Sports capsules for the Sochi Olympics

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 3, 2014 at 4:43 am •  Published: February 3, 2014
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SOCHI, Russia (AP) — A look at the sports for the Sochi Olympics:

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ALPINE SKIING:

THE BASICS

After missing the first three Winter Olympics, Alpine skiing joined the program in 1936. Ten gold medals will be awarded in Sochi, five for men and five for women — downhill, slalom, giant slalom, super giant slalom (usually called super-G) and super combined.

STARS TO WATCH

With Lindsey Vonn out injured, the 18-year-old American many call "The Next Lindsey Vonn," Mikaela Shiffrin, will attract plenty of attention as the favorite to win the slalom. Maria Hoefl-Riesch of Germany, a double gold medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Lara Gut of Switzerland, who'll be making her Olympic debut, could dominate other races. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway already enjoys rock-star status in Europe, while 36-year-old Bode Miller, owner of five Olympic medals, and Ted Ligety, who won three titles at last year's world championships, will also be ones to watch from the U.S. team.

DID YOU KNOW?

Austria has won a record 105 Alpine skiing medals at the Olympics, nearly twice as many as any other country. Switzerland ranks second with 56, followed by France with 43 and the United States with 39.

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BIATHLON:

THE BASICS:

Like several other sports, biathlon has military origins with the combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting first becoming a common exercise for winter troops in northern countries during the second half of the 19th century. That also helps explain why countries like Norway, Russia and Sweden are still dominant. Biathlon has one of the busiest schedules on the Olympic program, with four individual events for both men and women, along with a relay. New for this year is a mixed relay.

STARS TO WATCH:

Martin Fourcade of France has been the top men's biathlete in the last two years, winning three world championship titles in 2012 and the overall World Cup last season, and he is expected to add his first Olympic gold in Sochi. Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway could well add to his two golds from Vancouver, as well. On the women's side, expect Tora Berger of Norway and Darya Domracheva of Belarus to grab at least a couple of medals each.

DID YOU KNOW?

One of the all-time greats will be competing in the biathlon events in Sochi as Ole Einar Bjoerndalen aims to cap his storied career by making Olympic history. The 40-year-old Norwegian has six Olympic golds from previous games and needs two more to equal the Winter Games record. While Bjoerndalen hasn't won an individual World Cup race in two years, Norway is one of the favorites in both the men's and mixed relay — meaning he could well get there.

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BOBSLED:

THE BASICS

It looks simple, but it's incredibly intricate to get a sled going and keep it upright for the ride down the track. Everyone sprints while pushing the sled on ice, then hops inside, at which point the driver is typically the only one with his or her head up for the rest of the trip. One wrong move, and that sled could tumble on its side easily.

STARS TO WATCH

Steven Holcomb of the United States was the top driver on the men's World Cup circuit this winter, while Kaillie Humphries of Canada took the women's overall title. Both won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games and might again this year. The U.S. has two Olympic track athletes on the women's team, with gold medalist Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones qualifying as push athletes.

DID YOU KNOW?

BMW doesn't just make fast cars. Their sled-building business will be on full display in Sochi, with Germans, Americans and Canadians — all medal favorites — among the nations racing in their sleds. And while those sleds bear the same logo, there's some significant set-up and technological differences depending on which nation's flag is affixed.

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CROSS-COUNTRY

THE BASICS:

Cross-country skiing is one of the original Winter Olympic sports, on the program since the 1924 Chamonix Games. Only two men's events were held then, though; now it's a total of 10 men's and women's races — ranging from the explosive individual sprint to the grueling endurance test of the men's 50-kilometer race. Events are held in either the classical style or freestyle depending on the format, with the skiathlon a combination of both.

STARS TO WATCH:

Norway usually dominates the cross-country skiing events, and its two biggest stars are Petter Northug and Marit Bjoergen. Northug has struggled with illness this season, however, and his form is in question. Bjoergen won three golds in Vancouver in 2010 and could well repeat that feat in Sochi if she again gets the better of main rival Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland. Three-time overall World Cup winner Dario Cologna has only recently returned from an ankle injury but should still be a contender.

DID YOU KNOW?

The most successful Winter Olympian of all time was a cross-country skier. Bjoern Daehlie of Norway won eight Olympic gold medals between 1992 and 1998, along with four silvers. He nearly won a ninth gold, but surprisingly lost a sprint finish to Silvio Fauner of Italy in the men's 4x10-kilometer relay at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, stunning the home crowd.

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CURLING:

THE BASICS

Two gold medals will be awarded, one for men and one for women. Ten teams are in both tournaments. They all play each other once in the round-robin stage, with four advancing to the semifinals.

STARS TO WATCH

Margaretha Sigfridsson of Sweden and Eve Muirhead of Britain have been engaged in a battle for supremacy in women's curling for the past 12 months. Muirhead is the world champion and Sigfridsson the European champion — and the Olympics can be viewed as the decider. Brad Jacobs is the star attraction in men's curling, although the spotlight is often stolen by the Norwegian team, with its funky wardrobe.

DID YOU KNOW?

Canada, the stronghold of world curling, has won a medal in every men's and women's tournament since the sport returned to the Olympic program in 1998.

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FIGURE SKATING:

THE BASICS

To the familiar medal events of men's and women's singles, pairs and ice dance, the IOC is adding a team competition. Ten countries will take part, combining the scores of their entries in the four disciplines.

STARS TO WATCH

Yuna Kim of South Korea seeks to repeat — she'd be only the third woman to win two straight gold medals. A foot injury forced her out of the Grand Prix series, though. Three-time world champion Patrick Chan is the favorite on the men's side, but was upset by Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan at the Grand Prix Final.

DID YOU KNOW?

Russian or Soviet skaters have won seven of the 10 gold medals in the event, but Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will be on hand to defend their titles.

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FREESTYLE SKIING:

THE BASICS

There are the old-school events — moguls and aerials — and the newcomers — halfpipe and slopestyle. There's also skicross. Moguls are judged on a skier's ability to get down the bumps quickly and smoothly, while also taking off for two jumps that each count for 12.5 percent of the score. Aerials skiers pack multiple flips and twists into a jump that sends them soaring up to 50 feet off a steeply angled ramp. Ski halfpipe and slopestyle are new events, though they'll look very much like the snowboard version.

STARS TO WATCH

Defending moguls champion Alex Bilodeau's toughest competition could come from Canadian teammate Mikael Kingsbury. Hannah Kearney of the United States is the defending women's champion. Victor Oehling Norberg of Sweden is a consistent top-10 finisher in skicross but still looking for that first victory of the season.

DID YOU KNOW?

Freestyle skiing dates back more than 100 years with records of skiers performing somersaults on skis at the start of the 20th century in Norway, Italy and Austria. The first professional competitions were in 1971, and it entered the Olympic program in 1992.

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MEN'S HOCKEY:

THE BASICS

About 150 jetlagged NHL players join their European counterparts in a frenetic 12-team, 12-day tournament for hockey supremacy. Nobody has time for practice or team-building with three quick opening-round games before the knockout portion begins, but Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the United States all have their eyes on gold.

STARS TO WATCH

Reigning NHL MVP Alex Ovechkin and fellow stars Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk are under extraordinary home-country pressure to lead the Russians to their first gold medals since the Unified Team's 1992 win in Albertville. Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby also is back for more Olympic magic after scoring the gold-winning overtime goal in Vancouver.



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