The Olympics isn't just a celebration of sports ability that transcends national differences, of the indomitable human spirit, or of individual achievement. Sure, it's a tribute to all of those things, but it's also a really big reality show, featuring hundreds of characters and hard-to-follow plot lines. There are countries you've forgotten about and sports you've never seen. And then there are the good guys: the members of Team USA.
Here is a guide to this year's protagonists, who have new faces, but are taking on old roles – roles previously filled by the sort of successful athletes who end up getting lucrative sandwich-endorsement deals. The show goes on.
America's favorite new sport
In Vancouver: Ski Cross
Call it a sort of ski stew. Take a little downhill, a little slalom, some freestyle elements, and throw it all together by putting four athletes on a racecourse at one time. What you get is an intense, contact-heavy racing competition executed at breakneck speeds. Based on boardercross, which was introduced to the Olympic program in 2006, ski cross is another in a growing list of sports designed to hold appeal for a younger demographic. Neither Casey Puckett nor Daron Rahlves, the two American athletes in the field, advanced past the first heats.
In Sochi: Luge Relay
New slopestyle events will get the bulk of the media attention, but luge relay makes throwing yourself off a mountain look like child's play. Three legs (one man, one woman, and one double's team) complete a race. When one luge racer gets to the bottom, he slaps a touch pad shaped almost exactly like a giant goldfish cracker, releasing a gate at the top of the course and getting the next competitor on the track. It's fast, it's risky, and – to American eyes at least – it's deeply odd. That should make for great television.
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