Guide to the Vancouver Olympics (cont.)
5. Who could be a breakout star in skiing other than Vonn? Says Layden: "The logical guess would be 23-year-old Swiss star Carlo Janka, who has been the hottest new face on the World Cup circuit this season. However, there's also a chance it could be Janka's 35-year-old Swiss teammate, Didier Cuche, who has been the best racer in the world all season. Cuche has been an elite racer for a decade and a half but has never won an Olympic gold medal. Of course, with wildly variable weather conditions, almost anyone could deliver a shocking victory."
6. How many medals will Canada win? Says Farber: "To borrow from Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman and a mean bobsled pilot, there has been irrational exuberance about Canada's chances. La Presse, a French-language Montreal newspaper, predicted 41 medals. The Vancouver Sun came in at 39. SI picked 30, which, if you gave Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge a shot of truth serum, might be his number. Another savvy Olympic watcher, J.D. Miller, a Montreal businessman who started the B2ten foundation to help fund some athletes, suggests 28 to 31 is the neighborhood."
7. Will NBC see a repeat of the epic television ratings of Beijing? Only if Michael Phelps shows up to ski. NBC averaged a 16.2 national rating and 27.7 million viewers for its 17 prime-time telecasts from Beijing, the best for a non-U.S. Summer Games since the 1992 Barcelona Games. The Winter Olympics always draw fewer American eyeballs than the Summer Games, and with no American women likely to be a factor in figure skating, NBC needs someone to emerge early to capture viewers.
Vonn has been the network's marketing darling heading into the Games, and if she fails to medal early it would be a huge disappointment for the network. (While a number of the alpine events will be tape delayed; NBC plans to carry figure skating, speed skating, short-track skating, snowboarding and freestyle skiing live in prime time). The Hollywood Reporter's Paul Gough reported two weeks ago that NBC is guaranteeing Madison Avenue an average prime-time household rating of 14 for the 16 nights. That seems optimistic. Plus, there's this bit of bad news for NBC: Fox will air original episodes of American Idol on four nights during the Games.
8. How will the weather affect the Games? Says SI's David Epstein: "Right now storm systems that often break up offshore are making it inland and hanging over Vancouver. When the current storm system leaves, at least two cousins are in the queue waiting to make landfall, so Vancouver and Whistler are going to look a lot like a cloud forest for a few days. The Alpine skiing schedule will very likely be shuffled due to poor visibility.
"Some Canadian athletes have said they don't mind the canceled practices because they already know the course, but it's a bummer for all the visitors -- except perhaps for Vonn, who might grab some extra recovery time like Austrian ski legend Hermann Maier did in Nagano. As for the rest of the month, the strongest El Niņo in a decade has brought warm water off the coast, which is infusing the air with moisture. That pushes the freezing point of the air upward. The freezing point was at 1700 meters Thursday, higher than any of the event venues, causing fog and meaning precipitation will be mostly in the form of rain, not snow.
"Luckily, Whistler has a decent base of snow, so when the fog clears, the events there will be good to go. As for skiing events in Cypress, at low altitude near Vancouver, slushy conditions might make for slow moguls runs, and organizers are just going to have to keep the dump trucks and helicopters at the ready."
9. Will Lindsey Jacobellis redeem herself in the snowboardcross? Says SI's Austin Murphy: "If she's in the lead in the final, she's not going to garnish the last couple hundred yards with a method grab like she did in Turin. The world has closed on her in the last four years, but she's still the best. Still, the sport is total chaos and any rider can be taken out through no fault of her own. It really is roller derby. Athletes in this sport are more subject to vagaries and bad fortune through not fault of their own."
10. Can anyone crash the U.S.-Canada party in women's hockey? Says SI's Sarah Kwak: "In short, no. At this point, women's hockey is defined by the U.S.-Canada rivalry. The U.S. and Canada have met in two of the three Olympic gold medal games -- the Americans lost in a shootout stunner to Sweden in a semifinal in Turin in 2006 -- and countless times in between. That much familiarity had bred bad blood.
"As women's hockey goes, these Games are typically as physical as the sport gets, and U.S.-Canada can escalate into a nasty scrum, as it did last October when a friendly got decidedly unfriendly in the closing seconds of a 3-1 U.S. loss. When these two play each other, there's just a little extra oomph, and players have said referees tend to be slightly more lenient on calls just to keep the pace up."