By Claire Wilson
On February 8, the 23rd Winter Olympic Games will begin in PyeongChang, South Korea. Located about 80 miles from Seoul and 60 miles from the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, PyeongChang is a popular ski destination due to its high altitudes and snowy winters. In 2011, it was announced that South Korea had successfully outbid Munich, Germany, and Annecy, France to become the host for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Unlike the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia, there is no need to worry about the appropriateness of the weather in PyeongChang; the average temperature is 34 degrees, and there is plenty of snow.
A $100 million temporary stadium, the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium, capable of accommodating 35,000 people, was built with the sole purpose to be the site of the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, which will take place on February 9 and 25, respectively. The stadium is roofless; an odd choice, considering the freezing temperatures, snowy weather, and bitter winds. It will be torn down immediately following the ending of the PyeongChang Winter Paralympics.
Because the Olympics often occur in countries with time zones significantly different from that in the US, events were previously broadcast on television hours after they occurred. However, for the first time, every American time zone will have live access to the Olympic games, despite PyeongChang being 14 hours ahead of Richmond and the rest of the East Coast, and 17 hours ahead of the West Coast. In the US, NBC will be broadcasting everything related to the Games on both TV and their Olympic Games website.
What exactly is there to watch? With seven sports, 15 different disciplines, and 102 events, there is plenty. The seven sports are ice hockey, luge, ice skating, skiing, curling, bobsleigh, and the biathlon, which is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. There are even four new events in these Games: big air snowboarding, freestyle skiing, mass start speed skating, and mixed doubles curling. With a total of 102 medals available to be awarded across 34 events, competition will be fierce.
Here are six Team USA athletes to keep an eye out for:
Mikaela Shiffrin (Skiing)
Winner of a gold medal in 2014’s Sochi Games and three World Championships, the 22 year-old was recently called the best slalom skier in the world by The New Yorker. She has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the last two consecutive seasons, and expectations are high for her to win another gold.
Chloe Kim (Snowboarding)
PyeongChang will be Kim’s first Olympics. Despite technically qualifying for the 2014 Games, she was only 13 at the time and, therefore, ineligible to participate. The now 17-year-old snowboarder is expected to win the gold medal in the half-pipe, and, if she were to do so, would become the youngest American ever to win an event in snowboarding.
Lindsey Vonn (Skiing)
A household name for Team USA, Vonn is returning to the Olympics for the first time since 2010, after having to pull out of Sochi a month before due to injury. However, she won the gold medal for downhill skiing at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and is expected to defend her place as the best female alpine skier in the world.
Nathan Chen (Figure Skating)
Similarly to Chloe Kim, Chen is a teenage phenom. Earlier this year, he became the first male figure skater to ever successfully land five quadruple jumps. Look out for 18-year-old Chen on the ice, where he is expected to break records and win a medal.
Gus Kenworthy (Skiing)
Kenworthy won the silver medal in freestyle skiing at the Sochi Games, but he is determined to win gold this time. He also made history as the first “action-sports” star to come out as gay, which he did in a 2015 ESPN interview. He says that his skills and confidence have both increased as a result, so catch him in the running for gold this time around.
Known as the “Shib Sibs,” Alex and Maia are a sibling ice dancing duo known for their routines to music from popular artists like Coldplay and Michael Jackson. While they finished ninth in Sochi, they have won two national championships this season and are expected to continue in this path of success.
Interestingly, North and South Korea will be competing together as one team in the women’s ice hockey competition, and the two delegations will walk together during the Opening and Closing ceremonies with the same flag and under one name: “Korea.” Relations between the two countries have been intense for nearly seven decades, so it should be interesting to see how their unified team plays out. Also, the Russian Federation was banned from participating as the result of a doping scandal; however, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) recently cleared 169 Russian athletes to compete, but on the condition that they compete as “neutrals” instead of Russians. They will not wear the Russian uniform and will walk in the Opening and Closing ceremonies under the Olympic flag, rather than the Russian. All Russian governmental officials are prohibited from attending, and their national anthem will not be played if athletes end up on the podium.
Lasting for nearly three weeks, the PyeongChang Games will surely be an entertaining watch. Each of the Games’ 18 days will be packed with events; here is the official schedule. Team USA is composed of 243 athletes, several of whom are expected to bring home gold. The full American team roster, complete with individual athletes’ information, is available on their website. Be sure to tune in to NBC beginning this Thursday, February 8.
Featured image courtesy of The Olympic Games.