Do you love the Winter Olympics? Because I love the Winter Olympics. I love the Olympics in general, summer or winter, in fact. As a kid in Maine, I would ski and imagine myself cutting through flags, taking part in jump competitions, and mentally awarding myself gold medals for anything. Just successfully navigated that mogul? Gold medal. Executed a shockingly average hockey stop? Gold medal. The fact is, I was no good at skiing, and I quit after 8th grade, but my love of the Olympics raged on. With the Super Bowl over, my attention has turned to South Korea, and as we await the Opening Ceremony in Pyeongchang, here are some things to keep an eye on.
How will the cold affect the athletes?
Yes, I know, it’s the Winter Olympics. These sports are supposed to take place in the cold. Well as all things in this world, it’s a little more complicated than that.
It’s too cold to snow.
Yep, you read that right. Now I’m from New England, and I know this level of cold well, but our intrepid readers from the south might not know this tidbit. It can get too cold to snow. Right now the organizers have spent around $6.1 million to install snow cannons to create artificial snow should the courses be lacking in the real stuff. The Jeongseon Alpine Centre — hosting the downhill ski events — has over 250 of these cannons. To achieve this aim, they’ve built a 33.7-million-gallon lake that can cool water to the proper temperature at 2,250 gallons per minute.
The snow is too cold for the equipment
This one feels like I made it up, but I promise it’s true. It’s so cold in Pyeongchang, that the snow crystals are freezing to the point that they’re sharp, with athletes ruining their skis and swapping for new ones on every single run. According to Austrian Alpine skier Marcel Hirscher, “it’s the same as lighting a fire and burning your (ski) base because the snow crystals get such sharp edges.” People are also reporting that cell phone batteries and other digital equipment are dying in a matter of minutes due to the cold.
Forget about the athletes, what about the spectators?
Ah yes, there are people who don’t watch at home, I forget that. Well…they’re in trouble. The Pyeongchang Winter Olympics arena was built without a roof to save time, and they didn’t install a central heating system to save money. Each spectator is going to receive heating pads and jackets, as well as a raincoat. Also they’re planning “audience participation” into the events in order to help people stay warm. God help them.
Who will be the big medal winner?
This year, both Norway and Germany have equal odds to receive the most medals in the 2018 Winter Olympics at +175. In my opinion, though, Germany should be the clear victor here. There are 10 medals at stake in the biathlon alone, which the Germans are the clear favorites in. When you add in the other events that the Germans are historically great at, like Luge, and Cross Country Skiing, it would seem to me that they will pick up enough medals in bulk to defeat Norway. If the question is, what country will win the widest range of medals? I’d bet on Norway to medal up in Pyeongchang.
What kind of success can we expect from the United States athletes?
Most pundits are predicting that the US will sweep the Halfpipe competition, and I can’t blame them. Chloe Kim, Maddie Mastro, and Kelly Clark are the best in the business. With those three medals seemingly locked, I think the other surefire medals go to Chris Corning (Big Air), Shaun White (Halfpipe), Nathan Chen (Figure Skating), Jamie Anderson (Slopestyle), and Alex and Maia Shibutani (Ice Dancing). Beyond that, if the odds are holding true, the USA is looking like it will come in 3rd or fourth in total medal count, missing out on Golds but winning the most Silvers in the Pyeongchang games.
Is Lindsey Vonn healthy enough for these Winter Olympics?
Injuries kept her out of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and there was a while it looked like more of the same this year. She’ll be in attendance, and she has back to back to back wins in her last three meets in Italy and Germany respectively. You couldn’t ask for a better lead up to Pyeongchang. While she’s more than capable in competing in all five alpine events, it’s looking like she’ll be competing in downhill, super-G, and the combined events. She’s one of the best stories to come out of the USA, recovering from her ACL tear to reclaim her spot on top of the world rankings. At 33 she’s staring at what is probably her final Winter Olympics, and capturing another medal or two would be a great way to end a shining career.
Is the Hockey tournament truly a competition without NHL Players?
Last year the NHL announced it would not offer a break in its schedule for players to go to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. This decision has a reverberating effect for the hockey teams around the world. Arguably the best players in the world are in the NHL. Removing them from their teams will affect the makeup of the teams for many countries. Why did the NHL make this decision? Honestly, because the Olympics hurt their brand. Season ending injuries to star players, a compressed back end of the season, and provable negative effects to teams with Stanley Cup dreams. For instance at the last Olympics, the Red Wings sent ten players to Sochi, and lost in the first round. The Kings sent six and won the Stanley Cup. The Kings had four better rested players and it showed. Plus the NHL has seen no visible uptick in viewership or income during its time in the Olympics.
It sucks for the fans, it sucks for the players, and it sucks for the nations looking to their star players to bring home Gold. However this decision does not suck for the NHL or the team owners. At the end of the day, that’s all they’re looking out for.
Will Lowell Bailey pull off the upset?
The USA has literally never won a medal at the Biathlon. Hopefully that changes this year in Pyeongchang with the emergence of Lowell Bailey on the national stage. This will be his 4th Olympics, but after winning Gold at the World Championships last year, he is set to make US history. In fact, this is the only current sport in the Winter Olympics which the USA has never medaled in. Bailey was on the verge of retiring only two years ago, but a new job opportunity opened the door for him to become a champion. Perhaps he’s the one to steal the medal out from under the Norwegian and/or German noses.
Can the Curling teams overperform?
American Curling isn’t great. We haven’t medaled since 2006, and generally we’re not even making close to Top five appearances. On the women’s side, however, pundits are extremely excited about newcomer Nina Roth, and in the unofficial rankings her addition to the team has catapulted them nearly five spots in the standings. For the men, John Shuster lead the team to a Bronze at the World Championships two years ago. They feel they’ve improved since then and are on track for a Gold medal. It would be a huge upset for the USA to medal in this event at Pyeongchang, but stranger things have happened. This doesn’t feel like the Winter Olympics where USA Curling changes its destiny to me, though.
Just how bad will the USA short-track speed skating team be?
If we’re being honest, Apolo Anton Ohno’s retirement was the final nail in the coffin for USA medal dreams. This team just can’t compete on a global level, and we don’t seem to be getting any better. Both the men and women have struggled to place in any competition against major world players, and even the qualifying runs have us solidly below par for the world. J.R. Celski could again be the spark in the Relay that brings us any kind of hardware, but if you’re tracking medals for the USA, look to other events.