Before the races actually start, the biggest story line in Alpine skiing at the Sochi Olympics centers around someone who will not be there: Lindsey Vonn, the reigning downhill gold medalist and a four-time overall World Cup champion.
If not for her surgically repaired right knee, Vonn would have been the one to watch, not only on the slopes — where she might have been expected to at least match her two-medal showing from Vancouver in 2010 — but also off them, in part because of her boyfriend, Tiger Woods.
"We want to grow as a sport, and like every other sport, we are dependent on the international stars," said Atle Skaardal, the International Ski Federation women's race director. "And Lindsey Vonn is definitely an international star."
Her injury-forced absence means there will be room for other ski racers to earn victories, grab attention and have their stories told. In some respects, the 10 events in the mountains — starting with the men's downhill on Feb. 9, weather permitting — turn into a referendum on the next possible face of the sport.
On the women's side, Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, Lara Gut of Switzerland, Tina Maze of Slovenia, Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein, and 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States all have the potential to win more than one medal.
Among the men, Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, Marcel Hirscher of Austria, and Ted Ligety of the United States probably are the likeliest to exit these Winter Games as household names around the globe.
Here are five Alpine skiing story lines to follow during the Sochi Olympics:
"THE NEXT VONN:" Already given that label by some, Shiffrin might be a bigger favorite in the slalom than any other woman is in any other event. She owns a World Cup title and world championship gold in slalom.
"Mikaela is very, very success-oriented in her approach. It really reminds you of someone like Lindsey," U.S. women's Alpine coach Alex Hoedlmoser said. "She is training a lot. She puts everything aside. The focus is all on the sport."
Still, Shiffrin leaves time for being a typical teen — well, one who travels the World Cup circuit with her mother — such as when she mashed up Lupe Fiasco's "Battle Scars" and Coldplay's "The Scientist," then had that musical combo in her head while finishing second in a giant slalom at home in Colorado.
As another American teen, swimmer Missy Franklin, made clear at the London Olympics, there's something about success at a very young age that captivates an audience.