I'm a sucker for the Winter Olympics. I grew up just a stone's throw from Lake Placid, N.Y., and while I was only two years old when the "Miracle on Ice" occurred, it was an event that people talked about with great pride throughout my childhood.
My hometown is in fact even closer to Ottawa, and the best part of growing up near the Canadian border (besides weekly Hockey Night in Canada broadcasts) was watching the Canadian Winter Olympics coverage on CBC. They covered everything: curling (before it was cool in the U.S.), entire 20km biathlon races (not just a two-minute highlight reel), and yes, like their American counterparts, they showed figure skating, too.
I do enjoy the Summer Games, but the Winter Olympics have always been much more personal to me. Maybe it's because, growing up in a region where it feels like winter lasts for more than half the year, I feel more connected to the games they play. Or maybe it's because so many of the people competing grew up not far from where I did; I almost always know someone who has a friend that's competing at the Winter Olympics. One year I was lucky enough to be rooting for a personal friend when my old college cross-country teammate Lawton Redman made the U.S. biathlon team for the Salt Lake City Games.
Regardless, I'll be watching the Sochi Games with rapt attention, and I can't wait for them to get started this week. Thanks to this P&G ad, I'm already tearing up.
When it comes to the Olympics, I can't bet with my head. So instead I'm making most of my top-10 Olympic bets with my heart.
10. Germany to win most gold medals - 13/2 (Bovada Sportsbook)
Well, I did say most.
Obviously, as an American, I'll be rooting for the Yanks to win every event. But I think the odds here offer too much value. Germany was second to Canada with 10 golds in Vancouver in 2010 and led the way with 11 golds in 2006 in Turin. Germany has some top-notch athletes – especially in the sliding sports – and is always in the mix for the overall gold medal title. I expect that trend to continue in Sochi. There's no value in Norway (which will likely dominate the Nordic events) at 6/5, or in the USA at 3/1. I like Germany as a bit of a long shot, but I think they have better than a 20 percent chance of ending up at the top of the ladder in gold medals, so I think that's the best value on the board.
9. USA to win most medals - 11/10 (bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook)
This is a bet I'm making with both my head AND my heart. The X-Games-ification of the Olympics has given U.S. athletes more opportunities to win medals than ever before. The U.S. led the way with 37 overall medals in 2010, seven ahead of second-place Germany. I think there's a better than 50-percent chance the U.S. dominates the medal count yet again, so I like the odds on this one, and of course I have a national interest here, too.
8. Russia over 10.5 gold medals - 2/1 (Bovada)
If you don't think competing on your home turf offers an advantage, just look at what happened in 2010 in Vancouver. Canada really outdid itself with a whopping 14 gold medals, and I expect the Russians to exceed expectations in Sochi. The Russians had a woeful performance in 2010 with just three golds, but had eight in 2006. I think 11 is a stretch, but I like the 2/1 payoff here.
7. Emil Hegle Svendsen to win the 20km Men's Individual Biathlon - 5/2 (various)
I'd love to pick an American in this event, but unfortunately, it's hard to see an American contending for gold in this event. A top-10 finish would be a victory for Team USA. So while I don't actually have a horse in this race, because of my aforementioned friendship with Lawton, I've become a huge fan of biathlon and can't wait to watch it.
Frenchman Martin Fourcade is considered the favorite in this race by some online bookmakers, but he's not as good a shooter as the Norwegian. Svendsen hit 90.6 percent of his targets last year in World Cup competition, while Fourcade hit just 86.1 percent. That sounds like a small difference, but with 20 targets to hit over the race, that equates to one more miss. An additional one-minute penalty to Fourcade could be enough for Svendsen to win the race; make it two and I really like Svendsen, who I also believe is the favorite in longer distances.
You get Svendsen at 5/2 at Bovada, William Hill Sportsbook & Racebook and bet365, while Fourcade's best odds are offered by Bovada at 5/2 as well.
6. USA to win Men's Hockey Group A - 2/1 (bet365)
Let the homerism begin! But this bet isn't made completely with my head. I think Team USA has a real shot to win this group. Yes, they are in the same group with host Russia, it's essentially a two-team group. While the Russians are likely going to receive a huge boost playing in their home country, I like the odds you get on the Americans much better than the 50/11 price you have to pay on the Russians. This is essentially a bet on the USA/Russia group play game, and I think there's at least a 40 percent chance the U.S. wins that game, so getting 2/1 seems like a great price.
5. Jason Brown (USA) to win Men's Figure Skating Overall gold 80/1 (bet365)
Yes, the 19-year-old American is a real long shot to win. He lacks a quad jump, which seems to be a prerequisite for medal contention in male figure skating these days, and he's not even the best American (Jeremy Abbott won the U.S. Trials). But you can't help but root for someone who clearly loves what he's doing. And it doesn't hurt that he sounds just like legendary figure skating commentator Scott Hamilton and looks exactly like Mitch Kramer from Dazed and Confused.
4. Norway to win the men's curling gold - 9/1 (Bovada)
Uniforms. It's all about the uniforms. If you aren't rooting for Norway after seeing those uniforms, you need to get your head checked.
3. Shani Davis (USA) to win Men's 1000m Speed Skating - 1/1 (Bovada)
It's hard to believe Davis is still this big a favorite in 2014 as he is now going for his third straight gold medal at this distance. Davis broke all sorts of barriers when he won in 2006, becoming the first African-American to win a speed-skating gold, and he's continued to dominate over the last eight years. One of the things I love about this sport is that there's no politics (or judging) involved. Davis chooses to train on his own and doesn't have to play politics or win people over. He just skates faster than everyone else and that's all he needs to do. I'm rooting for him to make history and become the first male skater to three-peat at any distance in Olympic speed skating.
Home-game hotshot Aaron Todd has covered the gambling industry since 2006. While he is happy to play Texas Hold'em, he'd rather mix it up and play Omaha Hi/Lo, Razz, Deuce-to-Seven Triple Draw, and Badugi. Follow him on Twitter @CasinoCity_AT.