While the 2014 Olympics technically kick off on Feb. 6 with a handful of qualification events, things will truly kick into gear on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9 following the highly anticipated opening ceremony on Feb. 7 in Sochi.
A number of medals will be up for grabs during the opening weekend of the 2014 Winter Games, and those events will set the tone for the remainder of the Olympics. The Winter Olympics have undergone a transformation in recent years with the addition of several new, exciting sports, and they will be on full display early on in Sochi.
Along with a full viewing schedule for Day 3 and Day 4 of the 2014 Sochi Games, here is some further analysis regarding the events you simply won't want to miss during the opening weekend of the Winter Olympics.
Where: Sochi, Russia
When: Saturday, Feb. 8 and Sunday, Feb. 9
Watch: NBC, MSNBC and NBCSN
Live Stream: NBCOlympics.com
|Women's Hockey||USA vs. Finland||3 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Cross-Country Skiing||Women's Skiathlon||5:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Speed Skating||Men's 5,000 Meters||5:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Women's Hockey||Canada vs. Switzerland||8 a.m.||MSNBC|
|Figure Skating||Team Short Dance||9:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Figure Skating||Women's Short Program||11 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Figure Skating||Pairs Free Skate||11 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Ski Jumping||Men's Normal Hill Qualification||2:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Biathlon||Men's 10-Kilometer Sprint||2:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Snowboarding||Men's Slopestyle||8 p.m.||NBC|
|Freestyle Skiing||Women's Moguls||8 p.m.||NBC|
|Figure Skating||Team Event||8 p.m.||NBC|
|Women's Hockey||Sweden vs. Japan||3 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Cross-Country Skiing||Men's Skiathlon||5:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Speed Skating||Women's 3,000 Meters||5:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Women's Hockey||Russia vs. Germany||8 a.m.||MSNBC|
|Luge||Men's Singles||8:30 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Figure Skating||Team Men's Free Skate||10 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Figure Skating||Team Women's Free Skate||10 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Figure Skating||Team Free Dance||10 a.m.||NBCSN|
|Ski Jumping||Men's Normal Hill Final||1 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Figure Skating||Team Event||2 p.m.||NBC|
|Biathlon||Women's 7.5-Kilometer Sprint||2 p.m.||NBC|
|Alpine Skiing||Men's Downhill||7 p.m.||NBC|
|Snowboarding||Women's Slopestyle||7 p.m.||NBC|
Top Opening Weekend Events to Watch
USA vs. Finland Women's Hockey
While most expect Canada and the United States to battle for gold in women's hockey, Team Finland could potentially play spoiler. Finland has twice won the bronze medal in four Olympic appearances, and it is the one team with a puncher's chance of taking down either of the women's hockey powers. The Finns will have an opportunity to make their presence felt right off the bat when they face the rival Americans in group play on Feb. 8.
The United States has been dominant as of late, but it did experience a hiccup against Finland in the Four Nations Cup back in November. Finnish goalie Noora Raty stood on her head as Finland won 3-1 and became the first team other than Canada to beat Team USA in regulation. Despite the loss, United States head coach Katey Stone was encouraged by the team's 59-shot outburst, according to USAHockey.com.
I thought our team played great. Obviously we're pretty disappointed with the result, but their goaltender stood on her head. The kids stayed together and there wasn't any quit on our bench. That's the best I've seen us play, despite the result.
If the United States turns in a similar effort against Finland in the Olympics, then the outcome may very well be different. At the same time, the presence of Raty is a true threat to the American women. Both teams will want to make a statement in this contest, so it should be a highly competitive affair.
Men's Slopestyle Snowboard Finals
After the immense success and popularity of halfpipe snowboarding over the past two Winter Games, slopestyle will make its debut in Sochi. The men's slopestyle semifinals and finals will take place on Feb. 8, and there is no question that there will be plenty of high-flying action. This is despite the fact that American star Shaun White has decided to withdraw from slopestyle in favor of focusing on halfpipe, according to Kelly Whiteside of USA Today:
Shaun White withdraws from slopestyle, according to statement given to Today Show— Kelly Whiteside (@KellyWhiteside) February 5, 2014
Per Nick Zaccardi of NBCOlympics.com, White decided that the risks outweighed the rewards due to the danger of the Sochi slopestyle course, which has already caused several training injuries.
With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympic goals on.
White has a chance to become a three-time gold medalist in halfpipe, so it's difficult to blame him for bowing out. The slopestyle event loses some of its luster without White, but some Canadian snowboarders have ensured that it will still be of great interest. Canada has a chance to sweep the slopestyle podium, and both Max Parrot and Sebastien Toutant have made some noise since White's withdrawal.
In tweets that have since been deleted, Parrot said that White was "scared" and Toutant said that White was making "excuses," according to Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see if Parrot and Toutant can walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.
Men's Ski Jumping Normal Hill Individual Finals
Which opening weekend Olympic event are you most excited for?
It's fair to say that most American sports fans don't pay much attention to ski jumping on a yearly basis, but every four years, ski jumping is among the most exhilarating sports contested in the Winter Olympics. Although Team USA hasn't won a ski jumping medal since Anders Haugen took bronze in the large hill individual jump at the 1924 Chamonix Games, it is still an event that is well worth watching.
The men's normal hill final will be contested on Feb. 9, and it should be a competitive event if the World Cup standings are any indication. Poland's Kamil Stoch currently leads those standings, and he enters Sochi with momentum after winning the most recent event in Germany, according to the Associated Press.
As seen in this photo courtesy of FIS Ski Jumping on Twitter, the slopes are ready and waiting for the world's best to descend upon them:
As good as Stoch has been, he'll have his hands full in Sochi. Defending double gold medalist Simon Ammann of Switzerland will pose a stiff challenge, as will defending double bronze medalist Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria, who is fourth in the World Cup standings.
Also in contention will be Petr Prevc of Slovenia and Noriaki Kasai of Japan, ranked second and third, respectively, in the World Cup standings. With so many experienced and skilled ski jumpers vying for the gold, it will make for a great viewing event.
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