Winter 2014 Olympics

Welcome to the NPR Games
 It’s that time.
 The #NPRGames are here, and over the next two weeks, we’ll showcase the wit, creativity, and general NPR-ness of the non-traditional athlete (we’re looking at you).
 Warm up your linguistic dexterity and get ready to flex your mental muscle, folks.

In its first match of the knockout round, the U.S. soccer team plays Belgium on Tuesday. NPR's Tom Goldman previews the game, explaining what to expect from the matchup.

Forget about the men. There's only one Olympic hockey rivalry that matters today, and it's between the women.

The women's hockey teams of Canada and the U.S. will face off today for Olympic gold. It's the latest square-off in a tug of war that's been hot since 1998, when the U.S. team won the first Olympic gold in women's hockey, beating Canada.

Update at 6:30 p.m. ET: Canada Won, 3-2

"Uskotko ihmeisiin?"

No, this isn't exactly a "do you believe in miracles?" bit of history for Finland, but its men's hockey team just produced a moment-to-remember at the Sochi Games.

Finland beat Russia 3-1, bouncing the home team out of the tournament.

As NPR's Robert Smith has reported, there was tremendous pressure on Alex Ovechkin and his Russian teammates to win gold in Sochi.

If there's one sport in the Winter Olympics you can do with your eyes closed, it's bobsled.

The bobsled brakeman does about five seconds of hard work, jumps in the sled and can then relax a bit. During the women's bobsled competition tonight in Sochi, we should keep our eyes open, because it's fun to watch.

The women call themselves brakemen — not brake women or brake person — in a nod to the fact that bobsled was an all-male sport until 2002.

Even now, the women only race two-man — not four-man — bobsled.

What's the hardest sport at the Winter Games — biathlon, aerial skiing, snowboarding, or high-flying slopestyle?

Jeremy Abbott thought it was one of those until an Olympic official told him otherwise. "Hands down," he was told, "absolutely, figure skating is the hardest."

Abbott may not completely agree, but he says it's the rare affirmation he's gotten as a male figure skater.

Olympic athletes often endure weeks of anticipation as pressure builds toward their moment on the global stage. That wasn't a problem for Canadian Denny Morrison, who got his spot in the speedskating finals just one day ahead of the race. Now he has a silver medal.

Many Americans were following the race mainly because American speedskating superstar Shani Davis failed to get a medal in the 1,000-meter race. He finished in eighth place.

Slopestyle, one of four new events at this year's Olympics, is already a bona fide hit. It might get covered by the likes of Sports Illustrated, but it's also in Entertainment Weekly. When superstar snowboarder Shaun White dropped out of the slopestyle event at the last minute, it only drew more attention to the sport.

Slopestyle is sort of like a big skate park in the snow, a downhill course with rails and jumps. It can be performed on skis or on a snowboard.

Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, a star who hoped to compete one more time before his adoring home nation fans, pulled himself from the games on Thursday.

There's word that he may be headed into retirement because of a recurring back problem.

USA Today describes what happened at Sochi's Iceberg Palace:

There is a weird contradiction in Olympic hockey: On one hand, these professional players from the NHL arrive in a small town like movie stars.

They show up a week late, trailed by TV cameras and Russians begging for autographs.

And then they have to go back to basics. Early Thursday, members of Team USA were on the ice, doing the kind of simple drills that you'd see in a peewee hockey league.

There's big news for Team India as Day 5 of the games gets underway and potentially historic news for the man known to millions as The Flying Tomato.

After a standoff between the Indian Olympic Association and the International Olympic Committee, the three athletes from India can now officially compete for their country. Until today, they were competing under the Olympic flag, as "independent athletes," in cross-country skiing, Alpine slalom skiing and luge.

Update at 4:15 p.m. ET: Leaping Into History

When American Sarah Hendrickson launched herself down the 90-meter jumping hill in Sochi, she flew into history, becoming the first woman to ski jump in Olympic competition. She ultimately finished in 21st place.

Carina Vogt from Germany brought home the gold. Daniela Iraschko-Stolz of Austria took silver, and France's Coline Mattel, 18, won bronze.

Wednesday, the American women's hockey team meets its arch rival Canada on the ice in Sochi at the Winter Olympics. It's an early round game, but when it comes to these two teams, which are expected to meet in the gold medal game, there's no such thing as a low-stakes match.

On Monday, Norwegian Ole Einar Bjoerndalen came a ski-length away from winning a 13th Olympic medal and becoming the most decorated athlete ever at the Winter Games.

The biathlon pursuit Olympic event — cross-country skiing with rifle shooting — is a pretty devious race. The fastest man goes first, and then everyone else in the race tries to catch him before the finish line. And in Monday's competition, Bjoerndalen went first.

The Winter Olympics brings up many questions about the sports themselves. But people are also wondering whether announcers might use the big time difference between Sochi and the U.S. to improve their coverage.

That idea came up over at Quora, the question-and-answer site:

Leading up to the Olympics in Sochi, a dominant storyline was Russia's anti-gay propaganda law and what it might mean for athletes and other visitors. Would athletes protest in any way? Would Russian LGBT activists try to demonstrate against the propaganda law at the Olympics?

The answers (so far, at least) are: barely, and not really.

As always, if you're among those who don't want to know who's won what until NBC-TV's primetime show is on the air, stop reading now. For those who do like to know what's happening, here's a quick look at the medals already awarded today and some of what's coming later on:

Controversy is nothing new to figure skating, so perhaps it's not surprising that team figure skating, new to this Olympics, has already come in for some unwanted attention. The Russian and U.S. figure skating teams are strongly denying reports that they are in collusion.

Speedskating is the U.S.'s most successful winter Olympic Sport. In Sochi this year, great things are expected again.

The secret to their success includes talent, skill and hard work, but there's also a network of support that buoys the team.

Two-time gold medalist Shani Davis is looking to win a history-making third: He would be the first speedskater to win the same event in three different Olympics.