The Sun Sets in Sochi

The 2014 Winter Olympics come to a close on Sunday, and it’s going to be a tight race to the podium. Over a dozen different countries have scored multiple gold medals, with the United States near the top of the leaderboard. The Sochi Games have had their fair share of entertainment – although most of it surrounds the state of the city itself. But what I have found most interesting is the obscurity of the actual Winter Olympic events.

 When watching women’s luge, for instance, a thought popped into my head: Where do these athletes train for this thing? I went to Google to see how many luge, bobsled and skeleton tracks currently exist in the world. After quizzing the friends sitting next to me and getting answers of 50, 70 and 100, they were surprised to discover the real number: 17.

The United States houses two of these tracks, with one in Lake Placid, New York and the other in Park City, Utah. Not surprisingly, most of the other tracks are also located in colder climates, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

I also came across a number of other interesting facts and figures surrounding the Winter Olympics. For instance, up until 1992, the Winter and Summer Olympic Games were both held in the same year. Even though I was only a one-year-old at the time, I was surprised to just now be discovering this.

But even at the Sochi Games there have been a number of intriguing feats of which I hadn’t been aware. This was the first year that the Olympic torch reached the North Pole and, even more impressively, it was the first time that the torch was passed in outer space. The Sochi Games have also been the most expensive Olympics ever, costing over $51 billion. This surpasses the $44 billion spent on the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, despite Sochi only hosting one-third of the number of events.

The vast expenses that are required of any Olympic Games sharply narrows down the pool of potential host nations. At the 2007 International Olympic Committee (IOC) conference, Russia just managed to beat out bids from Austria and South Korea to host this year’s games. Further, no nation from the southern hemisphere has ever hosted or applied to host the Winter Olympics.

The South Korean city of Pyeongchang will host Winter Olympics XXIII in 2018. This will be the second time South Korea has hoisted the Olympic flag, having hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics in Seoul.

What do the five intertwined rings represent, anyways? First flown during the 1920 Olympics in Belgium, each ring signifies a different participating continent: Europe, Asia, Africa, America and Oceania.

With over 2,800 athletes from 88 different nations in the 2014 Winter Olympics, the United States (with the highest number of qualifying athletes at 230) has just four more participants than host nation Russia, but it might be just enough to make the difference come Sunday.

Contact Cody Semrau at [email protected].