Globetrotting by Philip Hersh
7:34 PM CST, February 6, 2013
They installed the first outdoor Olympic rings Wednesday in Sochi, Russia, a 60-by-30-foot reminder that Thursday marks a year to go before the opening of the 2014 Winter Games.
The temperature was 61.
That incongruity brings up the first of a baker's dozen questions about what to expect in Sochi — with baking an operative idea.
Why are they having the Winter Olympics in a place with palm trees and a subtropical climate?
Russian supremo Vladimir Putin promised an unlimited budget, and the organizers have overspent that: $51 billion at last count, $11 billion more than the unseemly Olympic record China set for the 2008 Summer Games. Plus, the International Olympic Committee loves having the Games in authoritarian countries, where the government will run roughshod over any dissent. And Russia never has had a Winter Olympics, even though — by itself and formerly as part of the Soviet Union — it is a winter sports powerhouse.
They canceled a slopestyle skiing test event scheduled for next week in Sochi's mountain venue because it has been too warm and rainy. Won't the weather wreak havoc with skiing and sliding events?
There were substantial weather issues in Vancouver (2010) and Nagano (1998), causing postponements, but the events eventually took place. The Russians are stockpiling snow. U.S. bobsled driver Steve Holcomb, reigning four-man champion, said Wednesday from Sochi it was warm at the track but it is refrigerated and covered so there were no problems. Three-time Alpine skiing medalist Julia Mancuso writes off funky conditions and postponements as part of her sport.
Can the United States match its record medal haul (37) from Vancouver 2010?
It won't be easy. Vancouver essentially was a home-soil Olympics for U.S. athletes. Even a 21 percent increase in U.S. Olympic Committee funding to the winter sports federations compared to the year before 2010 won't make up for the foreign factor. At the last three Winter Games outside North America, the United States won 25, 13 and 13.
"After the great success of our team in Vancouver it will be hard to keep pace as other countries look to improve," said Alan Ashley, USOC chief of sport performance.
The continuous increase in medal events (86 in 2010 to 98 in Sochi) may be enough for Team USA to win more medals with a lower winning percentage, especially because U.S. medal chances are good in several new events. But Infostrada, a sports data services company, this week predicted 28 U.S. medals.
The 12 new events?
Biathlon mixed relay; figure skating team event; men's and women's halfpipe and slopestyle freestyle skiing; luge team relay; women's ski jumping; and men's and women's slopestyle and parallel slalom snowboarding.
Will NHL players be in Sochi?
There were 30 Russians on NHL rosters when this season belatedly began Jan. 19. It is a big moment for them to play in a home Olympics. Although no deal has been struck, Tribune Newspapers' NHL guru, Helene Elliott, expects the league to send players. After the lockout, this is the wrong time for the league to give the world poorer quality Olympic play than the stunning norm since NHL participation began in 1998.
Will Chicago's Shani Davis become the first men's long track skater to win gold in three Olympics?
He certainly could win a third straight at 1,000 meters. Although he is 30 and began this winter dealing with injury for the first time in his career, Davis has two firsts and two seconds in six World Cup 1,000s this season.
Other than some Blackhawks, some other Chicago-area athletes with a good shot at Sochi?
Bobsled pushers Katie Eberling (Palos Hills), a medalist at last two world meets; Aja Evans and Jesse Beckom (both Chicago); speedskaters Brian Hansen and Lana Gehring (both Glenview) and Emery Lehman (Oak Park); singles skater Gracie Gold (Elk Grove Village) and pairs skater Alexa Scimeca (Addison); slopestyle skier Ashley Battersby (Chicago).
The reigning men's figure skating champion from Naperville has not competed since the 2010 Olympics. Injuries twice forced him to scrub planned comeback events this season. If healthy, Lysacek easily could make a third Olympic team.
Until Lindsey Vonn got hurt Tuesday, what looked like the best U.S. comeback stories?
Alpine skier Bode Miller, 35, (five Olympic medals) plans to try for a fifth Olympics after taking this season off. Skeleton racer Noelle Pikus-Pace, 30, missed competing in 2006 after a freak accident, retired after a fourth place in 2010, had a second child, returned last November and won a silver medal at worlds last month.
Will Kikkan Randall, most decorated cross-country skier in U.S. history, finally win an Olympic medal?
Good omen: She got out of a sick bed to win all three of her sprint races in the recent World Cup event on the Sochi course.
How will NBC Universal handle the 10-hour time difference to Sochi?
Prime time NBC coverage will be delayed. More than half the events will be live on some NBC network. Every event will be streamed live.
The breakout U.S. star?
Slalom skier Mikaela Shiffrin, 17, who could be the youngest Alpine skiing medalist in U.S. history.
All that glitters?
No athlete with the family name Gold ever has been in the Olympics, but the U.S. could have two next year: figure skater Gracie and snowboarder Arielle.