AP Photo/Frank Augstein

Six questions leading up to Sochi 2014

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The competition in Sochi starts a year from today, but with nationals and World Cup events happening as we speak, the competition is already heating up. We still don’t know who will compete in the Winter Olympics next February, but here’s a look at some of the top questions we’ll be asking all year.

Can Shaun White Three-peat?
White has won the last two Olympic titles in halfpipe, and the last six X Games titles in superpipe, but it still seems like everyone is nipping at his heels, most notably fourteen-year-old Japanese phenom Ayumu Hirano, who finished with silver in Aspen last month. White will also face Finland’s Markus Milan and America’s Scotty Lago. but we’re sure White will have something new up his sleeve for Sochi.

How well will Lindsey Vonn do in Sochi after the injury?
Questions will linger about Vonn’s conditioning coming off such a serious knee injury – she tore two right knee ligaments and fractured a bone in her shin – but as Christin Cooper told NBC Nightly News on Tuesday, “she’s gonna work as hard as anybody ever has to be in shape to win medals in Sochi.” We expect world champ Tina Maze of Slovenia to inspire her recovery, and expect nothing but the best from Lindsey.

Can Evan Lysacek be the first man to repeat in figure skating singles since 1952?
He can. Absolutely, so long as he’s healthy. The Vancouver champ missed this year’s nationals with a groin injury, but said he’s 100 percent now and ready to make a run for a second gold in Sochi. He’ll likely be facing-off against three-time medalist Yevgeny Plushenko, who recently had back surgery, and a host of worldwide up-and-comers including Javier Fernandez of Spain and new American national champ, Max Aaron.

What about Yuna Kim?
The South Korean star is also looking to repeat, and looked great in Germany back in December, winning gold at her first event in more than eighteen months. She should lock up a spot in Sochi at worlds in March, and definitely looks to shine on the ice again, but Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold, who were both impressive at U.S. nationals last month, might have something to say about that.

How will the Russians do at their first hometown Winter Games?
The Russians have always been one of the most formidable nations at the Winter Games, but disappointed themselves and Vladimir Putin by only winning fifteen medals in Vancouver; and only three gold. They’ll aim for the top of the medal table in Sochi with stars like Plushenko, a hockey team led by NHL stars Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin, speed skater Ivan Skobrev, and just about everyone on cross-country skis.

How on earth can I enjoy the Olympics more?
With more events, obviously. Twelve to be exact, which means there’s 36 more medals to be won (by the U.S.) and an exponential amount of excitement to be had. Here’s the list:

Figure skating: team event.
Snowboarding: men’s and women’s slopestyle, men’s and women’s parallel special slalom
Freestyle Skiing: men’s and women’s slopestyle; men’s and women’s halfpipe
Ski jumping: women’s normal hill
Biathlon: mixed relay
Luge: team relay

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WATCH LIVE: Women’s slalom at 3:30 P.M. ET

Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin
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Mikaela Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn will take on slalom today at the Aspen World Cup stop, airing today at 3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and stream on NBC Sports Live Extra at the same time.

Shiffrin is seeking her first win on U.S. snow; all of her first place finishes have come from European venues. She has 14 slalom World Cup titles and winning one more would tie her with France’s Perrine Pelen for sixth overall for total slalom World Cup victories.

Vonn can only increase her record World Cup wins – she has the most at 67 wins, and only Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark has more at 86 men’s wins. Of all her titles, the fewest have come from slalom at two.

Yesterday, both Vonn and Shiffrin suffered crashes in grand slalom races.


WATCH LIVE: World Cup men’s downhill – 1:30 p.m. ET

Aksel Lund Svindal
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Before missing the downhill World Cup last year due to injury, Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway won the title in 2012-13 and 2013-14. Today, he may become just the eighth man to win this World Cup title at least three times, but he faces competition from countryman Kjetil Jansrud, who won last year’s title in Svindal’s absence.

The World Cup men’s  downhill at Lake Louise is streaming today at 1:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Live Extra.

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