Sochi Olympics sport-by-sport guide
Figure Skating (Feb. 6-20)
Though figure skating plays a lead role in every Olympics, it will be under an even bigger spotlight this year because of the new team event that kicks off before the opening ceremony begins. Ten teams will choose an entry from each of the four disciplines (men, women, pairs and dance) with the top five advancing to a set of long programs in the final. The new event will give another chance for some of the sport's traditional powers (the U.S., Canada, Russia and Japan, among others) to battle for another medal.
In the respective singles events, two skaters who have enjoyed periods of dominance will have a chance to add to their storied resumes.
South Korea's Kim Yu-na took two years off after winning the ladies' event in Vancouver and was as good as ever in winning the world title last year. Kim has been battling the effects of an injury to her right foot, but if healthy, she could become the first ladies repeat winner since East German Katarina Witt in 1984 and 1988. Expect Kim to be pushed by two-time world champ Mao Asada of Japan and 15-year-old Russian sensation Yulia Lipnitskaia, who just won the European Championships earlier this month. U.S. champ Gracie Gold will have her day, but she may not be ready to chase the podium just yet.
For the men, Canada's Patrick Chan has won three world titles but is still looking for his first Olympic medal. He'll get pushed by flashy Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, jumping whiz Javier Fernandez of Spain and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten, the California-trained surprise silver medalist at worlds last March.
The dance competition should mark the final chapter of an outstanding North American rivalry between Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and U.S. stalwarts Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The two couples have separated themselves from the field since the last Olympics when Virtue and Moir turned in a virtuoso performance to win gold. The teams have traded gold and silver at the past four world championships with the Canadians winning in 2010 and 2012 and the Americans finishing first in 2011 and 2013. Expect them to go one-two again in their final years of competition.
The pairs event should be a European affair with four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Stolkowy of Germany battling with Russian pairs Tatiana Voloszhar and Maxim Trankov, the reigning world champs; and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who took the Russian national title this year on the Olympic ice in Sochi. -- Brian Cazeneuve
Men's Hockey (Feb. 12-23)
The Sochi 2014 men's hockey tournament: Go big and go home.
Go big: After playing on the claustrophobic NHL-sized rink at Vancouver 2010, Olympic hockey is returning to its roots on the standard 200-by-100-foot international ice surface, the sheet on which European players were trained. The geometry of the game is distinctly altered by the extra 15 feet in width: different shooting angles, an emphasis on cross-seam passes and deeper goalie positioning.
Counterintuitively, additional square footage generally slows down games rather than speeds them up because most teams become circumspect, circling the wagons at their own blue line and deploying a passive 1-4 trap.
As Team Canada assistant coach Ken Hitchcock said, "You can't take the risks that you can on a small surface. There's too much ice to recover. There's too much space to move the puck through you. With that much room to operate, it becomes a very tactical game rather than an emotional game."
In the Olympic finals played outside North America on international-sized ice in the NHL era, the Czech Republic defeated Russia (Nagano 1998) and Sweden beat Finland (Turin 2006). Canada won the other two gold medals over Team USA, including on the big ice in Salt Lake City in 2002.
Go home: Fifteen NHL players are headed back to Russia for the first winter Games in that country. The burden is enormous. Hockey is the leading winter sport. The men's hockey gold medal is the final event of this $51 billion extravaganza. President Vladimir Putin, a recreational hockey player, has a personal interest.
No scrutiny there.
"If Russia plays for gold, it will be the biggest game in Russian hockey history," Igor Kuperman, assistant general manager of the 2002 Russian team, told SI.com. "More pressure than Game 8 (against Canada in the 1972 Summit Series.)"
In 2010, Team Canada embraced the Vancouver ambience in the elimination games, starting with an indelible 7-3 rout of the Russians in the quarterfinals. Russia was shattered.
Since then Team Russia has changed coaches -- new coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov led the Russians to gold the 2012 world championships -- and mostly scrapped run-and-gun hockey. Russia underscored its commitment to playing both sides of the puck by naming Pavel Datsyuk, a paragon of selflessness, as captain.
"The question is will they be willing to park their egos at the door," said John Paddock, the Flyers assistant who was the Winnipeg Jets head coach when Bilyaletdinov was an assistant there in the mid-90s. "They have great individual players -- (Alex) Ovechkin. (Ilya) Kovalchuk. But Sweden has, and will, sacrifice for the team. Canada has done it. The USA, too."
Despite wildly overblown concern in the nation with 35 million hockey coaches, Carey Price and Roberto Luongo should provide sturdy enough goaltending to make defending-champion Canada at least a co-favorite with deep and savvy Sweden. The U.S., leavened with swift, versatile forwards but perhaps short on scoring, collects big moments and could win for the first time since 1980. Including the host Russians, it looks like four countries for three medals. -- Michael Farber
Women's Hockey (Feb. 8-20)
Four years ago in Vancouver, then-IOC president Jacques Rogge questioned women's hockey place on the Olympic program, citing the stark competitive imbalance that led to Canada and the U.S. outscoring their opponents, 86-4, in four games during the 2010 Games.
A structural tweak -- now neither team will play the two lowest-ranked teams --should help even out the contests in Sochi, as should the noticeable growth of the game outside of North America. Three different nations (Finland, Switzerland and Russia) have won world championship bronze since Vancouver. And yet, still, this remains a two-team battle.
Canada and the U.S. have met in virtually every major women's hockey final since 1995, and things should be no different this time around. If anything, expect the meetings (yes, they'll meet in group play and likely for a gold medal) to be even fiercer in Sochi. There's long been a heated rivalry between the two nations, but it's seemed to intensify in the lead-up to these Games. In a pair of "friendlies" at the end of last year, things got hostile with brawls, largely uncharacteristic in the women's game, erupting on the ice.
Although Canada has won the last three Olympic gold medals, the U.S. is poised to snap that streak. Team USA defeated Canada in the world championships in 2011 and 2013, and since December the U.S. has swept four games against its neighbors to the north. Led by up-and-comers like 22-year-old Amanda Kessel, younger sister of NHLer Phil, and bolstered by veterans like four-time Olympian Julie Chu, the U.S. has been playing with the utmost confidence.
Team Canada, meanwhile, has undergone some turmoil within as head coach Dan Church unexpectedly resigned in December, ostensibly forced out for unclear reasons. Ex-NHL coach Kevin Dineen, who has no experience in the women's game, now heads the team and will be charged with defending Canada's Olympic title. -- Sarah Kwak
Speed Skating (Feb. 8-22)
The Adler Arena sits on the north end of Sochi's coastal cluster of venues, but it will be Dutch territory for the Olympic fortnight. The Netherlands have won 82 medals in long-track speed skating -- the most of any country -- and should pad their count thanks to another talented group, led by Flying Dutchman Sven Kramer. Four years ago, Kramer would have followed up his 5,000-meter gold with another win in the 10,000-meter distance, but a coaching gaffe resulted in his disqualification for a lane violation, a sour memory the 27-year-old hopes to rectify in Sochi.
Meanwhile, the U.S.'s Shani Davis, 31 and in his third (and likely last) Olympics, will look to become the first three-time Olympic champion in the 1,000 meters. He's not the only American standout, however. Heather Richardson, the 2013 world sprint champion, and Brittany Bowe, who currently holds the world record in the 1,000 meters (1:12.58) will be podium favorites. -- Sarah Kwak
Short Track Speed Skating (Feb. 10-21)
Expect the South Korean skaters to be extremely visible on the short track -- even if one is technically Russian. After failing to make the Korean team in 2010 because of injury, Ahn Hyun-soo switched allegiances and became a naturalized Russian citizen a year later. Now going by the name Viktor (because it sounds like victory, he says), Ahn has drawn fanfare in Russia and is expected to win the nation's first short-track medal, along with the ire of some competitors. The Netherlands' Sjinkie Knegt famously flipped him two birds after a race last month.
A strong Canadian men's team, led by gold medalist Charles Hamelin, is a favorite to take the 5,000-meter relay, which Canada has won in every world championship since Vancouver.
On the women's side, the South Koreans (all competing for South Korea) could conceivably place two medalists in each individual event.
Without Apolo Anton Ohno or Katherine Reutter, the U.S.'s medal chances will be slim beyond J.R. Celski, who could eke onto a podium or two. But moreover, the U.S. short-track speed skating program has undergone turmoil over the last two years as coaches resigned amid accusations of abuse and Olympic hopeful Simon Cho was suspended for tampering with a competitor's skates in 2011. -- Sarah Kwak
Curling (Feb. 10-21)
Funky pants, a sport with brooms, somebody called "a skip," curling could be considered a breath of fresh air, bringing a certain layman approachability to the largely thrill-seeking Winter Games.
In Vancouver, the home team's success (the Canadian men won gold and the women won silver) bolstered the sport's popularity -- but so did Norway's pants. Again, the Norwegian men's team will sport loud and colorful duds as they hope to unseat Canada, which has won three of the last four world championship titles. Canada was upset in 2013 by the Swedish men, who are now catching up to their female counterparts, two-time defending Olympic champions. -- Sarah Kwak
Ski Jumping (Feb. 8-17)
Since the first Winter Games in 1924, ski jumping has been solely a men's game, but that's about to change. In Sochi, women will finally get their turn on the hill. And Japan's Sara Takanashi will the overwhelming favorite to become the first female Olympic gold medalist, having won eight World Cup events this season.
The 17-year-old Takanashi's biggest challenge could come from the U.S.'s Sarah Hendrickson, the 2013 world champion who missed five months earlier this season to ACL and MCL surgery on her right knee. Sochi will be Hendrickson's first competition since August.
The men's event could yield some surprises, but expect 24-year-old Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria, who has 52 World Cup wins but no individual Olympic gold medals, to solidify his legend in Sochi. -- Sarah Kwak
Biathlon (Feb. 8-22)
The Norwegians are likely to be the most frequent visitors to the biathlon medal stand. Emil Hegle Svendsen is among the favorites in the 10K sprint and 12.5k men's pursuit, and World Cup champion Tora Berger, who won the women's 15k individual event in Vancouver, could take home multiple golds as well.
Tim Burke has a chance to become the first American to win a biathlon medal in Olympic history, but France's Martin Fourcade on the men's side and Ukraine's Olena Pedhrushna on the women's side should be the biggest threats to Norway's overall dominance. -- Phil Taylor
Nordic Combined (Feb. 12-20)
World Cup champ Eric Frenzel of Germany and Jason Lamy-Chappuis, France's flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony, are among the leading contenders for gold.
Team USA may be hard-pressed to duplicate its surprising performance in the 2010 Games, when the Americans took home a gold and three silvers, the first Olympic medals in the event in U.S. history. Johnny Spillane, who won those silvers, has retired, and Todd Lodwick, who made the team for a U.S.-record sixth time, has a shoulder injury that could keep him from competing. But the U.S., with Bill Demong and brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, is a medal threat in the team competition. -- Phil Taylor
Cross-Country Skiing (Feb. 8-23)
Petter Northug Jr. of Norway is still the best cross-country skier in the world, four years after winning four medals in Vancouver, including golds in both the 50K and the men's team sprint. Although a viral infection last fall hindered his preparation for Sochi, he's expected to be fit and ready for the Games.
With Marit Bjorgen a likely multiple medal winner for the women, the Norwegians could dominate both sides of the competition, while Sweden and Finland expected to be their strongest challengers.
Kikkan Randall, considered a contender for gold in the women's sprint free, is Team USA's best chance for a medal. -- Phil Taylor
Alpine Skiing (Feb. 9-22)
When Lindsey Vonn threw in the towel on skiing the Olympic Games with a torn ACL, U.S. alpine buzz shifted to the youngest member of the team, 18-year-old reigning slalom world champion Mikaela Shiffrin; and the oldest, 36-year-old five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller.
Shiffrin will be the favorite in the women's slalom -- where she will face off against Marlies Schild of Austria, the winningest women's slalom racer in World Cup history -- and a medal contender in the giant slalom. Shiffrin would be the youngest U.S. alpine medalist in history.
The iconoclastic Miller, who went gold-silver-bronze at the 2010 Games in in Canada after winning two medals in 2002 and bombing out in a hail of controversy in 2006, missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing microfracture surgery on his left knee but has returned to the circuit in dangerous form. In the speed specialties of downhill and Super-G, Miller will have to contend with three-time Olympic medalist Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway.
American's chill star is Ted Ligety, a 2006 Olympic gold medalist who won the giant slalom, Super-G and combined (a mix of slalom and downhill) at last year's world championships and has dominated the World Cup giant slalom since 2007. He will have to hold off Austria's dynamic Marcel Hirscher to win his long overdue first Olympic GS gold.
Julia Mancuso of the U.S. has long raced in Vonn's long shadow, but also has three Olympic medals of her own, including a giant slalom gold in 2006, and a reputation for showing up big on the biggest stages. In downhill, giant slalom and Super-G, Mancuso will face Slovenia's Tina Maze -- the ski racing pop singer who had the best year of any female in history in 2013 -- World Cup leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, and rising stars Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, Anna Fenninger of Austria and Lara Gut of Switzerland, who missed the 2010 Games with a hip injury. -- Tim Layden
Freestyle Skiing (Feb. 6-21)
Of the dozen new events being unveiled at these Games, four fall under the adrenaline-intensive category of freestyle skiing, or freeskiing. Easiest for newbies to grasp will be:
Ski Halfpipe: a succession of daredevils dropping into the pipe, boosting 10, 15, 20 feet over the lip, executing many of the same aerials performed by the snowboarders. Maddie Bowman, a 20-year-old ex-ski racer who only started competing seriously in the halfpipe a few years ago, comes into Sochi on a tear, having won two Olympic qualifiers (she finished second in another) plus a gold medal at the just-completed X Games in Aspen.
Taking silver behind her was Canadian Roz Groenewoud, who is coming on strong after undergoing surgery on both knees in December. A cluster of superb American riders will all contend for medals, including ex-UC Davis water polo player Brita Sigourney and Angeli VanLaanen, 28, who is enjoying a career resurgence as she continues to recover from Lyme disease that went undiagnosed for 14 years.
On the men's side, 23-year-old David Wise wears the mantle of heavy favorite. The affable, down-to-earth husband and father from Reno, Nev., has been handling that pressure for awhile. The skier known as The Undude -- he met his wife, Lexi, at church camp -- has won gold at the X Games for three years running.
Aaron Blunck, 17, has been on fire of late, winning a Dew Tour event and an Olympic qualifier in December.
An x-factor will be Torin Yater-Wallace, who has ridiculous skills but needs to heal: The 18-year-old broke two ribs and suffered a collapsed lung at that Dew tour event, which limited his practice time going into Sochi.
The best non-American in this event looks to be high-flying Frenchman Kevin Rolland, who finished second to Wise in the X Games.
Ski Slopestyle: Long an X Games staple, this discipline -- in which athletes launch off a series of rails and jumps, executing a variety of freestyle maneuvers -- makes its Olympic debut in Sochi. After tearing her left ACL last August, Canada's Kaya Turski underwent experimental surgery -- featuring a synthetic ligament wrapped in a cadaver graft -- and has stormed back to her accustomed spot atop the sport.
The 25-year-old Turski's biggest challenge may come from Maggie Voisin of Whitefish, Mont., who at 15 is Team USA's youngest winter Olympian in 42 years. While Voisin went bigger off the jumps in Aspen, Turski's rail work was superior, and her runs were cleaner overall.
Americans Devin Logan and Keri Herman are also strong podium contenders. Kim LaMarre is a sentimental favorite. Dropped from the Canadian national program after a series of knee injuries, she trained, traveled and competed on her own dime -- and qualified for her national team.
Nowhere is Team USA's deep bench more evident than in men's ski slopestyle, in which Nick Goepper, Gus Kenworthy, Bobby Brown and Joss Christensen are all strong podium favorites.
Goepper comes into the Games with the most momentum -- the first American to qualify for the team, he also beat all comers at the X Games -- and the most unlikely background. Growing up in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, he would set up a rail in his backyard, then work on tricks year-round. In the summer, he'd lay down Astroturf, increasing his speed by applying dishwashing liquid to the bottoms of his skis. "Or laundry detergent," he said. "That worked, too."
Kenworthy upped the ante in Aspen by landing a flipping, twisting combo called a triple rodeo 1440 -- the first triple cork landed in an X Games slopestyle run. Pushed by his teammate, Goepper answered with a right-side triple cork 1440 to win gold.
Henrik Harlaut, the dreadlocked Swede, won the Big Air competition at Aspen with his signature nose-butter triple cork 1620. However, there is no Big Air at the Olympics, so Harlaut will bring his nose-butter triple to the slopestyle course. He and Norway's Andreas Hatveit pose the biggest threats to a possible American sweep.
Moguls: Racing down a mountain pocked with large, uniform bumps, skiers must execute aggressive turns, quick and short. The 250-or-so meter course features two "air bumps" -- springboards for aerials that will count for half their score. Defending Olympic champion Hannah Kearney, from Hanover, N.H., has been dominant in this event.
To earn her second straight gold, she'll have to contend with a formidable Canadian team led by a trio of sisters from Montreal: Justine, Chloe and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe. -- Austin Murphy
Snowboarding (Feb. 6-22)
Slopestyle: Gone is the iconic auburn mane -- the provenance of his now-defunct nickname, the Flying Tomato. At 27, this more buttoned down, grown-up Shaun White is evolving and diversifying. He designs clothes, serves as the CEO of Shaun White Enterprises and plays lead guitar in a band called Bad Things, which recently dropped its first album.
In his quest for creative fulfillment, White has branched out on the snow, as well. When the IOC announced that snowboard slopestyle would make its Olympic debut in Sochi, White decided to double down. Before going for a three-peat in the halfpipe, White will make a go of it in slopestyle, which calls for riders to navigate a series of rails and "jibs" before then launching off a sequence of jumps.
It's not that much of a reach for White to conquer this pursuit. Eight of his medals in the Winter X Games have come in slopestyle -- five of them gold. He just got a little rusty, is all. The last of those medals was won in 2009.
White's decision to return his focus to that discipline provoked Canadian Mark McMorris, the favorite in this event, to call White out a year ago. "He doesn't dominate slopestyle at all," McMorris said. "He doesn't ride rails. He doesn't watch snowboarding, I don't think."
With his signature triple-cork spins, McMorris pushed slopestyle to new heights. A heavy favorite going into Sochi, the 19-year-old's Olympic aspirations are in doubt after he cracked a rib falling off a rail at the X Games in Aspen.
White, meanwhile, skipped the X-Games in order to polish his slopestyle run. Merely qualifying for Team USA's slopestyle squad had proved more harrowing than expected. But White finished first in his final qualifier, then, rather than ride in the X Games, spent four days at Copper Mountain, taking jumps off a 30-or-so-foot feature the resort shaped specifically for him.
When he fractured his rib, McMorris was being pushed by his countryman, Max Parrot, who in his first run had linked a triplecork underflip with a triplecork 1440 -- the first time two triples have been thrown back-to-back in one run. Parrot (pronounced Puh-ROH) won that contest, adding that medal to the gold he'd taken in the Big Air competition the day before. If McMorris is limited by his injury, Parrot may be the biggest beneficiary.
Other podium contenders are Norway's dynamic dual threat Stale Sandbech and Torstein Horgmo, who may not win but seems sure to have more fun than almost anyone in Sochi.
Silje Norendal is a 21-year-old Norwegian rider known as much for her vast potential as for her actual results. That may be coming to an end. After Parrot unseated McMorris, Norendal followed with a similarly eye-popping upset of Team USA's Jamie Anderson, the reigning queen of this event. Pushing the progression in women's slopestyle, Norendal put down a technical and audacious run -- highlighted by her trademark frontside seven rodeo -- that vaulted her ahead of Anderson, who has four X Games golds in this event.
Anderson has been working on a 900-degree spin for Sochi but chose not to bust it out in Aspen and had to settle for second. To beat Norendal at the Olympics, she'll need to empty her quiver.
Halfpipe: Will the time and energy spent on boning up on slopestyle hurt White in the halfpipe? It sure didn't look like it in his final qualifier. White won the Grand Prix event at Mammoth Mountain with his usual array of precision and amplitude, plus a new trick: the devilishly hard cab double 1440, which combines two off-axis rotations within a double flip.
In Russia Calling, the recently released NBC documentary on White, he is shown trying to become the first rider to land a triple-cork in the pipe -- and hospitalizing himself in the process. White eventually pulled the plug on the triple cork but found a fresh grail. After seeing Iouri "the iPod" Podladtchikov throw a double-cork 1440, aka YOLO flip, in Europe last spring, White vowed to master the trick, a quadruple twist inside a double flip.
If the iPod sticks his YOLO flip in Sochi, and White has a bobble or two, the halfpipe could have a new champion. Considering how unnervingly clutch White has been during his reign and how the Swiss rider has sometimes wilted on the biggest stages, that feels unlikely.
Most of White's remaining threats are his countrymen. Greg Bretz was the last guy to beat White in the halfpipe, at Breckenridge on Dec. 15. As an 8-year-old watching Team USA riders sweep the podium in the halfpipe at the '02 Olympics, Taylor Gold told his parents he wanted to snowboard, and someday be in the Olympics. This winter, he became the first American to earn his spot on the Olympic team. A clean, stylish rider with a sublime Double Michalchuk in his arsenal, he's now in position to -- it's a longshot, but not out of the question -- be part of another American sweep in this event.
Team USA's dark horse is hirsute, hilarious Danny Davis, a massive but star-crossed talent who beat White on the eve of the Vancouver Olympics, only to fracture his pelvis in an after-hours ATV mishap. After battling injuries over the last four years, Davis found his form at the 11th hour, making the team on his last run of the final qualifier. He further boosted his confidence by beating all comers in the X Games Superpipe.
Kelly Clark is 30 now and headed for her fourth Olympics. But the grand dame of the pipe is coming off perhaps the most dominant stretch of her career. In the aftermath of the Vancouver Games, where she won bronze, Clark concluded she'd ceded control of her riding to rivals who were dictating tricks to her. "I realized I was doing tricks because I had to, not because I wanted to," she recently told SI. "So I took a step back and said, 'I'd love to steer the ship -- to be more intentional than reactionary.'"
Steering the ship meant learning a batch of frontside 1080 rotations, which she now lands with regularity. In addition to soaring over the lip like some of the guys, "Kelly's got the 1080, the cab 720, the 900 -- she'll have the most technical run out there," said Mike Jankowski, Team USA's head coach of halfpipe and slopestyle for both snowboarding and freeskiing,
Pushing Clark is Taylor Gold's kid sister, Arielle, 17, whose victory in the world championships a year ago was indicative of the breakout year she had. Gold will push Clark and Torah Bright, the defending gold medalist from Australia, who is "a little bit more on the finesse and style side," Jankowski said. Bright's focus will be at least slightly diffused; she is signed up to compete in an incredible three events: halfpipe, slopestyle and that bumps-, banks- and berms-intensive downhill demolition derby also known as ...
Snowboardcross. She's baaaaccck. Among the five other riders with whom Bright may find herself jostling in any given heat is Lindsey Jacobellis, whose impulsive decision to celebrate victory before actually achieving victory cost her a gold medal in Turin eight years ago. Four years later she was a favorite in Vancouver, but collided with Canadian Maelle Ricker, careened off course and finished out of the medals.
Jacobellis is 28 now, and seems to have accepted that snowboardcross, like life, isn't fair. "There are so many uncontrollable variables," she recently told the AP. "You just have to know that, at that moment, you did your very best and it was out of your control that you didn't win."
You see what she's doing. She's sneaking up on it this time around. Jacobellis won her eighth X Games gold last week. To the exent anyone can be favored in an event that embraces anarchy, Canadians Ricker and Dominique Maltais -- a 33-year-old firefighter who got on the podium in every event World Cup event she entered this season -- might get the nod over Jacobellis, who almost certainly prefers it that way.
Seth Wescott, the Renaissance man from Maine who won gold in this event in the past two Olympics, won't defend his title in Sochi. Plagued with shoulder and leg injuries since 2012, the 37-year-old simply couldn't compete for his spot. The U.S. men will be led by the fiery, ginger-haired Nate Holland, who also won the X Games and must be considered a podium contender in the upcoming Olympics.
After Holland & Co. have vacated the premises, the snowboarding venue will be overtaken by a tribe of 'boarders whose events and attire make them closer in spirit to downhill skiers ...
Parallel slalom and parallel giant slalom involve two athletes racing down parallel slalom courses. The giant slalom course is longer and has more gates.
The boards are longer and stiffer. Riders wear stiff boots, like ski boots. And they rock skinsuits that would get them laughed out of the halfpipe or off the snowboardcross course but are par for course in the slalom events. This tension has existed nearly as long as the sport itself.
Back in the '90s, the legendary Austrian PGS rider Martin "the Dominator" Freinademetz objected on a visceral level to the skinsuits worn by his competitors. To make his feelings better known, the Dominator showed up for a race in a gorilla suit. And won.
Eventually, PGS people resigned themselves to their fate and now don skinsuits without complaint. Jasey-Jay Anderson, from Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, is a four-time men's PGS champion who won gold in Vancouver. He's a clear favorite in Sochi, as is Nicolien Suaerbreij, the defending woman's Olympic champion.
Fun fact: Suaerbreij's gold was the hundredth Winter Olympics gold medal won by the Netherlands. It was also first non-ice-skating medal won by a Dutch athlete. Ever. -- Austin Murphy
Bobsleigh (Feb. 16-23)
Team USA, led by driver Steve Holcomb, who is coming off a winning streak that spanned nearly all of last season, is once again a frontrunner in the four-man race. The men will attempt to defend their four-man Vancouver victory and, with the help of a newly redesigned sled, hope to bring home the gold in the two-man race as well after 78 years without a first-place Olympic finish. Their toughest opponent in both events will be Team Germany, whose men have won the last three Olympic two-man races.
Meanwhile, Jamaican bobsledders return to the Winter Games for the first time since 2002. After struggling to raise funds for Sochi, the duo of Winston Watt and Marvin Dixon will be the underdog challengers worth watching.
The six U.S. female team members will include two-time world champion Elana Meyers in the pilot seat, along with pushers Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones -- both of whom have had prior Olympic experience as track and field competitors at recent Summer Games.
But the reigning women's gold medalists, Canada's Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse, will be onsite to defend their title. -- Anastassia Smorodinskaya
Skeleton (Feb 13-15)
The 2010 Olympic Bronze medalist, Russia's Alexander Tretiakov, will have the advantage of racing on home ice when takes his second crack at Olympic gold in Sochi. However it's Martins Dukurs of Latvia -- who has enjoyed four consecutive World Cup wins this season -- that is favored to come out on top.
The Canadian team, which has won a total of four Olympic medals (ranking third, after Great Britain in the overall medal count) will send rookie Olympians John Fairbairn and Eric Neilson after their countryman and 2010 Olympic victor Jon Montgomery failed to even qualify for this year's games.
Team USA, which has amassed a leading total of 6 Olympic medals since 2002, will rely on hopefuls Matt Antoine, Kyle Tress and former BMX racer John Daly in the men's competition. Representing the women, will be two-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender and Noelle Picus-Pace, who came out of athletic retirement in 2012 in hopes of making it to Sochi. Uhlaender and Picus-Pace's stiffest competition will come from Canadian Sarah Reid and World Cup leader Lizzie Yarnold of Great Britain. -- Anastassia Smorodinskaya
Luge (Feb 8-13)
It would be an understatement to say Germany has seen more Olympic success in luge than any other nation. With a staggering total of 70 Olympic medals -- well over three times the total number of medals held by Austria, which comes in a very distant second with a total of 18 -- Germany without a doubt dominates Olympic luge. Predictably, this year's favorite in the men's singles race is Germany's Felix Loch, who took gold in the event in Vancouver. The 24-year old's toughest opponent is likely to be 40-year-old Armin Zoggeler, an Italian luge veteran with five Olympic medals (two gold, one silver and two bronze) to his name.
American Chris Mazdzer (accompanied to Sochi by first-time Olympians Tucker West and Aidan Kelly) will try to improve on his 13th place finish in Vancouver.
In the women's singles race, Germany's Tatiana Hufner and Natalie Geisenberger, who finished first and third in Vancouver, respectively, are favored to medal again this year. Team USA is being lead by Erin Hamlin, who has yet to make it to an Olympic podium despite her appearances at the 2006 and 2010 Games.
In the doubles race, the only luge event in which Team USA has medaled to date, Christian Niccum and Jayson Terdiman, along with Matt Mortensen and Preston Griffal, will fight for what would be the first ever first-place finish by the U.S. However, they'll be faced with some tough competition from the Austrian team, which took gold in both Turin and Vancouver. But it's German World Cup champions, Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt, who are favored to come out on top.
A fourth luge event, the mixed relay, will make its Olympic debut in Sochi. The relay will comprise three consecutive slides: two singles (one woman followed by one man) and a doubles race. While Germany's track record gives it the odds of taking the relay, the brand new event has no history of Olympic winners and losers, which makes it anyone's game -- and likely, a fan favorite at the 2014 Games. -- Anastassia Smorodinskaya