending, but he also added openly gay athletes Billie Jean King and Caitlin Cahow to the U.S. delegation as a subtle form of protest. Who knows what other surprises may arise once the games actually begin?

Of course, the most important factors of the games are the sports themselves, which are completely different from the sports played in the summer games. The winter games include seven olympic sports: biathlon, bobsleigh, curling, ice hockey, luge, skating, and skiing. Among these, there are over 15 sport disciplines, including figure skating; speed skating, and short-track speed skating and six different types of skiing sports, from alpine skiing to snowboarding. Several new events will premiere this year at the Olympics, such as slopestyle and snowboard halfpipe.

The usual stigma is that these sports are tedious to watch, but in reality, these events have the same tension and excitement of the summer sports. Figure skating, for example, deserves a much larger spotlight than it is currently given. Figure skaters combine the flexibility of a gymnast, the grace of a ballerina, and the balance of a tightrope walker to execute intricate leaps and spins on ice. Some people already have enough trouble navigating the slippery sidewalk down Grove Avenue on snowy mornings; now imagine throwing in salsa music, bodycon dresses, and sharp blades.

To all fans of wrestling, football, and other contact sports, hockey will be sure to please. It is by far one of the bloodiest and toughest sports of all time. When players throw sticks, pucks, ice, and other full-grown men pumped with adrenaline around a 200-by-85 foot rink, there’s no question as to why there are plexiglass panels separating the spectators from the ice. Fans can easily testify to the earthquake of sound that shakes the stadium after their favorite player manages to send a puck into the seemingly minuscule net hidden behind the opponent’s goalie.

The mountain sports are a whole different story. They have the intensity of track and field sports but include the potential danger of making painful errors. Unlike tripping over a hurdle, a misstep in alpine skiing results in a perilous tumble down a hill of freezing snow. These sports, including snowboarding and halfpipe skiing, have an “X Games” factor that adds to the excitement.

The athletes, however, are the true stars of the games. Most of them have trained since they were able to walk, and the Olympics are the apex of their careers. For some, this is their first—and possibly only—opportunity to prove themselves in their sports. These newcomers, such as skier Mikaela Shiffrin, figure skater Max Aaron, and snowboarder Mark McMorris, have aspirations to overthrow the veterans. Especially after alpine skiier Lindsey Vonn withdrew from the competition due to an injury, the U.S. Olympic team is looking for new stories and new stars.

However, for others, with snowboarder Shaun White as one of the most famous examples, the Olympics are one of their last chances to represent their countries before they make the decision to retire.

Though the Winter Olympics may be less popular than the Summer Olympics, they  must not be overlooked, and are guaranteed to provide as much excitement and as many record-breaking feats as their more celebrated cousin.

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