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Looking ahead to the Sochi Winter Games

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer
Summer ends and the march toward winter begins. Which Games do you prefer? (Getty Images)

For starters, it's pronounced "So-Chee."

And before you know it, Sochi's going to get here. The site of the 2014 Winter Games is already less than a year and a half away. So now with the Summer Olympics sadly behind us once and for all, what should we be looking forward to between today and up through the next Olympiad?

Some things to know.

1. The location. You hear Russia and could likely assume Sochi's somewhere in the middle of the largest geographical country on the planet. There's a lot of space there. Seriously, it never fails to flabbergast me just how freaking massive that place is. But Sochi isn't plunked somewhere in the vast expanse. It's tucked away, just barely on the border of the gargantuan nation. Think of it as the San Diego of Russia, in how San Diego also sits on water and is a 3 wood's shot from Mexico. Sochi is at the bottom-left part of the country and borders Georgia.

What those going to the Games should be excited about: the 30-minute high-speed rail system that will link the downtown, centralized, on-the-water Olympic epicenter and the mountain medal competitions off the beaten path. Because of the convenience between the two drastically different terrains, Sochi is being called the "most compact Olympics ever." It sits on the shore of the Black Sea. All in all, looks like a beautiful place.

Sochi's Olympic hub, which sits on the Black Sea and will have access to high-speed rail to the mountains. (Getty Images)

If you want a key to help you visualize what each of those buildings will house, give this a look.

2. The timing. Ah, yes. How will you schedule the Olympics around your daily doings? If you want the dates, this international party will be thrown Feb. 7-23, 2014. But what about the time difference? If you thought the five-hour delay between London and the American East Coast was bad and troublesome for TV viewing: Sochi is eight hours ahead of East Coast time.

So when gold medals are awarded around noon here, you'll likely know the results well before seeing them played out over a TV screen. Because chances are NBC will stick to its formula. All the big-time stuff will air hours after completion in neat, nip-and-tucked television packages. This also means there could realistically be instances where the West Coast won't watch a gold medal performance on TV until more than 12 hours after it happened. Let's only hope that the Internet-viewing experience is much more reliable and less of hassle for Sochi than it was for London.

3. The political significance/controversy. You could make the argument every city that receives an Olympics is due in part to bureaucrats and politics, but here, the decision is important (and controversial). This will be the first time Russian territory has hosted an Olympics, and it's the first on the actual soil since the boycott-tainted Games at Moscow in 1980. The Soviet Union has fallen and Russia's reputation around the world has improved since then. Not entirely, though, as London saw protests for the Sochi Games, but it's a heck of a lot better than what it was even 10 years ago.

That said, I think it's bound to get bad for Sochi before it gets better. Stories of human rights violations and embarrassments for locals have given the city a bad name well in advance of this. There have been reported threats to newspapers over the kinds of coverage that would be allowed. Most of this will continue to cruise under the radar until January of 2014, most likely, but it's not like the world press will overlook the skeletons shoved into the closets in order to put on a pretty face for the world's arrival.

Sochi beat out Salzburg, Austria, and PyeongChang, South Korea (which got the 2018 Winter Games).

4. The American Olympians. Shaun White and Lindsay Vonn will be the headliners. Or they are as of now. Outside of that? There's not a lot known. Because there is still so much qualifying to go, but really, the tricky thing about the Winter Games is the ability to make stars out of these Olympians. So few can break through.

I mean, can you name one luge competitor (luger?) in history? Unfortunately not. The hockey games attract a lot of attention because of change of style from the NHL, but even now we don't know what the rosters will be made up of. And even then, the U.S. will most certainly not be favored for gold. Not that there's anything wrong with that, only that the U.S. guys on blades are forever resigned to a secondary story after the irreplaceable upset in '80. Plus: hockey isn't basketball. These fellas are not the Winter equivalent to Kobe, LeBron and Co.

The Summer Games give us a batch of recognizable faces, names, stories. Even legends. The Winter ones rarely can. Heading over to Russia, White and Vonn will carry the American flag for everyone.

5. The events. Have you forgotten what encapsulated the Winter Games? For starters, it's a smaller collective and a minority prefers the snow-spread Olympiads to the sun-soaked ones. There are 15 total sports, and in parentheses below, the amount of gold medals (also referred to as "disciplines") up for grabs in each. Curling went viral and became the hip sport of choice back in 2010, when Vancouver hosted. I suspect it will only rise in popularity come Sochi's time.

Here's where medals will be handed out.

  1. Alpine skiing (10)
  2. Biathlon (11)
  3. Bobsleigh (3)
  4. Cross-country skiing (12)
  5. Curling (2)
  6. Figure skating (5)
  7. Freestyle skiing (10)
  8. Ice hockey (2)
  9. Luge (4)
  10. Nordic combined [biathlon] (3)
  11. Short track speed skating (8)
  12. Skeleton (2)
  13. Ski jumping (4)
  14. Snowboarding (10)
  15. Speed skating (12)

So that's where we stand. As each month gets us closer to the 2014 Games, we'll undoubtedly start taking in all the stories. The good and the bad. Right now hundreds of American Olympians are training for these Games and have struggles, setbacks, injuries or good fortune still yet to come. The best or worst of their athletic futures could lie ahead of them. Many things that make the Olympics inspiring are taking root now, when no one is paying attention.

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