The Winter Games: Size only thing that matters



The Olympics are supposed to embody the best humanity has to offer, and the romanticism that comes with the Olympic movement -- bringing all hands on deck every two years to build a better and peaceful tomorrow -- can be intoxicating. But when one boils it down, it's hard to see these next three weeks as anything other than a celebration of human ambition.

Especially during these Sochi Winter Olympics, where size appears to be the only thing that matters.

The Russians have spent the most money on a winter Olympics in history, surpassing their proposed $12 billion budget to total around $51 billion. They will provide more security forces than in any Olympics -- 60,000 -- even though the grounds that need protection are much smaller than any summer games site.

It is un-American to be left behind in breaking records, so Team USA will bring a winter-Olympics record 230 athletes to compete in Sochi.

Yes, size will matter plenty. Take the ice hockey competition. Looking toward the past, the most important factor in the Americans' success will be the challenges of playing on international ice, which is 15 feet wider than the surface used in the NHL. Team USA has never medaled in the Olympics on the wider ice, a fact that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma has had to grapple with the past six months after being picked as Team USA head coach.

With more ice, speed and skill with the puck will be at even more of a premium. Big bodies are less able to impose their will. This will likely be good news for Canada's Sidney Crosby, the golden hero of the 2010 Vancouver Games, and Russia's Evgeni Malkin, who will be seeking his first Olympic medal playing in his home country.

Malkin's Penguins teammates, American defensemen Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin, will have their hands full in trying to stop him on Feb. 15 when Team USA and Russia face off in the second game of their group competition -- in what is sure to be one of the most-watched events of the Games.

Of course, to focus only on hockey would be misguided in any winter Olympics. The Stanley Cup is the most coveted prize for many of the players, while athletes from the other sports have devoted their whole lives to making it to Sochi (or, in the case of Rochester's Lauryn Williams, about six months).

Williams retired from sprinting and immediately took up bobsledding, and, being a quick-studying Western Pennsylvanian, she was one of three push athletes selected for the Olympics. Williams is the only local talent to make Sochi outside of the hockey tournament after slopestyle skier Tom Wallisch (he competed with a torn ACL) and short track speed skating brothers Cole and John-Henry Krueger (John-Henry came down with swine flu during the Olympic trials) did not qualify.

On a national level, without alpine skier Lindsey Vonn, who will miss the Games with a knee injury, there isn't an overload of proven American star power.

That leaves plenty of room for new names to emerge. And, if we've learned anything from the years of preparation for these Sochi Games, the expectation should be for the American athletes to fill that space and then some.


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