Twelve new events in eight disciplines – many pulled directly from the X Games – will make their Olympic debuts when the Sochi Games begin 100 days from now.
By the time an Olympic year rolls around, most athletes have spent years training, scraping together funding and fighting to get their form back after suffering broken bones, torn-up knees and concussions in pursuit of their five-ring dream.
For Sochi-bound athletes, including some 220 from Canada, their Olympic moment is, finally, just 100 days away.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin – who has spent $50 billion to build a winter resort in the warmest part of the country – the 2014 Winter Games are a chance to showcase the modern face of Russia.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is hoping to show some modernity of its own with these Games. It has added 12 new events in eight disciplines to create an Olympic program that is younger, hipper and has more women’s events than ever before.
Half the new events were pulled straight from the X Games. The freestyle skiing and snowboarding events will boost the action and drama for spectators but they should also help Canada in its goal to stay on top of the medal standings.
Canadians are currently the world’s leading athletes in several of the events making their Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Think of a skateboard park. Now, put it on the side of a mountain and cover it in snow. That’s where slopestyle happens.
Snowboarders make their run down the course, performing flips and spins off the jumps and creative moves along the metal rails. They are judged on the overall impression of the difficulty and diversity of their tricks.
The man to beat is Canada’s Mark McMorris, who transformed the sport by bringing a risky trick of three off-axis flips while spinning four timesinto competition.
In 2013, the 19-year-old from Regina defended his X Games title – earning a 98.00 score, the highest ever given – and schooled American snowboarding legend Shaun White in the process.
Similar to the snowboard event, skiers rack up overall impression scores by executing a variety of tricks, spins and grabs as they ski – forwards and backwards – down a course of jumps and rail features.
Canada’s Kaya Turski, a seven-time X Games gold medallist, is hoping to recover fromexperimental knee surgery in time to be at her best for Sochi.
Her teammate, 19-year-old Dara Howell of Hunstville, Ont., also has Olympic podium potential having picked up medals just behind Turski all season, including a silver at the world championships and two X Games bronze.
Canada’s Sarah Burke, who died in a training accident in 2012, was a pioneer in this sport and a driving force behind getting the event into Olympics.
Like the snowboard event, which has been in the Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Games, skiers perform tricks by launching themselves into the air as they ski side-to-side down a long open bowl.
It’s a judged sport, with points awarded for diversity, difficulty and the height of tricks above the rim.
Canada’s Rosalind Groenewoud and Mike Riddle both finished on top of 2013 World Cup standings, making them medal favourites going into Sochi.
SNOWBOARD PARALLEL SLALOM
In this speed event, a snowboarder races head-to-head with a rival on a parallel course, manoeuvring around flags down a steep slope. The combined time of two runs decides the winner.
It’s a more technical version of parallel giant slalom, which debuted at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games and was won by Canada’s Jasey-Jay Anderson at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
In Sochi, Canada’s best bet for a medal in this new event is Caroline Calve, who was third in the World Cup parallel standings last season.
TEAM FIGURE SKATING
This will be contested by the top 10 skating nations, and the single medal is awarded on the combined scores of skaters in each of the four events – men’s singles, ladies’ singles, pairs and ice dance.
Its placement at the beginning of the skating program was controversial. Generally, team or relay events come at the end to ensure athletes are able to give their best in their marquee individual events.
As the only country to win three medals at the 2013 world figure skating championships, Canada goes to Sochi as a top prospect in this event. At worlds, Toronto’s Patrick Chan took the men’s gold, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won silver in ice dance and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won bronze in pairs.
TEAM RELAY LUGE
The clock starts with a women’s singles sled, it continues to run during the men’s run and ends only when the doubles team crosses the finish line.
A sensor pad hangs over the track at the bottom, which athletes have to reach up and hit with their hand as they slide underneath. That opens the gate for the next sled in line. If any athlete misses the paddle or jumps the gate at the top of the run, the team is disqualified.
The sport of luge is dominated by Germans but the Canadian team of Alex Gough, Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith won a silver medal in the team relay at the 2013 world championships, making them a medal threat for Sochi.
MIXED RELAY BIATHLON
Biathlon combines the endurance of cross-country skiing and marksmanship. This new event combines the skills of an entire team.
Two women ski six-kilometre legs and two men ski 7.5-km legs; each athlete fires both prone and standing shots.
This sport is dominated by Europeans and Canada doesn’t have the depth to win a medal here but Jean-Phillipe Le Guellec did make history last season by becoming the first Canadian male to win a biathlon World Cup.
WOMEN’S SKI JUMPING
A women’s jumping event – on the normal hill – was included in the 2014 Games after a lengthy battle, including an appeal all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Men’s ski jumping has an Olympic sport since 1924 and currently there are three events – normal hill, large hill and team.
As with the men’s events, the women will ski down a steep takeoff ramp and jump. They are scored on the length and style of their jumps.
This event isn’t a strong one for Canada but up-and-comer Atsuko Tanaka achieved her first Grand Prix podium this year.