It’s the high-soaring adrenaline rush of ski jumping. It’s the cold calculations of curling. It’s spine-tingling speed of skeleton. It’s the power and finesse of figure skating. It’s the dizzying heights of freestyle skiing. It’s the joy and pride of a place on the podium.
The 2018 Winter Olympics take place in PyeongChang, South Korea, Feb. 8-25, as the world’s most daring athletes on ice and snow seek the glory of gold for their countries.
The 2018 Winter Olympics viewers guide fills you in on the top stories of the PyeongChang Games.
North And South Korea Unite
As the 2018 Winter Olympic Games debut in Pyeongchang, just 50 miles from the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea, the relationship between the two sovereign states is frostier than the mountainous South Korean city’s brutal winter weather. Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump continue a sophomoric, scary war of words on social media and beyond, as North Korea ramps up its nuclear missile program while annual U.S.-South Korea joint military drills are tentatively on hold until after the Olympics. But the PyeongChang Games have presented a breakthrough toward peace on the Korean peninsula. North Korea will send a delegation of 22 athletes plus around 400 officials, reporters, and fans to the Games, and the two countries will march together during the opening and closing ceremonies.
Hockey Left Shorthanded
The Olympic men’s hockey tournament will be short on star power, as the NHL declined to send its players to PyeongChang. NHL owners cited the disruption in the season schedule and its effect on players’ health as the primary reasons for bowing out, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) no longer footing the bill for NHL players’ travel and accommodations was also a factor. The result is that hockey powerhouses like Canada and the USA will field rosters largely made up of little-known minor leaguers, collegians and players from overseas leagues. It’s still the Olympics and a huge honor for the players participating, but this will not be a showcase of the world’s best.
In December, the IOC banned Russia from competing in the PyeongChang Games based on the country’s extensive state-directed doping and manipulation of the drug testing-process. Dozens of Russian athletes have been handed lifetime bans, and several of Russia’s medals from the 2014 Sochi Games have been stripped. The IOC ban won’t affect all Russian athletes, however, as athletes who are proven to be clean will be allowed to compete in PyeongChang as an “Olympic Athlete From Russia” (OAR). They will wear an OAR uniform, and the Olympic anthem will be played at any medal ceremonies for Russian athletes.
Maame Biney’s Need For Speed Takes Her To PyeongChang
When Maame Biney was just 6, her doting dad Kweku realized his daughter’s over-the-top energy might signal a budding athlete. Not long after, the Bineys — who immigrated to Virginia from Ghana — drove past a local ice-skating rink advertising lessons. Little Maame was game, so Kweku signed her up. His girl proved a natural, and when a coach noticed that she had an exceptional knack for speed, Maame switched from salchows to short track. The rest, as they say, is history. In December, as her jubilant dad waved a “KICK SOME HINEY BINEY!” sign, the joyful 17-year-old with the miles-wide grin finished first in the women’s 500-meter Olympic trials, becoming the first black female ever to make the U.S. Olympic speed skating team and one of just three women who will represent the country in short track. True to form, her celebration was as explosive as her signature powerhouse starts. Nodding her head, clapping and pumping her arms in victory, Maame wiped herself out and stayed seated on the ice, laughing along with her fellow competitors as they high, well, low-fived her for the win.
Will It Be A Super-V (Victory) For Lindsey Vonn?
After being sidelined with a knee injury shortly before the 2014 Sochi Games, skiing’s downhill darling Lindsey Vonn is back and hoping she’s better than ever. In December, the 33-year-old blond bombshell won her 78th World Cup race in Val d’lsère, making her the second-oldest woman to win a World Cup race and inching her closer to becoming the greatest racer who’s ever lived. In a career marred by injuries, Vonn needs to beat Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark, who holds the record of 86 World Cup victories, to claim the title. “For me, I feel like I’m going to keep going until I get it,” Vonn said. Off the slopes, she has long been grabbing attention on red carpets and at award shows, as well as launching a ski gear collection with her longtime sponsor Under Armour.
Passing The Torch
Since the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, Bob Costas and his dulcet voice have been as much a part of NBC’s Olympic coverage as John Williams’ venerable musical score. But in February 2017, Costas announced that he was retiring from Olympic duties, and the honor and responsibility of anchoring NBC’s primetime coverage was passed figuratively — and literally — to former ESPN anchor Mike Tirico. “We did that in New York when the announcement was made,” laughs Tirico. “There is a picture that I do want to get Bob to sign. It’s one of those pictures of myself that I will keep, of Bob literally passing a torch — a PyeongChang 2018 torch — to me for the start of the Olympics.”Tirico is aware that he’s been tasked with filling legendary broadcasting shoes, and says, “You follow a Bob Costas. You don’t replace him.” Costas’ fellow Syracuse alum is excited to bring his own take to the special assignment. “If you think about what the primetime Olympic host brings, it brings 18 consecutive nights in the living rooms of America,” Tirico says. “And there is no other job like that in American television.”
Not To Be Confused With …
Do you know your PyeongChang from your Pyongyang? The South Korean region of Pyeongchang is hosting the Winter Olympics. The North Korean capital city of Pyongyang is the seat of leader Kim Jong Un’s oppressive regime. Olympic organizers hoped to alleviate some of the confusion by branding it as the PyeongChang Games with some creative capitalization.
While unusually warm temperatures were a concern at the 2014 Sochi Games, bitter cold could be a problem at PyeongChang. The region is among the coldest in South Korea, and the Manchurian and Siberian winds blowing over the mountains of North Korea are especially brutal. Organizers are providing raincoats, blankets and heating pads to attendees at the opening and closing ceremonies who will sit for five hours exposed to the elements in the open-air Olympic Stadium.
The official mascot for the PyeongChang Olympic Games is Soohorang, a white tiger who symbolizes trust, strength and protection. Bandabi, a black bear, is the mascot for the Paralympic Games. Both are refreshingly simple and cuddly, unlike some past freakish mascots that gave us nightmares.
The medals at the PyeongChang Games are inspired by three important aspects of Korean culture. The medals incorporate 3-D shapes from Hangeul, the Korean alphabet. The ribbons are made from Gapsa, a traditional Korean fabric, and the wooden cases borrow curves from the architecture of Korean houses. “They represent my homeland, a celebration and a lifetime of hard work and dedication for all the athletes who will receive and cherish them,” says designer Lee Suk-woo.
It’s no secret that Canadians are serious about curling. Competition at Canada’s highest level is so fierce that 2014 gold-medal winners Brad Jacobs and Jennifer Jones won’t have a chance to defend their titles. Both teams were eliminated in Olympic trials. The gold-medal mission now falls on the teams led by Kevin Koe and Rachel Homan.
Change Of Luck For Lindsey?
Remember when a little stunt cost Lindsey Jacobellis the gold medal in snowboard cross at the 2006 Torino Games? Since then, it’s been nothing but bad luck at the Olympics for Jacobellis. At age 32, she’s the reigning world champion and has qualified for her fourth Olympics. If this is her final Games, will she finally go out on top?
White No Worse For Wear
Two-time Olympic snowboard half-pipe champion Shaun White is still among the sport’s best athletes and most recognizable faces, even if that face has been rearranged a few times. Doctors had to sew 62 stitches in White’s face after he crashed while training in New Zealand in October. White should qualify for his fourth Games and will be looking to bounce back after settling for fourth place in Sochi.
U.S. Bobsled Team Moves On After Tragedy
The U.S. bobsled community lost an icon in May when Steven Holcomb passed away unexpectedly at age 37. Holcomb was pilot of the “Night Train” four-man bobsled at the 2010 Vancouver Games, which won the USA its first gold medal in the event since 1948. U.S. bobsledders no doubt will be inspired by Holcomb’s legacy as they compete in PyeongChang.
Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani hope to pick up where 2014 U.S. gold medal ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White left off. Alex, 26, and Maia, 23, won bronze at the ISU Grand Prix Final for the second straight year. They’re emerging as true challengers to Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
U.S. Figure Skating’s Best Hope
With Gracie Gold taking time away from figure skating to deal with personal health issues, the USA looks to 2017 national champion Karen Chen, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and 2018 national champion Bradie Tennell for a medal in the women’s competition. The U.S. will send only one team in the pairs competition, with Alexa Scimeca Knierim and husband Christopher Knierim competing. The USA’s best chance for a medal in figure skating comes from Nathan Chen, who in December became the first U.S. man in eight years to win the ISU Grand Prix Final.
Make Way For Mikaela
2014 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest athlete ever to win an Olympic gold in the slalom event, and she’ll be a favorite to repeat in PyeongChang. With her young age and tremendous skill, Shiffrin could someday topple teammate Lindsey Vonn’s record of 78 World Cup wins.
The Nigerian Bobsled Team Makes History
If you tuned in to Ellen in early December, you likely got your first look at a trio of the most infectiously energetic athletes to head for PyeongChang. American-born daughters of Nigerian nationals, Seun Adigun, Ngozi Onwumere and Akuoma Omeoga — all track and field stars, too — aren’t just the first Nigerian bobsledders ever to make it to the ultimate athletic contest. They were also the first Nigerian athletes ever to qualify for a winter Olympic Games. Adigun, the team’s founder and driver, built the trio’s first sled with her own hands, then turned to GoFundMe for the money to make their dream come true. Enough cash flowed in to convince Nigeria to create a governing body for the sport and make them official, then propel the team through all five qualifying races. According to Adigun, most Nigerians don’t understand bobsledding (“This is bobsledge?”) one bit, but no matter: “They don’t care. They just know that the flag is raising high!” The charming Chicago native’s own concerns are a bit more dire. “Every time — literally — I cross the finish line, I’m screaming,” she told the talk show host. “Like, ‘Thank God, we survived!’”
Can New Olympic Events Draw In A Younger Viewership?
For the 2018 Winter Olympics, the IOC has ratified the inclusion of four new events: “big air” snowboarding and freestyle skiing; mass-start speed skating; and mixed doubles in curling. Snowboarding, freestyle skiing, speed skating and curling have been Olympic sports for years, but according to Sports Illustrated, the IOC decided to include these variations for, among other purposes, “added value; youth appeal; attractiveness for TV, media and the general public; [and] gender equality.” The big air events involve riding a snowboard or skis down a hill and then performing tricks after launching off very large ramps. Mass-start speed skating, which, as its name implies, features a large number of racers all starting at once, is technically not a stranger to the Olympic Games, although it has only been featured in the quadrennial event once before — in Lake Placid back in 1932. The mixed doubles curling competition is also fairly self-explanatory: Teams of two players — one male, one female — will be featured, with each team having six stones, rather than the usual eight in other curling events.
Ralph Lauren On Wardrobe
Polo Ralph Lauren returns for its sixth Olympics to give U.S. athletes some added style and some new technology. The parkas and jackets worn at the opening and closing ceremonies have battery-powered heating elements! Lauren said he used “Polo’s iconic and authentic all-American style, infused with a modern sensibility” to create this year’s uniform, a job his company has held for the last six Games. Some of the Team USA collection is available at ralphlauren.com and teamusashop.com.