2014 Winter Olympics: Top 5 Storylines To Follow

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Top 5 Storylines 2014 Winter Olympics

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The 2014 Winter Olympics could not have come at a better time on the sports calendar in the United States, perched between the start of the baseball season and the end of the football season and just before the onset of March Madness.

Let’s face it, though. In a country obsessed with the Big Three (baseball, football, basketball), the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are only a mildly interesting diversion on a sports programming menu with few delectable items. Baseball's Spring Training games largely span the month of March, and March Madness really doesn’t start until mid-March.

Still, NBC should do well on the ratings end. Not only is the competition for the sports programming dollar thin in the winter months, there are a number of sports in the winter games that appeal to women, most notably figure skating (which draws monster ratings). Now you and I can debate whether figure skating is a “real” sport, but most women accept it as such.

Imagine if football, baseball or basketball outcomes were solely judged by the opinions of a three-person panel. That’s my argument. Figure skating might be the American Idol of sports, with its talent judged by a panel and voting and not exclusively by performance. I rest my case.

Then again, there are enough “real sports” for the purists, notably men’s and women’s ice hockey and the ski races, which are largely determined by speed and skill. There are a number of interesting storylines in the 2014 Winter Olympics, and here are my five favorites:

Mike Gibson is a writer for Follow him on Twitter @papreps , “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Women's Ice Hockey

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

When the sport was first introduced on the Olympic level in 1998, the U.S. Women's Hockey Team won the first gold medal. Since then, Team USA has been without a single gold and rival Team Canada has earned three. Look for Jesse Vetter's goaltending to help put the USA back on top.

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4. New Sports

Nathan Bilow-USA TODAY Sports

Among the new sports are ski halfpipe, snowboard slopestyle, parallel special slalom and women’s ski jumping. None of those probably will play well with TV audiences with the possible exception of women’s ski jumping. Jessica Jerome of Team USA is a name to watch in that sport.

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3. Bobsled Intrigue

Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Team USA won a gold medal in bobsledding in 2010 behind “Night Train” Steve Holcomb, the first gold for the country since 1948. Can Holcomb lead the USA to the podium again? If he can’t, he should certainly win gold for the best nickname in the Olympics.

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2. Packing Again

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Two-time U.S. figure skating champion Ashley Wagner grew up as a military brat, living in three countries and four states mostly at military bases since her father was in the service. She currently trains out of Southern California and is a strong contender to win the gold in Sochi.

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1. Men's Ice Hockey

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Behind Ryan Suter, a tireless defenseman, Team USA has a chance to repeat its surprising silver medal showing in 2010. Team Canada, though, is probably too good for them this time -- although that’s what they said about the Soviets in 1980, too.