The Olympic flame that journeyed to outer space, the North Pole and the world's deepest lake has arrived in Sochi, but will not light the cauldron at Fisht Stadium to officially commence the 2014 Winter Games until Friday night. Still, early qualifying events Thursday are giving viewers plenty of reasons to tune in. Here are five reasons to watch:
One of the Winter Olympics' newest sports -- slopestyle snowboarding -- made its debut Thursday on a challenging course that was already making headlines. Since athletes began test runs earlier this week, several have taken spills. American superstar Shaun White jammed his wrist and later decided to bow out of the contest altogether, while other athletes suffered more serious injuries. Finland's Marika Enne was taken from the course on a stretcher after hitting her head on a rail, and Norway's Torstein Hormgo suffered a broken collarbone on the course, losing his shot at competing, The Associated Press reported. Riders told the AP that the course, whch includes a series of pipes, jumps and rails, was difficult and that they had shared their feedback with builders.
2. GET A FIRST LOOK AT THE FIGURE SKATING TEAM:
A new team competition beginning Feb. 6 will give viewers an early chance to check out the elite members of the U.S. figure skating team. The strongest competitors from the best teams will go head-to-head in four events, beginning with men's and pairs on Thursday. Jeremy Abbott, the more seasoned of Team USA's two men's skaters, will compete in singles, while Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will represent the U.S. in pairs. The competitions begin at 10:30 a.m. ET (watch live here) though highlights will air on NBC prime time.
3. FREESTYLE SKIING:
This event has grown considerably since its introduction to the Olympics in 1988. This year it expands further with two new snowboarding-inspired events: freestyle halfpipe and slopestyle. Thursday, women will compete in moguls, one of the more traditional freestyle skiing events that sends athletes over and around giant snow bumps on a downhill course. U.S. reigning gold medalist Hannah Kearney and one of her top competitors, teammate Heather McPhie, will compete in the first of two qualification rounds at 9 a.m. ET. Watch it here or wait for prime time highlights.
4. DOWNHILL TRAINING
While alpine skiing competitions don't start until the Games officially begin, viewers tuned in to see some of their practice runs Thursday. NBC's Olympic livestream at 1:30 a.m. ET gave a first look at the men's downhill team, and at 2:30 a.m. men's super combined got underway.
5. FIRST LOOK AT SOCHI IN ACTION
One question has lingered since Russia was awarded the Olympic Games in 2007: Can Sochi do it? Could the quaint Black Sea resort town known for its mild weather and pebbly beaches transform itself into a world-class city in time for the first competitions? Tune in Thursday to get a look at the city's first day in action as full-fledged Olympic town.