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We are just days away from the start of the Sochi Olympics. Here are five stories I know I'll be following, and you should, too:
The United States won the first Olympic women's hockey gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Games, but Canada has won every gold since (that would be three, but who's counting). The USA-Canada rivalry is like watching Ronda Rousey take on Miesha Tate on skates after two all-out brawls erupted between the teams in the past few months. Fist fights between chicks on ice ... you know the world will be watching. Even better, the U.S. team is full of fun, endearing, team-first players (even when brawling) who have worked their tails off over the past four years to try to break their Olympic drought.
Hold on to your uteruses! The women are finally jumping! Back in 2005, International Ski Federation president Gian Franco Kasper, an International Olympic Committee member, expressed concern about the effect of ski jumping on women's reproductive systems -- "Don't forget, it's like jumping down from, let's say, about 2 meters on the ground about a thousand times a year, which seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view." (You can't make this stuff up ... proof). But in Sochi, women will finally get their chance to soar. Frankly, it's an opportunity that should have been afforded many Olympics ago.
Americans Lindsey Van and Jessica Jerome led the fight for inclusion for over a decade, and now they can showcase their abilities in front of the world. Remarkably, last season's world champion, 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson, will also be competing just five-plus months removed from major reconstructive knee surgery.
|Noelle Pikus-Pace is looking to lock up a skeleton medal in Sochi.|
This really should start with "Once upon a time ...," but this isn't a Disney movie ... yet. Rewind to 2006. American Noelle Pikus-Pace was the gold-medal favorite in skeleton at the Torino Olympics until a runaway bobsled hit her at the bottom of a track, severely fracturing her leg and knocking her out of competition. Four years later in Vancouver, she made the charge back from that freak accident, again a gold-medal favorite, but missed out on a medal by one-tenth of a second, finishing fourth.
Noelle retired later that year, determined to focus on her family, and later she became pregnant with her third child. But 18 weeks into the pregnancy, she had a miscarriage. Her husband, Janson, made a suggestion: Noelle should go back to skeleton, but this time, the family should travel with her.
Noelle resumed her career with her family in tow for the journey throughout Europe and Canada (I can barely take my kids to Trader Joe's). Pikus-Pace has announced she is retiring after these Olympics. Can she finally get that gold medal in Sochi? #gottearsyet?
|Mikaela Shiffrin is the reigning World Cup slalom champion.|
If Hendrickson medals, could Gracie Gold and Mikaela Shiffrin, both 18, be breakout teens, as well? Gold was the surprise U.S. champion, winning her first senior national title last month -- a surprise not because she doesn't have the talent, but because Gold is still young and had recently made a coaching change. It's hard to bet against a name like Gracie Gold -- in a quiet moment, do you think she asks, "Really, Mom and Dad?" -- but making the podium in Sochi may be too big a leap just yet.
Shiffrin, another teenager you may not know yet, but she'll be your BFF once the Games kick off, has seemed destined for greatness since her days of getting towed up hills as a wee lass. Shiffrin is the youngest American slalom world champion and the winner of seven World Cup races. Yes, all at the ripe age of 18. (At 18, I was just happy that I could peel an orange at halftime.)
I am almost starting to feel sorry for Lolo Jones. Almost. When she was named to the U.S. Olympic team, she took a heap of criticism from people inside and outside the bobsledding world, as they speculated she was named to the roster only because of her fame. But I fall into the camp of:
• Yes, she has lots of Twitter followers (over 375K).
• Yes, she knows how to attract sponsors (or so everyone says).
• Yes, she is a self-professed virgin with an uncanny ability to tell us TMI. (Fact.)
But can we just give the woman a break? She has worked hard, shoved food down her neck for the past year to bulk up (I want to be a bobsledder) and is trying to help the U.S. win a medal ... and it is not like bobsledding selections have ever been clear-cut, objective occurrences. And having pushed and been the "brakewoman" in one of those bobsleds myself (once was enough, thankyouverymuch), it is no easy task. Nor is eating 10 donuts a day ... #butwellworthit