The Winter Olympic Games give Americans an extra chance to come together and celebrate our American-ness while watching athletes representing the Stars and Stripes overseas winning medals in events that we can only sit and watch in awe. This round of the Winter Games begins on February 6 and is planned to end the 23rd in Sochi, Russia and will be made up of 98 events from 15 different winter sports. Why do Americans take so much pride in our performance in the Winter Games? Well, we are one of six countries that has medaled in every single Winter Games and we are the only country that has earned a gold medal in each of the Games dating back to the first 1924 Chamonix, France Games.
This year’s Games will be record-setting in at least one way—cost. Russian president Vladimir Putin promised the International Olympic Committee originally that he would use $12 billion in state funds to build up Sochi for these Games, which is five million more than what the Vancouver games cost in 2010. The first $12 billion went quickly, money flowing into ski resorts, roadways, and other vital infrastructure. The second and third $12 billion soon followed and now, Russia has found itself placing a $50 billion price tag on this year’s Winter Olympics, making it the most expensive in history. Putin is apparently pulling out all the stops in order to prove Russian competency through what should end up being an impressive set of athletic facilities.
Another aspect in which Putin will be surely thorough is security. In recent months, Russian city Volgograd, 400 miles Northeast of Sochi, endured three suicide terrorist attacks. Outside of these attacks, police have arrested possible terror suspects in possession of explosives and have found bodies shot to death next to explosives in cities less than 200 miles away from Sochi. On top of this, Russian gay rights activists are in an uproar over Russia’s legislation that bans homosexual “propaganda” being available for people under the age of 18, inciting international scrutiny and discontent. This has even caused some politicians to vow a boycott of these Olympic Games. How the Russians deal with threats of terrorism and activist events has elevated to a top concern going into the final week before the big kick off of the Games.
One final concern that has been surfacing more frequently as of late is aimed at the future of the Winter Olympic Games. Findings from a study conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada and the Management Center Innsbruck in Austria has shown that, due to rising global temperatures, only six of the 19 former host cities of the Winter Games will be reliable locations for the Games by 2080. Yes, this is quite a popular concern circulating through the Olympic community. The study’s findings suggest that Sochi would not be able to host the Games by even 2050 because even under conditions of relatively low emissions, the progress of global warming will have already caused Sochi to heat up too much for enough snow to fall. I hope this doesn’t leave anyone feeling down about future Winter Olympics, but we should be thankful for two things at least—the year is 2014 not 2050 and Russia is still plenty cold.
Terrorist attacks and global warming aside, these Winter Games indeed look like they could be successful for the Americans making the trek to Sochi. We all remember the wrenching overtime loss suffered by our hockey team to the host of the Vancouver games in the 2010 gold-medal game, but this year could be different. The five-man leadership group for the 2014 squad are all veterans from the 2010 silver-medalist team and therefore ripe with vengeance coming into this year’s Games. These gritty five are joined by Patrick Kane, who as a 21-year-old scored five goals in the six games played in Vancouver and seems to be playing the best hockey of his career at this point in the NHL season. If the USA hockey team can avoid injury problems and receive dependable goaltending from Ryan Miller, this group’s experience with a dash of youthful flair should bring home the first ice hockey gold since the “Miracle on Ice” in the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Another seemingly always bright spot for the USA’s winter team is Shaun White. After dealing with ankle and shoulder injuries earlier last year, White was still able to qualify for the slopestyle and halfpipe events with wins in each event at the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, California two weekends ago. White recently announced that he will not be competing in X Games Aspen in order to prepare for his run at a third straight gold medal in the halfpipe event. “It’s an incredibly tough decision for me and it’s not something I take lightly, especially as ESPN has always been a great supporter, but I have to make sure I’m prepared for the Olympics,” said White.
With Lindsay Vonn bowing out of the skiing portion of the Winter Games in Sochi, our nation’s eyes will surely be focused even more on White to see what new surprises the snowboarding legend will pull out next week.
As we look forward to the beginning of the Games, we should also be looking forward to the introduction of 8 new events making their debuts this February. Team figure skating, men’s and women’s slopestyle snowboard, men’s and women’s parallel slalom snowboard, men’s and women’s ski slopestyle, men’s and women’s ski halfpipe, women’s ski jump, luge team relay, and the biathlon mixed relay will all be making their first Winter Olympics appearance at Sochi. These are definitely events that should be looked out for because with the introduction of new competitions, we are sure to be witnessing never-before seen acrobatics and new testaments of speed. With the addition of these new events, the Olympic Games are broadening their viewer base and sexual equality, which should mean widened support and therefore revenues that can hopefully go toward expanding global warming research. Otherwise, we will only be able to enjoy a 35 year tenure with these events.
Americans and Putin can join in together on the excitement next week when the opening ceremony finally kicks off the 2014 Games. Political strife and national grudges aside, we once again see that athletics can serve as a universal unifying force as the athletes strap on their boots and head out to the snow. With strong American teams, infamous Russian cold, new events, and 50 billion dollars, this is setting up to be a Winter Games for the decades.