Olympics FAQ: What you need to know about the winter games

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Q: When do the Games begin?

A: Competition gets underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Thursday, but the official start is Friday, with the opening ceremony. In the United States, the first event actually begins at 7:05 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday.

Q: Who participates?

A: More than 90 countries will send roughly 2,900 athletes to compete in 15 disciplines. The program includes a record 102 events: 49 for men, 44 for women, seven mixed gender and two “open” (men and women compete against each other).

The United States is sending a team of 243 athletes — 135 men and 108 women. Team USA is the largest delegation ever sent to a Winter Olympics.

Q: Who are the Americans to watch?

A: Many Olympic veterans return, but there also are plenty of new faces on Team USA.

Skier Lindsey Vonn was unable to compete four years ago in Sochi, but the 33-year-old is determined to add to her pair of 2010 Olympic medals.

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Slalom specialist Mikaela Shiffrin is the best in the world in her discipline.

Speedskater Shani Davis has four Olympic medals but was shut out in Sochi four years ago. At 35, he probably is making his final Olympic appearance.

Bradie Tennell was the surprise winner of the U.S. figure skating championships in January and will make her first Olympic appearance.

Maame Biney already has made history as the first African-American woman to make a U.S. speedskating roster. She competes in the short-track discipline.

The U.S. snowboarding team is as strong as ever. Kelly Clark has medaled in the halfpipe in three of the past four Olympics and was fourth in Turin in 2006. Jamie Anderson will try to defend her slopestyle gold. Julia Marino will make her debut in slopestyle and big air, but she is among the best in the world in both disciplines. Shaun White hopes to bounce back after missing the medal stand in Sochi in what probably will be his last Olympic halfpipe event.

Heather Bergsma is the reigning world champion in the 1,000-meter long-track speedskating event.

Katie Uhlaender is on her fourth Olympic team in skeleton. She was fourth in Sochi, behind one of the Russian athletes whose ban for a doping violation was overturned last week.

Q: Who won’t be there?

A: Alex Ovechkin and his fellow NHL players, for starters. The NHL wanted the International Olympic Committee to insure its players during the tournament, as it did in Sochi. The International Ice Hockey Federation backed the NHL, and the IOC forbade any national team from selecting NHL players.

American Ashley Wagner was a surprise omission from the U.S. figure skating roster after Tennell’s breakout performances in Skate America and the national championships.

Russia won’t be there . . . as an official delegation. Russian athletes will be allowed to compete if they can show they are in compliance with anti-doping rules, but they will compete under a neutral flag and will be designated Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). An OAR participant who wins a gold medal will hear the Olympic anthem played instead of the Russian one.

Injured skiers Travis Ganong and Steve — recently retired.

Q: What are some must-see events?

A: The first medal in short-track speedskating is awarded Saturday, and that should be a scene. Short track is South Korea’s favorite sport, and all of those races should be fun to watch.

Figure skating isn’t everyone’s favorite, but the most popular of those events are the men’s long program Feb. 17 and the women’s Feb. 23.

White competes in men’s snowboard halfpipe Tuesday (qualifying) and next Wednesday (finals). He is no longer the best in the world, but he was one of the athletes who brought extreme sports into the Olympic mainstream — and he is still pretty good.

Biney probably will skate in the women’s 500-meter short-track final Tuesday.

Alpine skiing kicks off competition with the men’s downhill Sunday. If you want to see Team USA medals, check out the women’s giant slalom (Monday) and slalom next Wednesday.

The United States and Canada square off in women’s hockey Feb. 15, and to paraphrase the late Keith Jackson, “These teams plain don’t like each other.”

All the bobsled events are entertaining, and the United States has top teams in all three: men’s two-man (Feb. 19), women’s (Feb. 21) and men’s four-man (Feb. 25).

And speaking of hockey, a women’s hockey team of both North and South Koreans plays Saturday. This diplomatic strategy angered many in South Korea, coming so close to the start of the Games. At least three North Koreans must dress for each game.

Women’s big air snowboarding is a new event, and it should be quite a show. The women’s finals are Feb. 23, and Team USA has three top competitors: Marino, Anderson and Hailey Langland.

Q: So how can I watch all of this?

A: NBC paid $4.38 billion for broadcast rights from 2014 to 2020, so the network won’t let a little thing like a 14-hour time difference impede scheduling. Figure skating will be held in the morning, putting it squarely in NBC’s prime-time window the day before in America. Skiing – both Alpine and freestyle – and snowboarding also will fit nicely into NBC’s schedule.

Events – some live, some taped – also will be telecast on NBC Sports Network, CNBC, USA and the Olympic Channel. And everything will be available via live streaming — including the Opening Ceremonies, which begin at 6 a.m. Eastern time Friday — at NBCOlympics.com and on mobile devices with the NBC Sports app.

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