The reports from Sochi this week have been borderline absurd: unfinished hotels, shoddy plumbing, twin toilets, obscene costs, and those sad stray dogs. What we haven’t heard quite as much about are the athletes. A few weeks ago, ESPN premiered The Price of Gold, a documentary about the infamous 1994 drama between figure skaters Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding leading up to XVII Games. It’s been 20 years, and nobody’s forgotten those names. Obviously, this year’s Winter Olympics don’t promise quite the same level of intrigue, but the event is not without its characters. With the opening ceremony scheduled for broadcast tonight at 7:30 p.m. on NBC, let’s take a look at some of the people worth keeping an eye on during the next two weeks.
Obviously. It’s no secret that the Flying Tomato is the single greatest athlete to grace the Olympic halfpipe (and he knows it, too). He’s won two of the four gold medals ever awarded in the event, is a favorite to win his third, and, until recently, was set to make history by entering the slopestyle competition and gunning for a sweep. During slopestyle, snowboarders descend a mountain on an obstacle course featuring rails, boxes, and platforms, performing tricks and jumps as they go. On Wednesday, White stirred up some good old-fashioned controversy by withdrawing from his secondary event after jamming his wrist on a course deemed dangerous by several of his fellow athletes. Still, his decision drew some unfriendly responses. Canadian rider Sebastien Toutant tweeted, “Mr. White… It’s easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win,” while another Canadian rider Maxence Parrot mocked White for being “scared.” Time—and, frankly, injuries—will tell if White made the ride decision in dropping out of this competition.
Wait, the track star? Yes, her. In London, Jones finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles, but her teammates Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, who finished with silver and bronze, respectively, put Jones on blast for stealing the spotlight. (Jones had posed nude for ESPN magazine, and scantily clad for other outlets, while also maintaining she was a virgin.) This time around, Jones was selected for a spot on the bobsled team despite being very new to the sport, and has already caused a minor stir by modeling her skintight uniform in a picture posted to Instagram. This is her chance to prove that it’s her talent, not her looks, that got her to the Olympics, silencing her critics once and for all.
WINSTON WATTS AND MATT DIXON
Cool Runnings just got cooler. Speaking of bobsled, Jamaica will be competing in the Winter Olympics for the first time since 2002. Their chances of winning are remote, but their optimism and excitement reminds us why we tune in. The pair found out they had qualified for Sochi in January, but realized they would need about $80,000 to support the transportation and participation costs. By crowd-funding via the Internet, Watts and Dixon were able to push well beyond their goal. They’ve since run into some problems, however. As late as Wednesday, the two men’s blades, shoes, and other equipment hadn’t arrived in Sochi, putting a damper on one of the most upbeat, feel-good stories of the Olympics.
It took a decade-long battle to get women’s ski jumping into the Olympics—so, in some ways, Sochi is already a success. Hendrickson was once a favorite to win the gold, but after a crash last August, and surgery to repair her ACL and MCL, it looked like her dreams of being an Olympian might be permanently dashed. But with five months of intensive rehab and training, she did qualify for the team, and even though she has fierce competition in the form of Japan’s Sara Takanashi, it will be heartwarming just to watch her compete.
Go L.A.! I mean USA! I mean—it’s actually a little complex for hockey fans, because the Los Angeles Kings won’t be playing on the same team: Goaltender Jonathan Quick and forward Dustin Brown will be playing for the red, white, and blue; forward Anze Kopitar suits up for Slovenia; defenseman Slava Voynov will play for Russia; and, finally, defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Jeff Carter are looking to hand Canada its second straight gold medal.
Of course, the opening ceremony already took place, so for those looking to avoid spoilers now and throughout the games, I highly suggest avoiding the Internet for the next 16 days, which should be no problem at all.