Pedersen on Sports

While you can't tell from Tucson temperatures, the Winter Olympics are coming

Raise your hand if, like me, you've spent at least a little time in the past few weeks watching news coverage, checking out Facebook pics or reading tweets about the calamity that has been winter 2014 for nearly all of the rest of the country.

Winter. You know, that thing we see in movies about Christmas? The thing with the snow and cold?

(NOTE: If you think it's been "cold" in Tucson anytime in the past 300 days, well ... turn the page or click on the next link. Seriously. If you don't see your breath, it's not cold.)

Aside from the crazy stories of people being stuck on highways outside of Atlanta and forced to sleep in their cars overnight, the overreaction to the "polar vortex" has been kind of ridiculous, yet also quite humorous.

I used to live in that crap back in New Jersey, and I certainly don't miss it. I vividly recall having two weeks of classes tacked onto the end of my senior year of high school because of time lost in January when it was minus 37 degrees and the roads were coated with 4 inches of ice. I dealt with it, without much complaint, so the rampant attention to everyone's strife has been a bit perplexing.

But out here in Tucson, it all seems so foreign to us, right? Think about it: This is a region where, if snow is even a remote possibility, TV weather people go into freakout overdrive and we suddenly care about the homeless.

You know what else is pretty foreign around here? Winter sports.

No, not the ones played at the high school level during the "winter" season. Besides, two of those are indoors, and soccer is only held now because the fields are used for football in the fall.

We don't have a real concept of what a "winter" sport is, except if you're one of the very select few who frequent UA hockey games at the TCC. Otherwise, your knowledge of activities associated with snow and ice are limited to the musical numbers during Frozen.

But guess what? For the next 18 days, the most important sporting events in the world are being played outdoors, in the cold, and on sheets of ice.

The 2014 Winter Olympics begin Thursday, Feb. 6, in Sochi, Russia, a town that's supposedly a "subtropical resort" along the Black Sea, according to always-reliable Wikipedia. It's where thousands of athletes from across the globe are battling it out for medals in 98 events encompassing 16 different sports.

The United States has sent 230 athletes to Russia. And, not surprisingly, not one of them is from Arizona.

But even without the local connection, the Winter Olympics are well worth watching. Whether you watch live—which will require some good coffee, since most of the competition will occur between 11 p.m. and 1 p.m. our time—or during canned prime-time packages, I highly recommend checking out an event that NBC paid $4.38 billion to cover (along with the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil, the 2018 Winter Games in Korea and the 2020 Summer Games in Japan).

And I'm not saying this just because I'm going to be live-blogging and tracking the Olympics through the wee hours most nights for Bleacher Report (Shameless plug! Check out my profile page!), but also because I think this stuff is pretty cool to watch. Even if I don't understand it all.

Sure, most of you have no idea what curling is, and after watching the skeleton or slopestyle skiing you'll probably still be completely clueless on how they're scored. But isn't that the fun of sports? To watch world-class athletes perform feats of strength, speed and agility that we could only dream of doing?

Curling, for the record, is something that involves ice, bull's-eyes painted under the ice, a large round stone with a handle on it, people with brooms—and apparently some awesome fashion choices by the Norwegian team. Yeah, I don't get it either. But I'll watch lots of it.

During my preparation and research for writing about the best Finnish cross-country skiers or who was deserving to be America's third-best ice dancing team, I read countless stories about the dedication many of these athletes have put into the Olympics. For the vast majority, getting to Sochi has been the be-all, end-all of existence for four years, since the last Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. While new events have made the income opportunities for Olympic-level athletes vastly better than in the past, these games are what they've built their lives around.

That makes watching them complete the ultimate journey far more entertaining than, say ... the NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 16. On that day, I'll be live-blogging the women's 1,500-meter speed-skating final, the men's two-man bobsled qualifying round and the Canada-Finland men's hockey game.

Yeah, I'll probably still watch UA basketball games during the Winter Olympics—especially the oddly scheduled Valentine's Night contest at Arizona State—but my main sports-viewing energy will be reserved for skiers, skaters, lugers and people who have mastered the art of being good at skiing and shooting a rifle.

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