Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo will miss the slopestyle competition after breaking his collarbone in a training session on Monday. The three-time X-Games champ missed a rail during training and landed on his face and shoulder. Torgmo's injury has led other competitors to question the course itself.
"It's like jumping out of a building," said Canadian Sebastien Toutant. "I should put on my Canadian flying squirrel suit."
"The rails are sticky. I think they wanted to make big kickers and it's not really good for the riders, and it's not really safe any more," added Finland's Roope Tonteri, the 2013 world champ. "I just don't want to get injured. It's not a really fun course to ride."
At least one course, however, appears to be safer than usual. Perhaps owing to the tragic crash that took the life of Georgian luger Nodar Komaritashvili at the Vancouver Games, officials in Sochi have designed a sliding course that has a number of safety points built into it.
"There are three uphill parts which will slow things down and make crashes less likely," says Steven Holcomb, driver of the U.S. bobsled that won the four-man competition in Vancouver and a double medal contender in Sochi. "They'll also make it harder to go fast. It really puts a premium on good driving. There are some tricky turns going into the uphill parts, so it will be easier to give hundredths of seconds away if you're not precise."
Holcomb's teammate Elana Myers, a bronze medalist from the Vancouver Games, says she welcomes track and field transplant Lolo Jones as a new teammate on this year's Olympic squad. "Lolo's fast and speed kills," she says. "Having that speed with you makes you that much faster as a driver."
Their bobsled push teammate, Chris Fogt is in a new venue these days, but his year of deployment in Iraq as an intelligence officer has given the Army captain good training for certain aspects of the bobsledding life.
"On the one hand it's a step down in terms of training from live runs on the track to a few free weights," he says. "But when we're on the road, we share rooms, we have each other's backs and we become family."
Another U.S. bobsled team member, Lauryn Williams, explains why it was easy for her to make the transition from track and field to her new winter sport.
"In track I was always racing the clock," says Williams, the Olympic silver medalist in the 100 meters in 2004. "I wasn't worried about the other seven lanes. So I don't worry about what the other sleds are doing either, because I can't control them."
Williams has always been a numbers person, specifically, a time person. "I'm obsessed with it," she says. "My teammates give me a hard time because I know it's 9:52 from the cafeteria to the dorm. I know the athlete transport] buses come on the fives even thought it says they come on the threes. When one hundredth of a second can make all the difference, you know these things."
It has been 26 years since quirky British ski jumper Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards sputtered through the air at the Calgary Olympics, but now Greece, a country not exactly known for snow, has its own jumper, too. Nico Polychronidis will be the first from his country to compete in jumping next week. Unlike Edwards, Polychronidis is a transplant rather than a native. He was born in Bremen, Germany to a Greek father and German mother. His coach in Oberstdorf, Germany looked at his results and told him he would have little chance to make the strong German team and suggested he switch allegiance to his father's homeland.
"People in Greece know about me, but they don't know about the sport," Polychronidis says. "They didn't know what to do with me."
Matching Polychronidis for the unlikely athlete award is Australian luger Alex Ferlazzo, who hails from Townsville in Northern Queensland, an area that is missing a fairly important component for winter sports: snow. It was three years ago when the 15-year old, who had never seen snow in person, was lured into street luge by a girl in his mother's pilates class.
"She got me into it," he says. "You can learn certain aspects of it without snow, like positioning and turning points and how sensitive the sled is. "
From there he took a trip to Lake Placid and was hooked. He won't win a medal, but he'll bring some of his beach tan to the track.
Misc. Winter Olympics News
Athletes who win gold medals on Feb. 15 will receive an additional commemorative souvenir medal with pieces of a meteorite embedded inside. The specially constructed medals will mark the anniversary of the four-foot long meteorite that landed in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk a year ago. The meteor caused widespread property damage and injured more than 1,500 people -- all were injured by indirect causes of the meteor, like the shattered glass of windows when the subsequent shock wave arrived. Ten events will be concluding on the 15th, meaning 10 commemorative medals will be awarded.
Five National Olympic Committees are sending athletes to the Winter Olympics for the first time in Sochi: Dominica, East Timor, Togo, Tonga and Zimbabwe. Of those nations, Zimbabwe has had the most success at the summer Olympics, with eight medals, including two golds (women's field hockey in 1980 and swimmer Kirsty Coventry, who won gold in the 200-meter backstroke in 2004). Conventry won the other six medals for Zimbabwe as well. Tonga has silver in boxing from 1996 and Benjamin Boukpeti, a French-born Tongan, won a bronze in slalom kayaking in 1996.
While Sochi appears set to under-deliver in areas of accommodation and overall budget cost control, they will exceed expectation in terms of sponsorship revenue. Even with tepid ticket sales -- perhaps a cautionary nod to security concerns -- and some unfilled sponsor categories, the revenue from existing sponsor commitments has eclipsed $1.3 billion according to Sochi organizers. That's more than triple the amount guaranteed by the city's initial bid and 300 million above their target haul. The Vancouver Games brought in roughly $850 million.