Five-ring Circus

What to Watch at the Winter Olympics

Slate’s comprehensive viewers’ guide to the Sochi Games.

Canada's Maxime Dufour-Lapointe competes in the Women's Freestyle Skiing Moguls qualifications at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 6, 2014.
One of the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters—Maxime—who will be competeing in the ladies’ moguls freestyle skiing on Feb. 8.

Photo by Franck Fife/AFP/Getty Images

The Olympics are here, which makes you excited! But you don’t know what to watch, which makes you upset! Never fear: Slate is here with a handy viewing guide guaranteed to maximize your viewing enjoyment while minimizing your Olympics-related stress headaches.

Thursday, Feb. 6: American snowboarder Shaun White spoke for many Olympians when he recently withdrew from the slopestyle snowboarding competition, citing concerns over the safety of the course. (On Monday, Norwegian snowboarder Torstein Horgmo broke his collarbone during a practice run on the slopestyle course.) Watch today’s slopestyle qualifiers to see if Olympic officials addressed the athletes’ concerns, or whether games personnel merely settled for putting a tarp on it.

Friday, Feb. 7: The 22nd Winter Olympics are officially called to order with an opening ceremony that, like all Olympics opening ceremonies, will serve as a tribute to the history and culture of the games’ host city and country. I’m not sure what Sochi has in store for the world, but if I know anything about Russia—which, to be clear, I do not—it’s probably safe to expect a montage of hair-raising dash-cam videos set to the “1812 Overture,” followed by an extended tribute to Vladimir Putin’s athletic prowess and the utterly gratuitous destruction of several billion dollars.

Saturday, Feb. 8: The ladies’ moguls freestyle skiing finals are up today, and Dartmouth student and Volvo enthusiast Hannah Kearney is a heavy favorite to repeat her 2010 gold medal performance. You, however, will be rooting for the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters—Maxime, Chloe, and Justine—all of whom will be skiing for Canada. An all-sibling podium would be great, especially if they subsequently go on TV and start finishing each other’s sentences like Donald Duck’s obnoxious nephews.

First place finisher Justine Dufour-Lapointe (L) and sister Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, third place,  smile at each other during the women's moguls finals at the FIS Freestyle Ski World Cup January 4, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Justine Dufour-Lapointe and sister Chloe will be competing in the ladies’ moguls freestyle skiing finals along with their third sister Maxime.

Photo by Todd Korol/Getty Images

Sunday, Feb. 9: “Age is only a state of mind” is more than just a cloying coffee-mug sentiment for the numerous superannuated Olympians competing in this year’s games. Sochi features a sizeable contingent of athletes on the wrong side of 40, like 41-year-old Japanese ski jumper Noriaki Kasai, who last medaled in Lillehammer in 1994; 44-year-old Nepali cross-country skier Dachhiri Sherpa, who openly admits that “there is a very big chance I will finish last”; and 47-year-old Gary and 48-year-old Angelica di Silvestri, wealthy philanthropists who were named to Dominica’s cross-country-skiing team as a thank you for their charity work on the island. German speed-skater Claudia Pechstein, however, is likely the only fortysomething with a shot at medaling. The 41-year-old Pechstein goes today in the ladies’ 3000-meter race. Root for her to win—or at least to not succumb to arthritis before the race concludes.

Monday, Feb. 10: Hooray, curling! Every four years, the world’s best balding and pudgy semi-athletes gather to wow us all with their precision broomsmanship and heavy-stone-sliding skills. It sounds like I’m mocking curling, but I’m not, really; the fact that there’s room in the Olympics for people who do not look good in Spandex gives hope to the rest of us lumpish couch-jockeys. Who should you root for as you follow the riveting round-robin action? I’d support the 45-year-old American curler Ann Swisshelm, who weirdly lists 1970s journeyman pitcher Dick Ruthven as one of her athletic heroes; Canadian skip Brad Jacobs, who works at a bank and looks like it; and the bleary-eyed American Jared Zezel, who, in his official photo on the Sochi 2014 website, looks like he got caught mid-snooze.

Tuesday, Feb. 11: Looking for some excitement today? Tune in to the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit biathlon event, in which gun-toting women chase after one another, stopping every now and then to fire a rifle. You’d think the Americans would be great at this sport, but they’re not, a state of affairs for which I can only blame the atheistic Democratic Party. If you’re looking for something a little bit less exciting, 31-year-old Kikkan Randall, America’s best—and, really, only—hope at taking a cross-country skiing medal, goes today in the ladies’ sprint event. The United States traditionally has been horrible at cross-country skiing, too, for which I also choose to blame the Democrats.

Wednesday, Feb. 12: Though American speed-skater Shani Davis is the favorite in today’s 1,000-meter race, I’d keep an eye on Kazakhstan’s Denis Kuzin, who has an added incentive to take the gold. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Kazakhstan pays its Olympians a handsome $250,000 per gold medal won—the richest bonus of any country competing in the Games. Skate fast, Denis!

Thursday, Feb. 13: Answer: “Let’s talk about luge.” Question: “What are four words that you are almost guaranteed not to hear on NBC this year?” This is because Americans stink at luge, a sport that has long been controlled by central European nations with strong national traditions of reckless sledding. As you tune in to the team relay luge event today, at which, big surprise, the Germans are expected to dominate, call your congressman and insist that he take steps to revitalize America’s luge program, preferably by replacing our subway systems with perilous underground ice tunnels.

Friday, Feb. 14: The absence of American figure skater Evan Lysacek (who took gold in 2010) and the encroaching decrepitude of Russian champion Evgeni Plushenko (who took silver) leaves room for new blood to dominate today’s men’s singles event. Canadian skater Patrick Chan and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu are safe bets to medal, but keep an eye out for talented Canadian leaper Kevin Reynolds, too. Not only was Reynolds the first man to land two quadruple jumps in a single short program, he also apparently bears a strong resemblance to the lead character in the Japanese video game Chrono Trigger. If Reynolds collects enough gold coins to unlock “Victory Mode,” he could be very successful today.

Saturday, Feb. 15: When injured American skier Lindsey Vonn withdrew from the Olympics earlier this year, it was bad news for the sentiment-mongers at NBC, but great news for the rest of the women’s Alpine skiing field. Vonn’s absence leaves an open slot on the podium for today’s women’s Super-G event, and I, for one, am hoping that slot is filled by Tina Maze, who doubles as a pop musician in her native Slovenia. Maze’s latest hit is titled “My Way is My Decision,” which, I guess, is a better sentiment than something like “My Way is the Path of Least Resistance.” When you’re done with skiing, switch to the exciting men’s skeleton heats, where Queens native John Daly should be going for the USA. Skeleton John Daly is not the same person as the professional golfer John Daly, but feel free to pretend that he is, if only because it’s really funny to imagine the slovenly long-drive king sliding face-first down an ice slide.

Sunday, Feb. 16: Ted Ligety! Ted Ligety! Ted! Ted! Ligety! Ligety! America’s best male skier also has one of America’s most chantable names, and advertisers are taking notice: Ligety recently inspired an odd J.C. Penney commercial that reimagined the 1996 Blackstreet song “No Diggity” as a skiing-and-shopping anthem titled “Go Ligety.” (I guess this was a better choice than “Gettin’ Ted Ligety With It,” but not by much.) Cheer for Ligety to medal in the Super-G today, in hopes that his profile stays high and you can convince him to endorse the Ligety-Split, a banana-based ice cream novelty that you’re hoping to get into stores pretty soon, if you can only figure out a way to stop the whipped cream from leaking through the wrapper.

Ted Ligety of the USA takes 1st place during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on February 02, 2014 in St. Moritz, Switzerland.
Ted Ligety! Ted Ligety! Ted! Ted! Ligety! Ligety! America’s best male skier also has one of America’s most chantable names.

Photo by Michel Cottin/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Monday, Feb. 17: Earlier this year, out of a residual affection for the 1993 children’s movie Cool Runnings, the Internet rallied behind Jamaica’s two-man bobsled team, reportedly raising about $30,000 in the cryptocurrency dogecoin so the athletes could make their way to Sochi. While the Jamaicans almost certainly won’t medal this year, here’s hoping that this latest story might inspire a Cool Runnings sequel, if only because Doug E. Doug really needs the work.

Tuesday, Feb. 18: There’s nothing quite as hypnotic as long-distance speed-skating—except, of course, for the delightful comedy hypnotism of Frank Santos Jr. While you’re watching today’s men’s 10,000-meter race, pay special attention to Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, who reportedly hurt himself when he fell off a swing in 2012.* “This sounds very clumsy, and it is,” he said later. “Especially because I wasn’t even swinging. I was just sitting on it and slipped off.” Kramer is the favorite today, if he can maintain a steady pace, and avoid any untimely run-ins with stray playground equipment or comedy hypnotists.

Bobsledder Lolo Jones poses for a portrait during the USOC Media Summit ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on September 29, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
Bobsledder Lolo Jones.

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Wednesday, Feb. 19: In 2012, American hurdler and celebrity virgin Lolo Jones competed in the Summer Olympics. Today, having reinvented herself as American bobsledder and celebrity virgin Lolo Jones, she will compete with her teammates in the bobsled. Regardless of whether Jones medals, I look forward to seeing her compete in the 2015 Spring Olympics, a brand-new event created for the express purpose of giving celebrity virgin Lolo Jones something nonsexual to do next spring.

Thursday, Feb. 20: Everyone will be watching ladies’ free skating tonight, the final figure-skating event, in which South Korea’s Yuna Kim and Japan’s Mao Asada—the 2010 gold and silver medalists—are expected to repeat their turns on the podium. If you get bored with figure skating, tune in to the men’s ski cross event and root for Anton Grimus, a fiercely bearded Australian whose motto is “Eat schnitzel, get big, ski fast.” My Japanese isn’t that great, but I believe this is also Mao Asada’s motto. If it’s not, it should be.

Friday, Feb. 21: With 37 combined medals since the sport made its Olympic debut in 1992, the South Koreans have dominated short-track speed skating. With zero combined medals, the Russians have not. This might change now that Russia boasts a South Korean short-track star of its own: Ahn Hyun-Soo, who won three gold medals for South Korea at the 2006 Winter Olympics, and then switched his affiliation to Russia in 2011 after a dispute with his South Korean coach and teammates. (He also changed his name to “Viktor Ahn,” because, as he explained it, “the name Viktor is associated with the word victory.”) While you watch Ahn compete in today’s men’s 500-meter short track finals, remember that “I can always take my talents to Russia” is a great negotiating tactic to have in your back pocket during your next annual performance review.

Victor An of Russia competes in the men's 1000m heat race of the ISU European Short Track speed skating Championships in Dresden, eastern Germany, on January 19, 2014.
Ahn Hyun-Soo changed his name to “Viktor Ahn,” because, as he explained it, “the name Viktor is associated with the word victory.”

Photo by Robert Michael/AFP/Getty Images

Saturday, Feb. 22: At 36, American skier Bode Miller is probably competing in his last Olympic Games. Though Miller was once the preeminent Good Time Charlie of the Alpine skiing circuit, he has mellowed since his party-boy heyday—according to ESPN’s Wayne Drehs, Miller has become “an unabashed homebody” who is “not afraid to cry at romantic movies.” As you watch the final men’s Alpine skiing event today, raise a glass to Miller’s outstanding career, before pouring that glass out on the curb, humming the “hope I die before I get old” section of The Who’s “My Generation,” and contemplating the stultifying age-related lameness that lies in store for us all. Note: Today is also the last hurrah for the great Mexican skier Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe-Langenburg, the 55-year-old photographer and fashion plate who is expected to look sharp in a mariachi-themed skiing outfit. Now that’s how you go out in style.

Sunday, Feb. 23: The Sochi Games conclude with a presumably insane closing ceremony and a presumably exciting men’s gold medal hockey game. Canada, Russia, and the USA all have a chance to make it this far, but I’d also keep an eye out for Sweden, featuring 41-year-old Daniel Alfredsson, who, in his official photograph on the Olympic website, looks like he was just arrested for vagrancy. Still, his photo is much better than that of American forward Phil Kessel, who looks like Friar Tuck. “Vagrants and woodsmen” will likely be the theme of tonight’s closing ceremony, if I know anything about Russia. Which, as we’ve already established, I do not. And now I don’t have to anymore! Goodbye, Sochi!

Correction, Feb. 7, 2014: This article originally misstated that speed skater Sven Kramer represents Sweden. He is from the Netherlands.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sochi Olympics.