It’s been news of the weird that has dominated the discussion around Sochi Olympics as the opening ceremony draws near. But there are more reasons to watch the Games than just for stories about toilets. Here are 9 of them:
1. To check out slopestyle
Slopestyle is making its debut Thursday at the Sochi Olympics after gaining a big following at the X Games.
Two-time gold medalist Shaun White pulled out of the event after jamming his wrist on the course, and there’s been a concussion and a broken collarbone — all before the games have officially started.
Still, no one’s denying it’s going to be fun to watch the athletes put their twist on snowboarding.
2. To see Mikaela Shiffrin compete
Now that Lindsey Vonn has dropped out of the event, the 18-year-old skier is the best bet for a U.S. gold medal.
Shiffrin has been winning big at the World Cup since 2011 and is the No. 1-ranked slalom skier in the world heading into the games.
She matter-of-factly told the Boston Globe recently the Games are “the greatest sports competition of all-time, but first and foremost two more races.”
3. Girl power
The Sochi Olympics will see plenty of firsts for women. Women’s ski jumping is making its Olympic debut at Sochi after first being rejected by the International Olympic Committee prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
The U.S. ice hockey team also has a female coach for the first time in history, and she’ll be the only female coach at the ice hockey tournament.
Additionally, the Sochi Olympics will also see more female athletes than any Winter Olympics in history.
4. Their sheer size
These are the biggest Winter Olympics by a few standards.
The IOC has introduced 12 new sports, and 88 countries are competing, up from 82 in 2010. And a record 12 tropical countries are competing, according to the Christian Science Monitor, up from seven in 2010.
5. To see what Sochi pulls out for the opening ceremony
Can they show up the queen and James Bond? The opening ceremony is always a show, but this year’s could be particularly interesting simply because of how ill-prepared Sochi has been for everything else thus far.
NBC won’t be live-streaming the ceremony this year, either — probably because the Internet is mean.
“We want to put context to it, with the full pageantry it deserves,” Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, told Variety.
Plenty of world leaders are rumored to be boycotting the opening ceremony due to the controversy surrounding the games, particularly the passing of a law banning “gay propaganda.”
Italy and the Netherlands are among the few European countries sending representatives to the ceremony.
Neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden will attend the ceremony, but a delegation headed by former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and current President of the University of California Janet Napolitano will be present.
7. To watch Noelle Pikus-Pace race
Pikus-Pace has had a long road to the 2014 games. The skeleton racer missed the 2006 Torino Games after a runaway bobsled shattered her right leg. She was a favorite in 2010 but finished in fourth place, crossing the line just one-tenth of a second behind the third place finisher.
Now the mother of two, who’s one of only 22 Olympic athletes at Sochi who have children, is again aiming for the gold.
8. To watch for a Vladimir Putin publicity stunt
Whether it’s one-handed piano playing or shirtless horseback riding, the Russian president loves to show off.
His spokespeople says Putin’s antics are spontaneous, so we’ll just have to wait and see how he grabs headlines at the Sochi Games.
9. To see if Sochi can pull it off
The 2014 Games have been mired in controversy, with everything from bad hotel conditions to anti-gay laws overshadowing the actual events. There’s also concern from many countries, including the U.S., that Russia hasn’t done enough to prevent a terror attack during the games.
Russian officials have ensured the public that appropriate security measures have been taken and that Olympic venues will be ready in time for the games, though, so all that’s left to do is watch.