WHEN THE games of the 21st Winter Olympiad officially get under way next Friday, the only thing that will conjure up an image of heat will be the Olympic torch.
But that doesn't mean the 2010 Winter Olympics, held this year in Vancouver, British Columbia, isn't a hot-ticket item the world over.
Nothing brings the citizens of the planet together quite like the Olympic games.
Since the Winter Olympics took the place of the Nordic Games in 1924, the games have seen a steady incline in popularity.
The 1964 games in Innsbruk, Austria, the ninth edition, was the first to have more than 1,000 competing athletes representing 37 nations.
While the winter games pale in comparison to the Summer Olympics both in terms of competed events and country's represented, both numbers have been on the incline.
The most recent Winter Olympics, held in 2006 in Turin, Italy featured 2,508 athletes from 80 countries.
The advent of greater technology in television and broadcasting increased the games' appeal.
And in the United States, a whole new demographic of fans was brought onboard when in various events under the umbrella of snowboarding were added in 1998.
Those games, held in Nagano, Japan, introduced the Olympic world to event such as Halfpipe, the Giant Slalom, Parallel Giant Slalom and Snowboard cross.
In the three Olympic games in which snowboarding events have been contested, the United States has had the upper hand.
American athletes have won the most medals with 15 and are tied with the Swiss with five gold medals apiece. Switzerland is second overall with eight medals.
While the snowboarding events are immensely popular with the younger crowd, the crown jewels of the Winter Olympics is hockey and figure skating.
It is those two events that seem to produce the most memorable moments in Olympic history.
Case in point, the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. and the miracle on ice.
Is was there that a heavy-underdog American team comprised of collegiate players and coached by Herb Brooks took on and defeated the team from the Soviet Union.
The American team still had to defeat Finland to capture the gold and did so, winning 4-2 while the Soviets came in second.
It was the second and last time the Americans won the gold medal. The only other time since 1980 the U.S. has medaled in men's ice hockey was a second-place finish in 2002.
The former Soviet Union only competed in nine winter games, medaling in all and claiming gold in 7 of the 9. Since the breakup of the USSR, the Russian team has medaled in 2 of 5 olympics games but has yet to win the gold. During the 1992 games in Albertville, France, a unified team consisting of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia and Uzbekistan won the gold.
The Canadian team is also a favorite for the gold medal and this year is no exception. The sport will be in the forefront more than usual, given the nation of Canada's love of hockey and the fact that a Canadian city is hosting the games.
In 1998, women's ice hockey was introduced.
The United States has fared better in the women's game, medaling in all three games, including a gold in Nagano.