Mainstream sports fans may not speak the Winter Olympics language -- luge and biathlon and curling sound like Pig Latin amid the more traditional baseball/football/basketball discourse. But the once-every-fourth-year rarity of the Olympics, packaged to simultaneously highlight both global unity and strident jingoism, always finds a massive audience. So, tune in, turn on, drop out of the ordinary. And, given television's bent toward a kid-next-door narrative, here are some U.S. athletes to keep an eye on.
Most popular sports stories
36, Alpine skiing
For those who missed Miller's often contrary presence in the previous four Winter Olympics -- he veered between dominance to competitive irrelevance, spoke publicly of racing with hangovers and his dread of becoming a celebrity -- his first name is pronounced "BOE-dee."
Raised on a farm without electricity or indoor plumbing in New Hampshire and home schooled, Miller always has made a point of unconventional behavior. He left the U.S. national ski team for two years to train and compete on his own, then returned to win three medals -- one of each color -- at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He is widely considered the most successful American alpine ski racer in history and could win another medal in the Sochi downhill, something he didn't do as a heavy favorite in 2006.
MERYL DAVIS/CHARLIE WHITE
(Together, known as "Marlie.")
Davis, 27, and White, 26, are University of Michigan seniors, four years after they were University of Michigan juniors, a function of their skating priorities. The two grew up 10 minutes from each other in the Detroit suburbs of Bloomfield -- their parents are close friends -- and they began competing as a team when she was 10 and he was 9, and now have been together longer than any other current American dance team.
Davis and White are the first U.S. ice dancers to win a world title and were the 2010 Olympic silver medalists. Though the United States once dominated women's figure skating and was competitive in most of the sport's disciplines, Davis and White could be the only American medal winners in Sochi.
For a back story, start with Holcomb's autobiography. "But Now I See; My Journey from Blindness to Olympic Gold." Holcomb has been sledding since 1998 and began to have success by 2002. But a degenerative eye disease was eroding his vision to 20-500 until he underwent a relatively new procedure in 2008 that completely restored his sight.
Then came the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Holcomb piloted the four-man U.S. sled, dubbed "Night Train," to the gold medal -- the first Olympic victory by an American men's bobsled team since 1948. In his book, Holcomb described a struggle with depression and failed a suicide attempt as his eyesight was failing.
Living proof that not every Olympic star is limited to a mere two weeks of fame and riches. Though he once embraced the "Flying Tomato" moniker -- even wearing headbands with an airborne tomato logo -- and now has grown tired of the name, White continues to be among the most visible and best compensated of Olympians.
He has had sponsorships, for skateboarding and snowboarding, since he was 7, and his endorsement deals include those for skateboards, resorts, sunglasses, energy drinks and computer companies. Forbes magazine estimated White's income at around $9 million a year. In Sochi, he could become the first American man to win gold medals in the same Winter Olympics event in three consecutive Games.
Canada and the U.S. are the perennial powers -- Canada has won three of the four Olympic women's tournaments, the Americans won the other. And the rivalry has fostered an unpleasant acceptance of hockey's fighting culture; since October, the U.S. and Canadian women have brawled twice in pre-Olympic competition.
Olympic rules, via automatic ejection, forbid fighting. But the Americans have invoked the old "standing up for our teammates" rationale and could do it again. Twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux, Hilary Knight, Gigi Marvin and Kacey Bellamy didn't hesitate to fight Canadians in a December game. In October, all 10 American skaters squared off with their Canadian rivals.
On a more peaceful note, 31-year-old Julie Chu of Fairfield, Conn., will be playing in her fourth Olympics, and the Americans have 10 others with Olympic experience.
Davis' 1,000-meter victory at the 2006 Turin Games made him the first black athlete from any nation to win a Winter Olympics gold medal in an individual event. (In 2002, American Vonetta Flowers won a gold in the two-person women's bobsled, the first black athlete from any nation to be a Winter Olympic champion.)
Davis didn't stop there, repeating his 1,000-meter victory, the first man to do so in that event, at the 2010 Vancouver Games. He also took silver in 1,500 in both the 2006 and 2010 Games. Davis had just missed competing in the 2002 Olympics in short-track speedskating, when he was an alternate for the team, so he turned to the long-track version of the sport.
Possibly best remembered for her embarrassing last-second hotdog move that cost her a gold medal at the 2006 Turin Games, Jacobellis is back for her third Olympics. In Turin, she was leading the field by a comfortable three seconds coming down the stretch in the Snowboard Cross final, a new event that year, when she opted to grab her board in flight, landed on the board's edge and fell.
Passed by Switzerland's Tanja Frieden, and left with the silver medal, Jacobellis first claimed her move was to maintain stability, but later admitted it was an unnecessary act, and argued that "snowboarding is fun. I was having fun."
Seven times a champion in the X Games, she failed to reach the finals in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
19, Ski jumping
Five Olympic cycles since women began petitioning to ski jump in the Games -- a men-only sport since the first Winter Olympics in 1924 -- they finally are in, and Hendrickson, who has been ski jumping in her native Utah since high school, goes to Sochi as the reigning world champion.
In August, during training in Germany, Hendrickson tore ligaments in her right knee, making her the fifth of the world's top five female jumpers to take a bad fall over a period of months. But Henrickson declared herself fully recovered from surgery and resumed full training early last month.
37, Nordic combined
If recovered from a significant early January injury -- dislocated shoulder and strained ligaments -- suffered during a competition in France, Lodwick will be the first American to compete in six Winter Olympic Games. His first Olympics was Lillehammer in 1994 and he retired for two years, between the 2006 and 2010 Games, but upon his return won the 2009 world championships.
The sport is called Nordic combined, and the way one combines a Nordic is to jump off a 270-foot hill on skis, then race cross country through snow for 9.3 miles. Few Americans have been exposed to Nordic combined, but Lodwick, growing up in the Colorado mountains, was riding down slopes in his mother's backpack when he was 2 and competing in junior events when he was 11.
Williams, who won a gold medal in the sprint relay at the 2012 London Summer Olympics and a silver in the 100 meters at the 2004 Athens Summer Games, is the latest in a small group of Olympic track athletes to attempt the bobsled. Williams won a World Cup event in Austria last month.
The hurdler, who was 7th in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and 4th in London, also is on this year's Olympic bobsled team. In past games, 1968 gold medal hurdler Willie Davenport competed in the 1980 Lake Placid bobsled, finishing 12th. Two-time Olympic hurdles gold medalist Edwin Moses tried but didn't make the cut for the 1992 bobsled team. (Football's Herschel Walker did, and finished seventh at the Albertville Games.)
In addition there are several local athletes competing in Sochi:
A middle school gym teacher introduced Daly to the luge sled, and he quickly qualified -- in one of the Olympic training center's Long Island talent searches -- for a training camp at Lake Placid. There, he promptly switched to the skeleton, a sled ridden head first in a prone position and steered by dragging feet and subtly shifting body weight.
A track and field athlete at Smithtown High, Daly chose SUNY Plattsburgh for college to further his track career -- he became an All-American in the 10-event decathlon -- while continuing with skeleton. He regularly would drive an hour to Lake Placid after classes to train. Sochi is his second Olympic appearance; he finished 17th at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
Huntington Station, luge
Mortensen's father was working for Verizon, a founding sponsor of the U.S. luge federation, when Matt spied a flier about the sport at his dad's office. His first luge tryouts on Long Island, in an attempt to be invited to Lake Placid, were failures, but by the time he was in eighth grade, Mortensen was traveling with the U.S. development team in Europe during the winter months.
He and doubles partner Preston Griffall, a Salt Lake City native, missed the 2010 Olympics after losing a race-off for the last American Olympic berth. Mortensen then moved to Lake Placid full time.
West Islip, luge
Another recruit to Lake Placid's Olympic training center, Kelly first became aware of the luge -- a sled similar to a toboggan -- during telecasts of the 2006 Turin Olympics. He made rapid progress from a Farmingville luge tryout, conducted on sleds with wheels rather than blades, to a spot on the U.S. junior development team. He was 15 when he relocated from his West Islip home to Lake Placid, where he attended the National Sports Academy, a boarding school for winter sports athletes.
Also, Dr. Marc Taczanowski, a specialist in sports medicine, injury prevention and injury management based at True Sports Care in Nesconset, is serving as team doctor for the U.S. bobsled and skeleton teams in Sochi.
Locally based NHL hockey players will compete in Sochi:
Islanders: John Tavares for Canada, Lubomir Visnovsky for Slovakia, Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek for Austria.
Rangers: Ryan Callahan, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan for the United States; Rick Nash for Canada, Henrik Lundqvist and Carl Hagelin for Sweden and Mats Zuccarello for Norway.