For more than two weeks, all eyes will be on the Russian coastal city of Sochi as athletes from all over the world realize their Olympic dreams. We'll witness their tireless hours of practice and hard work be put to the test. Here are 10 things you should know about the Winter Olympics.
1. The Facts
The 2014 Sochi Olympics kick off Thursday with the start of the 17-day competition, but the Opening Ceremonies aren't until Friday. From 85 countries, there are 6,000 athletes competing.
2. Where to Watch
NBCUniversal has the rights to broadcast the Winter Games, which means you'll see events on NBC, NBCSN, CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network and NBCOlympics.com. To watch live streaming online, you'll have to verify your cable provider.
3. Sochi, Russia
The city is actually Russia's largest summer resort (there are palm trees), and it's expected to be the warmest site to host the Winter Olympics with the city being along the coast. Sochi is known for its tennis schools, where star Maria Sharapova got her start.
4. New Events
Twelve events are making their debut this year, which means more medals are up for grabs: biathlon mixed relay, team figuring skating, luge team relay, ski halfpipe, slopestyle, snowboard parallel and women's ski jumping.
5. New Venues
Holding the Olympics means the host city/country has had to build new venues for athletes to compete in. For Sochi, 11 new venues were constructed in two groups: the Coastal Cluster and the Mountain Cluster. Located in Krasnyay Polyana, the Mountain Cluster venues are connected to the Coastal Cluster by a new railway line. It will take visitors from one cluster to the other in about a half-hour.
6. U.S. Olympic Team
The Americans boast the largest delegation of athletes for any nation in the Olympic Winter Games history with 230: 125 men and 105 women. Of these athletes, 106 are returning Olympians. California has the most Olympians represented with 20 and Colorado and Minnesota each have 19. In all, 38 states are being represented on Team USA.
7. Must-See Athletes
The most senior U.S. Olympian is curler Ann Swisshelm (45) and freestyle skier Maggie Voisin is the youngest (15). Shaun White recently withdrew from the new slopestyle event because he jammed his wrist during practice. He will still compete in the halfpipe. Other U.S. Olympians to watch: Ashley Wagner (figure skating), Patrick Kane (ice hockey), Meryl Jones and Charlie White (ice dancing), Lolo Jones (bobsled), Steve Holcomb (bobsled) and Shani Davis (speed skating).
8. Safety and Security
Athletes, fans and everyone else around the world are worried about safety during the Olympics. Some athletes are leaving their families behind because of possible terrorist threats. To keep watch, approximately 37,000 security personnel will be employed. Furthermore, the U.S. will have warships standing by.
Following the Olympics, the Paralympics will take place from March 7-16, also in Sochi. The nine-day competition features 692 confirmed athletes so far (more will be added before the games begin) across five sports and seven disciplines. There are 72 medal events -- 34 for men, 34 for women and 4 mixed events.
10. Fun Food Facts
$15: the average cost of lunch for one at Olympic Park
70,000 gallons: amount of beet soup (Russian staple called borscht) expected to be prepared and served
7,000: number of working chefs, sous chefs, cooks, waiters, bartenders and cashiers
(Image courtesy of NBC)