Guide to the Vancouver Olympics
Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Ohno, Shani Davis will dominate American storylines
Davis-White figure skating team could go for gold, but U.S. singles a long shot
Canada will put on quality Games; country will come to a halt for hockey team
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- So much for the archetype of the quiet and reserved Canadian. On the eve of the Vancouver Games, which will see 5,500 athletes from 82 countries compete for 258 medals, this city is overflowing with boosterism, positivism and optimism. Its rainy streets are filled with flapping Maple Leafs as well as a flapping Canadian media crowing about Team Canada's chances for medal success.
(Much of that enthuisasm was dampened Friday when word came down of the sad and tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili.)
Closer to home, Team USA's 216 athletes (123 men, 93 women) should find success in alpine, bobsled, Nordic combined, snowboarding and speedskating.
With the competition beginning in full Saturday, SI.com's Olympic experts in Vancouver offer a primer on the burning questions, brightest stars and must-see events at the Games:
16 burning questions
1. How will American skiing star Lindsey Vonn's injury affect her medal chances? Says SI's Tim Layden: "Vonn has a shin bruise. Skiers control their speed and carve their turns by applying pressure to the tops of their ski boots with their shins. So it's a pretty significant injury. However, as with any soft-tissue injury, time is a great healer, and Vonn seems to be improving daily. She's been blessed by the bad weather in Vancouver, and won't have to ski until Wednesday."
2. Will Apolo Ohno become the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian? Says SI's Brian Cazeneuve: "Ohno has five Olympic medals -- two golds, a silver and two bronzes -- from Salt Lake and Turin. If he finds the podium twice in Vancouver, he would surpass Bonnie Blair for the most Winter Olympic medals ever by a U.S. athlete. Even with the trappings of off-ice stardom, including a victory on Dancing with the Stars in 2007, Ohno seems more determined than ever to regain his place atop the sport.
"He won the overall title at the 2008 World Championships in Gangneung, Korea, and has been among the top finishers on the international circuit this season. He's noticeably leaner, and his technique is more finesse and less power than in the past. Though Ohno won Olympic gold in the 500 in Italy, his improved stamina will give him a good chance to get back on the podium Saturday in the 1,500. With chances to medal in any of three individual races and a relay, Ohno is on the short track to make history."
3. How important is the men's Olympic hockey tournament to Canada? Says SI's Michael Farber: "Hate to answer a question with a question, but how important is mother's milk? Not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (to continue this tortured analogy), but most Canadians would chuck out all the lugers and sliders and skiers if it meant keeping the (men's) Olympic hockey tournament.
"A recent Decima-Harris poll revealed that given the choice of leading the Vancouver medal table or winning the men's hockey gold, Canadians predictably preferred the three periods of glory on Feb. 28. In an interview with SI last November, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he feared the men's hockey tournament would overshadow the rest of the events, and how Canada fared in hockey would color the way his countrymen viewed the entire Olympics."
4. Does America have any medal hopes in figure skating? Says SI's E.M. Swift: "Let's start with the good news: The U.S. is loaded in ice dancing. American champions Meryl Davis, 23, and Charlie White, 22, who've skated together since they were 10, are favored to win gold on the basis of an undefeated Grand Prix season. They are sensational. But they'll be challenged by fellow Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who won the silver medal four years ago and are the most decorated U.S. ice dancing team ever.
"Both U.S. duos will have to be perfect to get past the Canadian champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Muir, who train in Detroit with Davis and White; and 2009 World Champions Oksana Domnina and Max Shabalin from Russia. I look for a gold-bronze U.S. finish.
"The U.S. men are deep but full of question marks. The 2009 World Champion, Evan Lysacek, has struggled all season with his quadruple jump. U.S. champ Jeremy Abbott, near-perfect at last month's Nationals, finished 11th in the last two World Championships, a victim of nerves. And Johnny Weir, third in the World Championships as recently as 2008, has neither the quad nor, apparently, the head for high-pressure Olympic competition. I look for one medal between the three of them, probably bronze.
"The pairs? No chance. The women? Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu have an outside shot at a bronze -- very outside. If neither medal, it will be the first Olympics since 1964 (three years after a plane crash killed every member of the U.S. figure skating team traveling to the world championships) that the American women come away empty-handed."