TIME olympics

Team Figure Skating at the Winter Olypmics: What You Need to Know

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform during an ice dance figure skating training session at Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, February 5, 2014.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform during an ice dance figure skating training session at Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, February 5, 2014. How Hwee Young / EPA

Meet the newest event in Sochi

Bet you didn’t know that figure skating could be a team sport, did you?

Figure skating is already one of the marquee events of the Winter Games, and since four different disciplines of the sport apparently weren’t enough, the International Olympic Committee decided to add another—a team event. So for the first time ever, figure skaters this year in Sochi can earn more than one medal at the Games, a possibility not lost on those hungry for hardware.

The competition begins on Thursday, as the men and pairs do their best to add to their country’s totals. Here’s what you need to know, and what to watch for.

Which countries are competing?

Only 10 countries earned the right to compete at the event, based on how their skaters finished at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix series this season, and other events. In order of rank, those countries are:

  1. Canada
  2. Russia
  3. U.S.
  4. Japan
  5. Italy
  6. France
  7. China
  8. Germany
  9. Ukraine
  10. Great Britain

How is the event scored?

Just like in the other skating events, each skater performs two routines—a short and a free program, for a total of eight scores per country. First place receives 10 points, second place nine points, and so on down the line.

Only the top five scoring teams will continue on to compete in the free skate.

Which skaters are competing?

Each country’s skating federation will determine which athletes will skate which events. Each team is allowed two substitutions across all four disciplines; one ladies’ skater may perform the short program, for example, while another performs the free, and one pairs team may compete in the short and another compete in the free, and that would exhaust that country’s substitutions.

Entries for each category (ladies, men, pairs and dance) must be submitted 24 hours before the scheduled event.

Which US skaters will be chosen to compete?

The U.S. skaters have kept their strategy under wraps. As the 2013 world team trophy champs, the Americans have a good chance of grabbing gold; seven of the eight members of that championship team are competing in Sochi.

What strategy is involved?

The event stretches over three days of competition, beginning Thursday (the day before Opening Ceremonies) with the men’s and pairs short programs. Russia, which only qualified one male skater in the men’s event, 2006 Olympic gold medalist Evgeny Plushenko, will have to use him in both the short and free programs of the team competition, but has more play in the pairs and dance events, in which they have three teams each.

Coaches and skaters will have to balance the demands of competing in potentially four programs in the space of a week, and the U.S. athletes have hinted that they would be eager to spread the wealth at the team event to maximize the number of athletes able to participate.

Canada is also strong in pairs and dance, with three teams each, while the U.S. qualified three teams in ice dance, including reigning world champions and Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, but only two in pairs.

The ladies’ events, on Feb. 8 and Feb. 9, will be a good opportunity for Russia, Japan and the U.S. to tally up points; the U.S. team includes new national champion Gracie Gold, and Ashley Wagner, who came in third in this season’s Grand Prix Final, and newcomer Polina Edmunds. Japan has Mao Asada, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, new national champion Kanako Murakami and Akiko Suzuki. Russia produced some surprisingly talented teens this season, after some mediocre rankings in recent years; look for Yulia Lipnitskaya and Adelina Sotnikova to stun the judges with their jumps.

And finally, training-mates-from-different-countries Davis and White (U.S.) and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (Canada), who work with coach Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich., may face off in the short and free programs in ice dance; they are the reigning silver and gold medalists, respectively, from Vancouver.

TIME olympics

America’s Olympic Standard Bearers: Men and Women Who Carried the Flag Throughout History

Nordic combined skier Todd Lodwick has been selected to carry the American flag in the opening ceremonies in Sochi. TIME takes a look back at Olympic athletes who have also carried the colors.

TIME olympics

Shaun White Pulls Out of Snowboarding Event

Shaun White
Shaun White attends a press conference of the US snowboard team at Gorki media center in Krasnaya Polyana near Sochi, Feb. 5, 2014. John G. Mabanglo / EPA

White says the course is too risky. Canada says he's just scared he'll lose

First Lindsey, now Shaun.

NBC, which paid $775 million for the rights to broadcast the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, received some more bad news Wednesday: the most recognizable American competitor left in the Sochi Games, snowboarder Shaun White, has withdrawn from the slopestyle snowboarding event, which is making its Olympic debut. In slopestyle, boarders navigate a downhill obstacle course with jumps and rails.

Although White will still compete in the Games, his pursuit of a gold in both slopestyle and his strongest event, the halfpipe—White has won the last two Olympic halfpipe titles—had been one of the notable storylines going into these Games. For the first time, NBC is broadcasting primetime coverage before the opening ceremonies, and tomorrow’s slopestyle qualifying is one of the anchor events.

America’s biggest female star, skiier Lindsey Vonn, had already said she would not race in Sochi because of an injured knee, but fans can blame Olympic organizers for White’s absence. Riders have complained Russia made the slopestyle course too dangerous. That’s a bit shocking, given the safety issues that marred the Vancouver Olympics, particularly on the sliding track, where luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia tragically died after a training run. On Monday, a slopestyle medal favorite, Norway’s Torstein Horgmo, broke his collarbone during practice and was forced to withdraw from the Olympics. The course was modified overnight, but those moves didn’t help much: on Tuesday, White jammed his wrist, and Finnish snowboarder Marika Enne crash landed on the final jump, hitting her head.

In a statement to the TODAY show, White said he wanted to concentrate on the halfpipe. “With the practice runs I have taken, even after course modifications and watching fellow athletes get hurt, the potential risk of injury is a bit too much for me to gamble my other Olympics goals on,” White said.

This is all good news for Canada. Mark McMorris was the favorite going into the slopestyle event anyway: White is one less threat. If White had won both the slopestyle and halfpipe, he would have become the first Winter Olympian to win every event entered in a career, having competed in at least four events. Canadian hockey player Caroline Ouellette can now be the first to earn that distinction.

Slopestyle snowboarder Maxence Parrot also likes his chances. He fired off this tweet:

https://twitter.com/MaxParrot/statuses/431040186135633920

TIME olympics

Too Little, Too Late for Sochi’s Dogs

A stray dog and its puppy sit behind the railings in the middle of a highway outside Sochi, Nov. 28, 2013.
A stray dog and its puppy sit behind the railings in the middle of a highway outside Sochi, Russia, on Nov. 28, 2013 Alexander Zemlianichenko / AP

At the Olympics, a plan to cull Sochi's stray dogs could have been avoided

Correction appended: Feb. 4, 2014, 11:50 p.m. E.T.

Kelly O’Meara, director of companion animals and engagement for Humane Society International, was “very surprised” when she heard that Sochi officials planned to kill stray dogs roaming around the Olympic host region throughout the Games. Just last April, organizers scrapped that idea, and said they would build a shelter for the animals. Now, city officials have hired a private company to do the dirty work — its owner told ABC News that the dogs posed a public-safety and health risk and that they were “biological trash.”

“They’ve very publicly gone back on their word,” O’Meara says.

But what else, at this point, can Sochi do? To be fair, organizers face a predicament. They’ve spent more than $50 billion on the Olympics, the highest tab ever for the event (although well-publicized allegations of corruption could have driven up the cost). For that price, they’re counting on a gleaming Games, as the world turns its attention to Russia. Stray dogs don’t help the scenery.

(MORE: Sochi’s Stray Dogs Are ‘Biological Trash,’ Says the Guy in Charge of Culling Them)

So is there humane way to clear the area? “When you’re talking about the removal of a dog population,” says O’Meara, “there is no solution that’s an overnight solution.” O’Meara says that last summer, Humane Society International offered to help Olympic organizers set up a mass-vaccination-and-sterilization program. “You’re already identifying, naturally, through that program, where the problematic dogs are,” says O’Meara. “What are the most aggressive dogs in the population? Those dogs will not make it back onto the street. Because they are a public-health risk, as part of any natural program, if you come across a very aggressive dog or a very sick dog, those dogs are humanely euthanized, and no longer pose a public threat.” Plus, sterilization could have helped control the dog population over the past few months.

Olympic officials did not respond to Humane Society International’s offer.

At the very least, Sochi could have found room in the $50 billion budget to hire a more humane help. “If you’re concerned about the public safety of dogs and their interaction with people,” says O’Meara, “animal-control officers can be in place that are constantly monitoring the dog population and its interaction with the public. Just as police are on top of a potential criminal, they are on top of the aggressive dogs. Dogs would figure out quickly that they’re not welcome where all the people are. And they will run in different directions.”

(MORE: Did You Know It Doesn’t Actually Snow in Subtropical Sochi?)

The dogs could be placed in temporary shelters during the Games — though these mass shelters can also be problematic. “We discourage that, too, simply because of the fact that it’s an inhumane process normally to catch that number of dogs,” says O’Meara. “You put them in a confined environment. Plus, the likelihood of those dogs making it back onto the street, in the condition they are put in, is very slim.”

Still, this option beats killing the dogs. Though any mass removal, O’Meara says, comes with consequences. “Dogs replace other dogs quite quickly in a space that is void,” she says, “because there’s food supply, and that’s a good territory to have. And it’s no longer being used.” These dogs survive a cull because they don’t show themselves in public. They may prove more of a nuisance than the dogs just rounded up. “They are less integrated into the community,” says O’Meara. “They are less friendly, and harder to catch. The friendliest dogs are easiest to catch.”

As Sochi’s strays may soon find out.

An earlier version of this article misspelled the given name of Humane Society International’s director. She is Kelly O’Meara, not Kelley.

TIME olympics

Tiny Beds and No WiFi: Welcome to Sochi!

Dirty water, unfinished hotels, and other inconveniences taint many travelers' arrival at Sochi for the Winter Games

While Olympic athletes got stuck with toy-sized beds and bizarre communal toilets in Sochi, at least their rooms were finished in time for their arrival. Meanwhile, journalists from around the globe have been complaining about everything from dirty water to no internet in their rooms.

On Monday, Sochi organizers tried to downplay the severity of the delays, claiming that 97 percent of the rooms were finished and that 3 percent needed a final cleaning, according to the Guardian. They added that the constructions delays would not affect athlete lodging. However, as one reporter Stephen Whyno pointed out, the Canadian Men’s Hockey team is unlikely to be impressed with their Soviet-style hotel rooms. Nor are athletes likely to enjoy getting to know each other on a whole new level in one of the communal bathrooms at the Olympic Biathlon Centre.

Despite numerous complaints about lodging, some athletes said they were happy with their accommodations in the Olympic Village. “We’ve just been impressed with the facilities so far,” American speed skater Chris Creveling told NPR. “Everything has been up to our standards.”

Take a look for yourself and see if you agree:

TIME 2014 Winter Olympics

Sochi’s Stray Dogs Are “Biological Trash” Says the Guy in Charge of Culling Them

Previews - Winter Olympics Day -5
Stray dogs walk in front of the Bolshoy Ice Dome ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 2, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Quinn Rooney / Getty Images

“Let’s call things by their real name," he says

Over the howls of animal rights activists, Sochi city officials have hired a company to cull stray dogs from the city’s street.

“Let’s call things by their real name,” the owner of the company, Alexei Sorokin, told ABC News. “These dogs are biological trash.”

In an interview that’s unlikely to pacify animal rights activists, Sorokin said roving packs of dogs threatened the safety of Olympic crowds. The dogs could attack spectators, he said, or spread rabies or perhaps run onto a ski slope just as a jumper is coming in for a landing at 130 kilometers an hour.

City officials declined to comment on stray dog problem or how else the dogs might infiltrate the Olympic games.

[ABC News]

TIME Eccocentric

The Not So Sustainable Sochi Winter Olympics

The organizers of the Sochi Games have been criticized for failing to protect the environment ANTONIN THUILLIER/AFP/Getty Images

Despite Russia's claims, the Winter Games at Sochi are unlikely to be green

Olympic officials will be watching wearily as Russia puts on the finishing touches to the Sochi Winter Olympics, set to begin on Feb. 7. Though the build-up to most mega-sporting events like the Olympics usually involves some kind of controversy, since being awarded the Games by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) back in 2007, Putin’s pet project by the Black Sea has been overshadowed by fears of terrorism, a crackdown on civil society, persecution of homosexuals and claims of environmental damage to one of Russia’s most ecologically valuable regions.

As part of its bid, Russia told IOC members it would be staging a “zero waste” Games that followed green building standards. This was a huge challenge: organizers had to build infrastructure to host 88 other competing countries, the world’s media and hundreds of thousands of spectators in an underdeveloped region that was home to a UNESCO World Heritage site and a national park. Sochi organizers pushed ahead with their green theme, working with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to review construction progress, issuing interim sustainability reports measuring their environmental impact and devising an environmental strategy that promised to deliver the Games “in harmony with nature.”

Instead, Sochi organizers have failed on all their green promises, says Suren Gazaryan, a zoologist and member of the environmental campaign group Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EWNC). Speaking with TIME from Estonia, where he is currently living in exile thanks to criminal charges levied against him by Russian authorities for his human rights work in 2012, Gazaryan explained that the construction process for the Games has been hugely damaging for the region. He and the ENWC have documented evidence of illegal waste dumping, construction that has blocked the migration routes of animals such as the brown bear, limited access to drinking water for locals and a generally decreased quality of life for many in the city of Sochi.

(MORE: The Rock That Clobbered Russia: Meteor Post Mortem)

“The most dangerous and important part of the damage is the biodiversity lost in the area,” says Gazaryan. “Parts of the national park have been completely destroyed. This area was the most diverse in terms of plant and animal life in Russia.” There is also the added danger of increased landslides, mudflows and building collapses as a result of poor construction and hazardous waste dumping practices, says Gazaryan. Sochi organizing officials did not respond to TIME’s request for comment on the apparent environmental damage.

Simon Lewis, who runs Team Planet, a U.K.-based consultancy on sustainability in sport, says Sochi organizers already had their work cut out for them. Hosting a Winter Games is often more challenging from an environmental perspective than hosting the Summer Games: “If you look at the environmental footprint of hosting a Games–including things like travel, construction and hospitality–doing that halfway up a mountain in what is often a delicate and pristine environmental habitat is going to be difficult,” he says. The IOC and UNEP worked with organizers to help mitigate some aspects of the construction, including relocating some sporting venues away from the borders of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite this, says Lewis, “Sochi should never have happened in that location. It was a poor decision by IOC members based on poor information.”

(MORE: Climate Change Could Melt the Winter Olympics)

Some IOC members have admitted as much. Els van Breda Vriesman, a 72-year-old Dutch former IOC member who voted for Russia’s bid in 2007, told the Dutch broadcaster NOS in January that had the votes been cast today, many members would not have chosen Sochi. She added that when it came to voting, some members didn’t see the environment as important, despite “the fact that the IOC is so committed to the environment.”

Lewis explains that the IOC has pushed hard to make the environment a key pillar of the Olympics movement, tracing its efforts back to the early 1990s and lauding its environmental achievements with the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000. But Sochi will be seen as a blot on this record, he adds. In an email to TIME, Emmanuelle Moreau, head of media relations for the IOC, writes that the organization has been aware of the environmental complaints put forward by NGOs, but notes that Russia’s green efforts needed to be considered against its local context: “The Sochi 2014 Games are believed to be the first global sports events in Russia to have taken environmental concerns and the principles of sustainability into consideration.” Moreau also points out that Sochi will be the first Games in history to attempt to mitigate the carbon footprint of athletes, spectators and media representatives attending the event.

Gazaryan is cynical about whether the unresolved environmental concerns will receive much attention once the spectacle of Games gets underway next week, but like Lewis, he believes that the IOC needs to reconsider how it ensures sustainability standards are met in future. Given Russia’s hopes of making Sochi a global ski destination after the Games—which would open up a sensitive national park region to increased tourist traffic—it seems unlikely that its environmental legacy is one the IOC will be shouting too loudly about in the years to come.

(MORE: Where’s the Water on Mars? Everywhere!)

TIME Sports

Lolo Jones Makes Olympic Bobsled Team

USOC Media Summit
Lolo Jones poses for a portrait during the USOC Media Summit ahead of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on September 29, 2013 in Park City, Utah. Harry How / Getty Images

Track and field athlete to get another shot at a gold medal in Sochi

She may win a gold medal yet. Lolo Jones, who competed in the hurdles at both the London and Beijing summer Olympic Games, was selected to join the U.S. Olympic bobsled team Sunday night, the Associated Press reports.

Jones, Lauryn Williams and Aja Evans were the three women chosen out of a six-women pool for the push athlete slots on the bobsled team. They join drivers Jamie Greubel, Elana Meyers and Jazmine Fenlator in their trip to Sochi. Jones and fellow summer Olympics vet Williams will become the ninth and 10th Americans to compete in both the summer and winter Olympic games.

The track and field athlete was one hurdle away from winning gold at the Beijing Olympics and came in fourth at the London Games. She took up bobsledding in the fall of 2012, and won the World Cup medal that year in her first race. Jones then convinced Williams, who won the 400-meter relay gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, to join her in bobsled for another possible Olympic trip.

Two hours after the team selection was announced, Jones posted her reaction to Facebook:

Had I not hit a hurdle in Beijing I would not have tried to go to London to redeem myself. Had I not got fourth in London I would not have tried to find another way to accomplish the dream. Bobsled was my fresh start. Bobsled humbled me. Bobsled made me stronger. Bobsled made me hungry. Bobsled made me rely on faith. Bobsled gave me hope. I push a bobsled but bobsled pushed me to never give up on my dreams.

[AP]

TIME olympics

Sochi Mayor Declares City 100 Percent Straight

Russia Sochi Migrants
Sochi's Mayor Anatoly Pakhomov in Sochi, on Jan. 31, 2013. Igor Yakunin / AP

Anatoly Pakhomov rolled out the welcome mat to Olympics visitors of any sexual orientation as long as they 'don't impose their habits' on the city, because he says there are none already existing in the host city

The mayor of Sochi rolled out the welcome mat to gay visitors during the winter Olympics, promising a pleasant stay for any homosexuals who “don’t impose their habits” on the community, which is apparently 100 percent straight.

Anatoly Pakhomov told the BBC that Russia’s gay speech restrictions would force none of Sochi’s gays into hiding, as the city had no gays in the first place. Asked how he could know, Pakhomov responded, “I am not sure, but I don’t bloody know them.” Thus concluded the not quite scientific, but official survey.

[BBC]

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