We are less than 36 hours from the start of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
This is where athletes, the media and soon the rest of the world will descend. Over 80 nations will compete in 15 different sporting events that will take place in downtown Vancouver, suburban Richmond and three hours north in Whistler from February 12-28.
The Olympics provide the best raw drama sports can provide. Here is a rundown of the things you need to know to get you ready for a 16-day event that is unlike any other.
This year marks the third time Canada will be hosting the Olympics Games. The first was the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal followed by the 1988 Winter Olympics in neighboring Calgary, Alberta.
Vancouver was awarded the Games way back in July 2003 when the city beat out Pyeong Chang, South Korea in the second closest bid vote in Olympic history. Salzburg, Austria was also in the discussion but was eliminated in a previous run-off.
The downtown sites and Whistler are separated by mountains. Therefore, the British Columbian government offered $600 million to improve the highway connecting the two locations. That does not included the roughly $1.76 billion in operational costs to put on the Games.
Nine different venues will house the events, six in the downtown area and three in Whistler.
General Motors Place and UBC Thunderbird Arena will host all of the ice hockey events. Pacific Coliseum will host figure skating and short track speed skating. The newly constructed Richmond Olympic Oval will host the speed skating events. The Vancouver Olympic/Paralympic Centre will host the curling events.
Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver will host the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.
Whistler Creekside will hold the alpine skiing events. Whistler Olympic Park will be the location of the Biathlon, cross-country skiing, Nordic combined and ski jumping events.
Whistler Sliding Center will host bobsleigh, luge and skeleton.
BC Place Stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies.
Seven sports were proposed to the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the 2010 Games. But only one was formally included: ski cross. The rejected events include: Biathlon mixed relay, mixed doubles curling, team alpine skiing, team bobsled and skeleton, team luge and women’s ski jumping.
Ski cross, much like snowboard cross, involves five skiers starting simultaneously in a timed event that includes natural and artificial obstacles.
It has long been involved in the X Games, but Vancouver marks the first time the event will be held at the Olympic level.
Women’s ski jumping gained lots of attention in 2009 when its addition to the Games was twice denied by Canadian high courts.
It sounds funny to ask regarding the Winter Olympics, but this is a serious concern for the officials in charge of the Games.
Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver is not far from downtown where the city is experiencing an abnormally mild winter. Thus it has seen more rain than snow.
Currently, snow is being transported from the eastern mountains of British Columbia to Cypress to ensure enough coverage. Publicly, Olympic officials remain positive, but it is a dicey situation that could play tricks on the Games over a 16-day period.
Apolo Anton Ohno needs just one medal to tie Bonnie Blair's U.S. Winter Olympic medal record of six and two to break it.
Ohno earned three medals at Torino in 2006 and two in Salt Lake City in 2002. He competes in the 500-meter, 1000-meter and 5000-meter relays. He medaled in all three the last time around. Chances are, barring a catastrophic failure, Ohno will be the king of American Winter Olympic medals.
Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn has certainly attracted plenty of attention, both for her charming looks and huge accomplishments on the World Cup circuit. Vonn, who was in both Sports Illustrated and the SI Swimsuit Issue, will participate in five events and will most certainly be a favorite in all of them.
She isn’t going for eight gold medals like Michael Phelps, but the cameras will be all over here with every step she takes around Whistler. The hype machine around Vonn will be in full gear.
However, that hype hit a huge snafu when Vonn announced that she suffered a serious shin injury during a training session for a World Cup event. That may put her gold medal run on the fritz, but the injury only magnifies the hype around her?
Will she? Won’t she? Can she? As of Thursday morning, Vonn appears on target to participate in every event.
It will be a gigantic disappointment if Team Russia and Team Canada do not meet in the gold medal match of men’s hockey. Both squads are virtual NHL All-Star teams and are fronted by the NHL’s two biggest starts: Sidney Crosby for Team Canada and Alexander Ovechkin for Team Russia.
The two have become rivals in the professional ranks. And at the Olympic level, the rivalry will be hot enough to melt the ice.
The Canadians are the favorite heading into the Games, and that adds even more pressure considering they are the host country. Any Canadian Olympic success will be muddied if Team Canada does not capture hockey gold in front of the home crowd.
Couple that pressure with the fact that Team Canada failed to medal in Torino, and the squad faces as much as pressure as any Olympic hockey team in recent memory.
It’s not like any top athlete for any of the power Olympic nations are hurting.
But when the International Olympic Committee welcomed snowboarding in Torino in 2006, it also welcomed athletes who have made a life aside from the exploits on the snow.
Shaun White epitomizes the target of Olympic vitriol. His personal sponsorships and commercial success fall well outside the “Olympic spirit.” The same can be said for Lindsey Vonn, Gretch Bleiler and a number of other attractive and/or entertaining Olympic athletes who have the financial means to train in ways the majority of Olympic athletes could only dream of.
The hype around U.S. alpine skier Bode Miller was enormous heading into the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. Miller felt flat on his face in more ways than one. Miller’s best finish in five events was a fifth place finish in the downhill. He placed sixth in the giant slalom, was disqualified from combined event and earned two DNFs in the slalom and super G.
On top of that, Miller was blasé about his shortcomings and showed little or no regard for his competition. Also, rumors circulated that he spent more time in bars than he did preparing for his events, which likely contributed to his disappointing performance in the Olympics.
However, Miller heads to Vancouver with momentum. He recently won his first World Cup event in almost two years. That opened some eyes heading to Vancouver. There has been positive news circulating about Miller. But the question remains, can he achieve what appeared destined for him in Torino?
Or will Vancouver’s enticing night life once again get the best of him?
The U.S. four-man bobsled team won the World Championship for the first time in 50 years. The German four-man team won gold at each of the last two Olympics. The U.S. has not won bobsled gold since 1948 in St. Moritz, Switzerland. These are the two best squads in the world and figure to make for one of the most compelling medal showdowns in any event.
Considering the location of the 21st Winter Olympics, it is only natural that citizens of both countries will closely watch each other’s medal count, with extra motivation for Canadians.
The United States has finished second in the medal count in the last two Winter Olympics, but Canada is right on the U.S.’s heels and closing strong.
Canada tallied 24 medals in Torino, one behind the U.S., after finishing 17 medals behind America’s 34 medals in Salt Lake City in 2002.
With the Olympics on Canadian soil, no doubt Team Canada recognizes what a landmark achievement it would be to eclipse the American medal count at their own Games. Canada accrued more medals than the U.S. only once in the last seven Winter Olympics.