Now that the events of the 2014 Winter Olympics are pushing the many warts — from poor accommodations to animal abuse and political oppression — into the background, we're beginning to see some more familiar themes.
Having the Olympics on the other side of the world creates a pre-staged feel. Viewers lose the spontaneity because events take place hours before NBC shares them with us. The time difference is 11 hours between Sochi and Colorado, so an 8 p.m. start time there is 9 a.m. here. That way the network can package the timing as it pleases, which means we don't see and appreciate the Games' natural flow.
Canada and other nations never do it that way, as I was fortunate to see first-hand covering the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver for the Independent. Canada had several channels devoted to Olympic coverage, so nothing was missed. There, if the schedule says men's downhill, viewers see everyone, not selected elite athletes and interesting feature angles. But NBC (as other U.S. networks have done) relishes creating a show — which in Sochi includes enough stories portraying the idyllic life of Russian people that it's tempting to rename NBC as Pravda TV.
The bright side of that coverage is that NBC also can produce a new batch of athlete stars at each Olympiad, winter or summer. And this time, it's already apparent that many prominent U.S. women could become instant (or, in some cases, rejuvenated) celebrities.
With that, let's look at some American women athletes with a chance to seize the stage:
• Gracie Gold: Figure skating remains an entrenched marquee sport, as even non-Americans can become superstars by winning Olympic gold (Katarina Witt of East Germany in 1984 and 1988, Oksana Baiul of Ukraine in 1994, etc.). Gold, who suddenly has become the U.S. champion, has the prowess and maturity at 18 to challenge in Sochi. The problem, though, is that the fix might be in for 15-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya, who got better marks than deserved in the opening team event. We could be watching Gold vs. Lipnitskaya for years.
• Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin: With Vancouver alpine skiing star Lindsey Vonn injured and unable to compete, Mancuso and Shiffrin are poised to fill the vacancy on the slopes.
• Hilary Knight and Julie Chu: Granted, U.S. women's hockey players haven't been huge stars, in part because America hasn't won gold since the women's debut in 1998. But that could change now, with nemesis Canada in more of a rebuilding mode. Chu already has become visible in TV commercials, while Knight is the team's premier player.
• Meryl Davis and ice dancing partner Charlie White won the silver medal in 2010, but now they're in the favorite role. Davis could capitalize if they become the first U.S. team to win gold in this event.
• Noelle Pikus-Pace might not compete in a well-known event, but the skeleton slider has a chance to challenge in the super-fast, face-first sled competition. Being a mother with two small kids, who always go with her, adds to her appeal.
• Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams: They're on different U.S. bobsleds, but Jones has the appeal of having just missed a Summer Games medal as a track hurdler, and Williams hopes to make an instant impact as a rookie Olympian.
• Ashley Wagner: She was lucky to make the U.S. figure skating team, after finishing third at Nationals with only two available spots. Her past international success puts her in position to steal the show if Gold and Lipnitskaya succumb to nerves.
• Hannah Teter: The snowboarder already has made a name for herself, and she could enhance that in the halfpipe.
• Heather Richardson: As the top U.S. woman in long-track speedskating, if she breaks through in the shorter-distance races, she could share the spotlight with star men's speedskater Shani Davis.
• Jamie Anderson might have the disadvantage of having won her snowboard slopestyle gold on the first weekend, but rest assured NBC will make sure she's not forgotten.
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