Twelve new events to watch at the Olympics

Three mixed events, four men’s events and five women’s events will be making their debut in Sochi:

Luge mixed relay

Venue: Sanki Sliding Center in Rzhanaya Polyana (40 miles NW of Sochi)

How it works: Each country sends three sleds down the track, one after the other, so it’s not a relay in a pass-the-baton sense. Because this is the last luge event on the schedule, participants are usually chosen based on their performances in their individual events. The first sled down the track is a competitor from women’s singles, followed by men’s singles and doubles. When each sled reaches the finish line, the competitor sits up and slaps a time pad hanging over the track. The combined time of the three sleds is the winner.

Outlook: Luge has always been widely followed in Europe, and this event has become wildly popular on the World Cup circuit because of its unpredictable nature. If a luger misses touching the time pad, for instance, that’s the equivalent of a baton drop in a track and field relay: disqualification. Bad starts can wreck a team’s chances. That happened to the German team on the home ice in Winterberg, where the U.S. team won a silver medal. Still, the Germans are the team to beat. Also in the mix: Italy, Canada and Austria.

Biathlon mixed relay

Venue: Laura Biathlon and Ski Complex in Krasnaya Polyana (37 miles NE of Sochi)

How it works: Biathlon had men’s and women’s relays in previous Games. The mixed relay team consists of two men and two women. The women ski three laps of six kilometers and the men three laps of 7.5 kilometers, with two rounds of shooting (prone and standing). The start order is woman-woman-man-man. In the handover zone, competitors must touch the hand of the next teammate to ski.

Outlook: The first mixed relay at the World Cup level was held just this past November, so there could be some surprises. The Czechs won that event in November, but the Germans have also won gold. Watch France, Austria, Norway — and the host country.

Team figure skating

Venue: Iceberg Skating Palace

How it works: The competition begins with 10 countries using six skaters apiece performing short programs: men’s and women’s singles, pairs and ice dancing. The countries with the top five combined scores move on to the long programs to determine the medals. Countries do not have to use the same skaters in the long program as they did in the short program. The team event will be held before the individual events. In fact, the short program phase takes place the day before Opening Ceremonies.

Outlook: The United States took the gold medal in 2009 and 2013 team world championship events. But the Americans may not be as strong in all four disciplines. Canada and Japan are teams to watch, and so, of course, are the Russians.

Women’s ski jumping

Venue: RusSki Gorki Jumping Center

How it works: Just like men’s ski jumping: Athletes get one jump, and those with the top scores get a second jump. The top aggregate score wins.

Outlook: Sara Takanashi has almost a clean sweep of World Cup gold medals this season, and she should be the favorite. Russia’s Irina Awakumova and Germany’s Carina Vogt should also be in the hunt. The United States, which led a decades-long push for the inclusion of the sport, will be represented by former world champion Lindsey Van and reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson, who is returning to competition after tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus last August.

Freestyle skiing halfpipe

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

How it works: It’s like halfpipe snowboarding (think Shaun White) but on skis. Skiers try many of the same maneuvers — flips, grabs, somersaults and twists — as you see in the snowboarding event. Each skier gets two runs in a qualifying heat, and the top scorers advance to the final, where again each gets two runs. This is a scored event; judges look for difficulty and execution, but also can consider the overall impression of the performance.

Outlook: American Devin Logan is atop the World Cup leader board, followed closely by teammate Maddie Bowman. In fact, five of the top nine spots in the women’s standings are held by Americans. On the men’s side, Canadian Justin Dorey has a commanding lead over Aaron Blunck of the United States.

Freestyle skiing slopestyle

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

How it works: Competitors perform on a slope with a variety of obstacles — rails, quarter-pipes and jumps. The event follows an elimination format: two runs each round, with semifinals and finals. Judges look for overall impression, weighing execution, difficulty and variety, among other things.

Outlook: The U.S. women have a strong contingent, led by Keri Herman and Devin Logan, but Germany’s Lisa Zimmermann has dominated the World Cup season. American Nick Goepper is tied for the World Cup lead with Jesper Tjader of Sweden; 80 points separate them from third-place Bobby Brown, another American.

Snowboarding slopestyle

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

How it works: Competitors are judged on tricks performed over jumps on a downhill course.

Outlook: Mark McMorris — sometimes called the next Shaun White — is a two-time X Games gold medalist in this event. He’ll have to beat the current Shaun White, among others. On the women’s side, American Jamie Anderson, a four-time X-Games champion, is the one to beat.

Snowboarding parallel special slalom

Venue: Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, Krasnaya Polyana

How it works: Athletes compete in pairs, hence the “parallel.” They must maneuver around tightly spaced flags, hence the “slalom.” And it’s new this year, hence the “special.”

Outlook: Lukas Mathies of Austria, France’s Sylvain Dufour and Alexander Bergmann of Germany are among the top competitors in the men’s event, but Vic Wild — a former American turned Russian citizen — will be the crowd favorite. Patrizia Kummer of Switzerland and Caroline Calve of Canada are among the favorites in the women’s competition. Justin Reiter is the lone American entrant.


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