Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Winter Olympics kick off on Friday in Vancouver

As Vancouver has prepared for the games, snow has been in short supply.

They should have moved this whole Winter Olympics thing to Roanoke.

Can you imagine? Power brokers from nations around the world descending on our finest restaurants ("This, Emperor, is called a 'Son-ic.' ") Sheetz employees checking with the manager to see if they can accept euros. Protesters packing the City Market, championing their bizarre causes.

OK, so maybe it's not such a great idea.

But at least they'd have snow.

Apparently that's sort of a requirement for these events.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, where the games open Friday, they've had temperatures in the 50s. Last weekend, they actually had to haul in loads of snow by helicopter. This is the point at which we collectively cup our hands to our mouths and shout to the skies: "Hey, chopper guy! Over here! In my driveway! Take all you want! I insist!"

Alas, it won't happen. But the games will -- on television if not Mill Mountain. Here are a few things to watch:

Don't blow it: Organizers have allotted $40 million for the opening and closing ceremonies, handing the artistic responsibility to some guy named David Atkins. Now THAT'S pressure. Ask anyone who's been given 100 bucks to throw an office Christmas party.

Don't blow it, Part II: No American athlete has been hyped this year like skier Bode Miller was in 2006, but somebody's going to flop royally like he did in Italy. Part of the allure is identifying the Most Outstanding Underachiever.

Ouch: Camera-friendly U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn, one of our best shots at piling up gold medals, revealed Wednesday that she has a deep muscle bruise in her shin and may not be able to compete. Excuses, excuses. Since when did you need shins to ski?

Tube time: NBC is dishing out 835 hours of coverage on its family of channels, all in high definition. MSNBC apparently is your one-stop shop for all red-hot curling action. Look out, C-SPAN! Your three-decade run as Boring Channel Champion might be ending.

Might as well jump: Chances are you've never heard of any of the favorites in ski jumping -- Gregor Schlierenzauer, Simon Ammann, Wolfgang Loitzl, et al. -- but does it matter? This has got to be the most harrowing activity this side of running with the bulls. Can't help but watch. And can't help but pull for dudes named Wolfgang.

Puck pressure: We Americans should get dibs on Toronto now. Because if Canada doesn't win the men's ice hockey competition, the country might just fold on the spot. The Sidney Crosby-led hosts are favored to take gold, but Alexander Ovechkin and the Russians have plenty of firepower. The U.S. fate rests in the hands of Ryan Miller, a premier goaltender.

Go figure: In figure skating, which for some reason is the most popular Winter Olympics sport among Americans, we've got no medal favorites on the women's side for the first time in years. But we do have Tanith Belbin. One look at her and male viewers will begin to think this whole medal thing was overrated anyway. "Honey, want to watch figure skating again tonight?"

To the extreme: One thing we do quite well in America is make up sports so we can win them -- at least until the other countries catch up. Can anybody hang with Shaun White, Lindsey Jacobellis and our stable of snowboarders? No. I don't think they even HAVE Mountain Dew in Bulgaria.

The dude from Pakistan: The South Asian nation is fielding a team for the first time -- sort of. The fella's name is Muhammad Abbas. He's an alpine skier. And he's Pakistan's lone hope for glory, because he has zero teammates. How can you not root for this guy?

Achtung, Losers!: Germany is the Vegas favorite to win the most medals at 1-to-1 odds, followed by Canada (2-to-1) and the United States (4-to-1).

If we can't pull the upset, though, no worries. We'll see these nations again in London in 2012. And this time, we'll bring LeBron.

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