Olympic outlook

With the 2010 Winter Olympics starting tomorrow here is your guide of what to watch.

The Super Bowl. The NBA Championships. The Final Four. These are some of the most identifiable of sporting events, proven by the millions of dollars backing them annually. But in the last decade, mainstream sports have been marred by the steroid scar, leaving millions of people at home wondering if they really can believe what they are seeing.

Enter the Winter Olympics. Viewed by some as the least tainted in a professional sports environment riddled with performance-enhancing drugs, the Winter Games afford a breath of fresh air from the ESPN ticker and provide exposure for a range of sports that rarely get any attention in the United States, including luge, skeleton, ski jumping and Nordic combined, among others (see sidebar).

The Olympic village and most of the ceremonies for this year’s games will be hosted in the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, and most of the mountain events will be held either in Whistler, about 78 miles north of the city, or on the nearby Coastal Mountains, which surround the city. Vancouver is the third largest metro area in Canada, at just more than 2.1 million people. Forbes said of Vancouver in a recent survey, “In this coastal city, which made it to second place in the list, open air is abundant — from the green west-end campus of the University of British Columbia to the enormous Stanley Park just outside downtown.”

Vancouver’s relatively mild climate could pose problems for the games, though. It’s been unseasonably warm and wet in Vancouver so far this winter, which is leaving many people questioning the conditions for the outdoor events. Cypress Mountain, where snowboarding and skiing events are taking place, was closed to the public for two weeks to protect its condition. The Whistler resort, however, reported no such problems, as it is farther north and at a higher elevation than Vancouver. Whistler is where most of the Alpine and Nordic ski events will be held.

Despite these concerns, the Vancouver Organizing Committee is confident that the games will go on without a snag.

“We’ve made great progress in preparing the venue thanks to our team that’s been working night and day to deliver on the contingency plan we had ready. We look forward to hosting some of the world’s greatest athletes on Cypress Mountain in just over two weeks,” a member of the committee said on the Olympic website.

Team USA has listed 216 athletes on their Olympic roster as they look to take down the German team, who came out on top in the medal count in the 2006 Winter Games. Canada will bring 208 athletes to the Winter Games, making them the second largest team participating. Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Italy, Sweden, Norway and France will each bring more than 100 athletes. More than 2,500 athletes from over 100 different countries will compete in the largest field the game’s have ever seen.

-Clay Coffman, Tyler Gilliam, and Brady Klein

Bobsled

To get the bobsleigh run started, the racers push the sleigh as fast as they can for about 50 meters and then jump in for a seated descent. Throughout the run, the driver, who sits in the front, steers the sleigh, and at the end of the run, the brakeman stops it. In each event, four heats are held over two days, with medals being given to the team with the lowest run time. The times are measured down to one-hundredth of a second. The men compete in a two-man and four-man race, while the women compete in a two-woman race. United States won the silver and bronze medals in the 2002 Olympics in the four-man, the gold in the two-women in the 2002 Olympics, and the silver in the two-women in the 2006 Olympics.

Athletes to watch: The German four-man team, who has won the Gold medal the past four Olympics.

Event to watch: Feb. 16, 7 p.m. CST on NBC, four-man team race.

Curling

A game of curling is played with a four-person team. Each team slides eight stones down the ice. Two team members then use brooms to sweep the ice in front of the stone, controlling it’s direction, or “curl,” to try and make it as close to the center of a ring of circles as possible. The team with the most stones in the middle of the circles wins. The United States won the bronze in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy.

Teams to watch: Canada and Switzerland have both been top five contenders in the past three Olympics.

Event to watch: Feb. 27, 11 a.m. CST on USA, men’s bronze medal event, 5 p.m. CST on CNBC, men’s gold medal event.

Skeleto

The skeleton is like the luge, but the athlete goes down the track head first. Racers steer by slightly moving their bodies, and the individual with the lowest combined time wins. The United States won the gold in men’s event at the 2002 Olympics; the women’s U.S. team won the silver and gold at the 2002 Olympic.

Athletes to watch: Kristan Bromley of Great Britain won the world champion in 2008 and is a two-time olympian. He has also won two World Cups, in 2004 and 2008.

Event to watch: Feb. 18, 11:30 a.m. on NBC, the skeleton starts.

Biathlon

The biathlon consists of five different events: individual start, sprint, pursuit, relay and mass start. Depending on the event, athletes will start off skiing a certain amount of meters with their rifles on their backs, stopping at a target range and shooting five different targets. If an athlete misses a shot, the penalty, depending on the event, could be taking a penalty lap or adding a minute to his final time. The United States has never won a medal in this event.

Athletes to watch: Norway’s Ole Einar Bjorndalen has won five gold medals in this event.

Event to watch: Feb. 21, 12:30 p.m. CST on NBC, mass start.

Freestyle Ski

In freestyle skiing, three different events use a slope ending in a jump that propels the skier upward in the air: aerials, moguls and ski cross. In aerials, athletes are judged on their take off, how high their jump is, body position while performing their flips and twists and how they maintain their balance during their landing. The Top 16 aerialists move on to the final round where they get two more jumps, and the aerialist with the highest score after those two wins. During the moguls event, skiers choose three of the four lanes they want to ski down. Offset bumps called moguls cover the course, and skiers have to ski down as fast as possible. There are two “air bumps” on the course as well, where skiers have to do a jump of their choice. The Top 20 skiers move on to the final round. They are judged on their technical skill while skiing down the moguls as well as jumping technique. At the end of the final round, the skier with the fastest time is awarded more points, but the skier with the highest score wins. The ski cross is a test of skill with turns of various lengths, flat sections and traverses. Each race is 60 seconds or longer and limited to four skiers each. The first two who cross the finish line move on to the next heat. With the last two racers crossing, the one with the best qualification time moves on. The “big final” determines who places first through fourth and the “small final” determines who places fifth through eighth. The United States has won the most medals in freestyle skiing, with 10 total. At the last Olympics, Toby Dawson received the bronze in the moguls.

Teams to watch: Reigning world champion U.S. Ryan St. Onge and two-time Olympian Jeret Peterson head the U.S. freestyle team.

Event to watch: Feb. 25, 7:00 p.m. CST, on NBC, Ryan St. Onge competes in freestyle skiing.