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Sochi Olympics: Surprises So Far

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Canadian sisters Justine Dufour-Lapointe, left, and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe show off their gold and silver medals from women's freestyle moguls after the medal ceremony at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014; Photograph by Nathan Denette, The Canadian Press/AP

Alex Broad, a journalism student at Centennial College in Toronto, is the voice behind the @sochiproblems Twitter account, a viral sensation borne from the many oddities and inconveniences that faced Olympic athletes and reporters upon their arrival in the Russian city by the sea. The account has more than 330,000 followers to date, mostly for its ability to quickly encapsulate (read: retweet) the quirks of staying in a newly-minted Olympic village.

But as the first Olympic weekend drew to a close, attention had fittingly turned to the many compelling storylines and competitions playing themselves out on Sochi’s slopes and snow-clad courses. Here are some of the more inspiring and unusual stories from the Olympics so far:

  • One good twin deserves another: Biathletes Lanny and Tracy Barnes, 31, share more than their love of the same sport. The two are identical twins and best friends. That second fact might help explain Tracy’s selfless gesture last month, when she gave up her spot on the U.S. Olympic team to make sure her sister, who missed the qualifying event due to illness, got to go. The two have competed in previous Games, both in 2006 in Torino and Lanny in 2010 in Vancouver, but the gesture stands alone as a gesture of the kind of sportsmanship the Olympics are meant to embody. Lanny did not compete in Sunday’s 7.5km sprint, but will look for a spot in one of the five biathlon events left and will have a tough test ahead of her. Krasnaya Polyana’s course bumps up against the highest elevation allowable for a biathlon course under Olympic regulations.
  • Age is just a number: The weekend’s events proved that athletes can and do get better with age. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 40, became the oldest individual gold medalist in Olympics history when he topped the podium in the men’s 10km biathlon sprint on Saturday. Bjoerndalen also tied his countryman Bjorn Daehlie for most Winter Olympic medals of all time with 12 (he already held the record for most gold medals with six), and will look to better that number on Monday in the men’s biathlon pursuit.
  • Cooler Runnings: One of the feel-good stories in Olympics history came from Jamaica, when the country fielded a bobsled team in the 1988 Winter Games. While the team did not medal, their enthusiasm and fast starts inspired generations of athletes and a popular movie, 1993’s Cool Runnings. After a 12-year absence from the Games, Jamaica returns this year with a two-man team in Marvin Dixon, 30, and Winston Watts, 46. The two have already endured some pre-Olympic trials, crowdfunding the money needed to travel to Sochi and having their luggage and equipment lost en route, and are looking forward to Sunday’s two-man heats.
  • The Mariachi Prince: Hubertus Von Hohenlohe is one of the oldest Olympic athletes in history at 55 and that’s not even the most unusual thing about him. Born a prince in Germany, Hohenlohe plans to compete in alpine skiing for Mexico in a speed suit designed to look exactly like a Mariachi uniform, fitting for someone who cites Alberto “La Bomba” Tomba as one of his heroes (both have a flare for the dramatic). Should his Olympic ambitions fall short, Hohenlohe has a good fallback plan. He’s also released eight pop music albums in Europe under the name “Andy Himalaya.”
  • Boogie Down Venezuela: Antonio Jose Pardo Andretta, 43, is not a one-trick pony. The Caracas native and alpine skier wowed the world off the slopes during the opening ceremonies with his exuberant dance moves. While it was incorrectly reported that Pardo overcame a childhood brain tumor to compete in the Olympics (he was mistaken for another similarly-named man in a Venezuelan news article), Pardo’s charisma stands alone. And so does he. He began skiing competitively only three years ago and was Venezuela’s flag bearer and sole Winter Games athlete, the country’s first since 2002.
  • A First for Everything: Understandably not known for its prowess in snow sports, Zimbabwe fielded its first ever Winter Games athlete this year in the form of Luke Steyn. Steyn, 20, was born in Zimbabwe before moving at age 2 to Switzerland. After bearing Zimbabwe’s flag in the opening ceremonies, Steyn will look to make his mark in one of the upcoming alpine skiing events.
  • Homemade talent: Muhammad Karim, 18, is Pakistan’s flag bearer and only representative at the ’14 Games. But what makes him especially unique is his origin story. Karim found his love for alpine at a young age atop wooden skis his uncle made for him. Though not expected to compete for a medal, just setting foot on Sochi’s slopes will be a dream come true for him.
  • Three’s a crowd: On Sunday, the women’s moguls podium consisted almost entirely of one family. Justine (19) and Chloe (22) Dufour-Lapointe grabbed gold and silver, besting incoming favorite and gold-medal-holder Hannah Kearney of the U.S., and with their sister Maxime (25) finishing 12th. The three Canadian sisters did their home country and parents proud.

News and Notes

American Sage Kotsenburg, 20, won the first gold medal of the Games on Saturday in the men’s snowboarding slopetsyle event, and U.S. rider Jamie Anderson won gold in the same event for the women. Ireen Wust, 27, of the Netherlands became the first openly gay athlete to win a medal in Sochi, which controversially barred any expression or celebration of sexuality by competing athletes. American star Bode Miller, 36, finished 8th in the men’s alpine downhill final on a tough Rosa Khutor course on Sunday. Miller had the two fastest training runs (breaking 90mph at one point on the second) but was slowed by softer course conditions this weekend. The U.S. is currently tied for second place in the overall medal standings with four total (two gold, two bronze), next to the Netherlands, Canada and Russia. Norway is atop the leaderboard with seven total medals (two gold, one silver, four bronze).