THE WINTER OLYMPICS, RUSSIA
When the U.S. Olympic team arrives in Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games (to be held Feb. 7--23), it will mark the first time that Americans will compete for Olympic medals on Russian soil. Moscow hosted the Summer Olympics in 1980, but the U.S. and more than 50 other countries boycotted those Games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Not that next year's Games have been without controversy: both the event's hefty price tag (about $50 billion, making it the most expensive Olympics in history) and Russia's anti-gay laws have prompted criticism abroad.
But the Russian Bear seems distinctly uncowed. The country has transformed Sochi--a Black Sea summer resort town--into a winter wonderland. Organizers have stockpiled snow for the slopes and built a 40,000-seat stadium on the coast. Even the Games' torch relay will set a record by covering a 40,000-mile (64,375 km) route, longer than any other in Winter Olympic history (stops include outer space via Soyuz rocket). Once the torch reaches Sochi for the opening ceremony, Russia, which was rejected by so many in 1980, will at last relish being the center of the sporting world.
THE WORLD CUP, BRAZIL
The 2014 FIFA World Cup kicks off on June 12 in São Paulo, Brazil's largest city. With a month of matches taking place across 12 cities, the tournament gives even the most soccer-obsessed fans the chance to also see the deserts of Bahia state or the wildlife of the Pantanal wetlands before heading to Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã Stadium, where the final will take place on July 13. (But plan ahead--Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and getting around takes time.)
The Maracanã was the site of the legendary 1950 World Cup final. The home team lost that match to neighboring Uruguay, and the Brazilians are aiming to finally move on from the genuine pain that loss caused the nation. In preparation for what many hope will be a globally broadcast rite of redemption, economically resurgent Brazil has invested in new stadiums in six cities as well as upgrading older stadiums. But delays and accidents--including the collapse of a crane on Nov. 27 at São Paulo's Arena Corinthians, which killed two people--have led to accusations of government mismanagement. In spite of the construction setbacks, Brazilians are ready to prove that they will always be world champions at something other than soccer: throwing a party.