The 22nd Winter Olympics kick off this Friday, Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia. This is the first Olympics that will be held in Russia since the fall of the U.S.S.R. There are 98 different events will be played across 15 different sports in this Olympics including three new events, ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle and snowboard parallel slalom. The United States leads all nations in the amount of athletes competing with 230 athletes. Russia and Canada trail closely behind with 225 and 220, respectively.
The United States expects to once again perform well at the Olympics behind previous gold medalists like snowboarder Shaun White and speedskater Shani Davis. Unfortunately for the U.S. team, previous gold medalist and international skiing icon Lindsey Vonn will not be participating in the Olympics due to a knee injury.
A few major storylines have surrounded the games and, unfortunately for the Olympic committee, most of them aren’t about the competition. For example, the views of the Russian leadership towards homosexuality have led to criticism from many in the international community.
Police have jailed countless protestors for demonstrating against a law, which passed in June 2013, that bans propaganda of “nontraditional relations.”
More recently, the mayor of Sochi, Anatoly Pakhomov, fanned the flames. “We do not have them [LGBTQ people] in our city,” he said. The U.S. delegation contains LGBTQ individuals including speed skaters Bonnie Blair and Eric Heiden in addition to hockey player Caitlin Cahow.
The security situation around Sochi has also been heavily criticized and poured over by the media. According to the Dallas Morning News, Sochi is expected to employ about 100,000 security personnel.
Sochi has been under constant threat of terrorist attack from extremist groups ranging from “black widows,” or female Islamic suicide bombers, to political opposition groups in the region. Just yesterday, a report was released that terrorists may use toothpaste tubes to smuggle explosives into Sochi.
With the opening ceremony scheduled to take place on Friday, Olympic officials hope the more exterior issues fade away and the world will be able to focus on the actual events, which are sure to feature some fierce matchups, both on the individual and team levels.
Men’s hockey is sure to be a fantastic competition as some of the best players from the NHL will compete for their home countries on the world stage. Locally, Rick Nash of the New York Rangers and John Tavares of the New York Islanders will compete for annual powerhouse Canada and Rangers players Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan will take the ice for the United States.
These two countries went toe-to-toe in a thrilling gold medal final in Vancouver in 2010. Fans were treated to a sudden death overtime in the game.
As always, the Olympics promise to be a great spectacle where the world can unite in the spirit of competition. In the case of Sochi, politics threatens to derail this unity. The media will attempt to strike a delicate balance between these pressing issues and the spirit of the games.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 6 print edition. Chris Marcotrigiano is a deputy sports editor. Ferenc Puskas is a staff writer. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.