As another Olympic year gets closer, there are already many things to talk about in terms of how these 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea in terms of the political side of things and in sports.
These games already carry political tension not seen since the Moscow games of 1980 when the U.S. and other Western countries boycotted them in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. With North Korea still threatening to strike U.S. territories and allies and peace negotiations getting nowhere, it will be hard for some athletes and spectators to feel safe at these games.
In hockey, the news that Russia has been banned from the Olympics due to a doping scandal on the scale not seen since East Germany has sent shockwaves. With Russia not competing, how does that fare for hockey?
Here are some storylines to look out for.
#1- No NHL Players
When the NHL made the decision to not send their athletes to the Olympics this year, it was met with a mixed reaction. Some thought it was a good thing because players could get injured, and have in the past, while playing overseas and some did not like the move because it could cause a lack of interest.
With Russia being banned from the games, there is also the question of whether the KHL, which is based in Russia, will even send athletes as well. If not, then this will be the first major games in a long time that have not featured professional hockey players.
With no professional players to draw the viewers, it will certainly be something to watch out for to see if people will still watch games.
#2- Who Wins the Gold Medal?
Before their banning, the Russians had been the favorite to win the gold medal with the NHL deciding to skip the tournament. Now that they’re not, it is all up for grabs.
Canada, the two time defending gold medalists, will certainly still be up for consideration, as will the Americans. After them, it’s a toss-up depending on how you look at it.
Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under the Olympic flag, like in 1992 when they competed as the Unified Team after the Soviet Union collapsed, but it is not guaranteed thus far.
Countries like Czechia, Sweden, Finland, and Germany should all be competitive in the tournament as well. Any of those teams could win the gold medal.
Overall there is a lot to look at with these Winter Olympic games coming up in February. Strap yourselves in, folks, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.