Daily Briefing, Feb. 21
It's not just another men's hockey tripleheader at Canada's Hockey Place
The U.S. hasn't beaten its northern neighbor in Olympic hockey since 1960
USA's bobsled team of Steven Holcomb and Curtis Tomasevicz sit in fourth place
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- SI's Michael Farber calls today Hockey Day in Heaven, and with good reason: "The top six teams in the world are meeting in their most natural and appealing configurations, reprising the three Olympic finals that have included NHL players," says Farber. "There will be Canada against the United States and Sweden versus Finland in a pair of borders wars, all preceded by the geopolitical (and hockey) antipathy between Russia and the Czech Republic. Prague Spring, anyone?" Canada's Hockey Place becomes the epicenter of puckhead revelry today with a dream tripleheader on the ice. Of course, there are actual medals to be had in other venues, including the men's super-combined at Whistler Creekside (Bode alert!), women's 1,500-meter speedskating and the conclusion of men's two-man bobsled. It's also the debut of freestyle ski cross, the wild four-at-a-time plunge down the hill at Cypress.
What to Watch
(All times Eastern)
Call it NASCAR on snow. Ski cross begins today (12:15 p.m.) with the qualification round. Two Americans -- Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett -- are in the top six of the World Cup rankings, which are led by Switzerland's Michael Schmid, Norway's Audun Groenvold, Germany's Simon Stickl and Czech Republic's Tomas Kraus. Canada's Christopher Delbosco is ranked third in the World Cup standings and is a big medal threat for the home country. He won the Cypress Mountain race a year ago.
The men's super-combined (12:30 p.m.) -- which consists of a downhill run followed by a slalom run -- brings Alpine medalists Bode Miller (bronze in downhill; silver in super-G) and Andrew Weibrecht (surprise super-G bronze) back into focus. But SI's pick for gold here is Croatia's Ivica Kostelic, whose younger sister, Janica, won six Olympic medals in Alpine, a women's record. Other contenders include Switzerland's Didier Defago and Silvan Zurbriggen, who finished one-two in the training run for the downhill portion, plus Germany's Benjamin Raich, Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal and Switzerland's Carlo Janka.
France's Vincent Jay, Sweden's Bjorn Ferry, Austria's Christoph Sumann and the Norwegian pair of Emil Hegle Svendsen and Ole Einar Bjorndalen will battle in the men's biathlon 15K mass start (2 p.m.). Jay, Ferry and Svendsen have already won gold here, and Bjorndalen needs one medal to become only the second winter Olympian to collect more than 10 in a career. Norway's Bjorn Daehlie holds the record with 12.
The contenders in the women's biathlon 12.5K mass start (4 p.m.) include Germany's Magdalena Neuner, Andrea Henkel and Simone Hauswalk, Sweden's Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek and Helena Jonsson and Norway's Tora Berger.
Americans Steven Holcomb and Curtis Tomasevicz are in fourth place heading into the final two heats of the two-man bobsled (7 p.m.). The U.S.' top sled is 0.62 behind Germany 1's Andre Lange and Kevin Kuske, who lead the event with a time of 1:43.31. Germany 2 (Thomas Florschuetz and Richard Adjei) is in second, 0.11 behind, followed by the Russian sled of Alexsandr Zubkov and Alexey Voevoda, 0.50 behind the leader. The Swiss sled of Ivo Ruegg and Cedric Grand is within a fraction of U.S. at 1:43.94.
It's not just another men's hockey tripleheader at Canada's Hockey Place. It's a Super Bowl Sunday of hockey:
- Czech Republic vs. Russia (3 p.m.): Russia (1-1) needs a victory more than the Czechs (2-0); it can't win Group B without a win in regulation. The two countries last met in the bronze medal match in Turin, with the Czechs winning 3-0.
- Canada vs. U.S. (6:40 p.m.): "If Canada's fiercest rival is Russia, the Americans are a close second," proclaimed the Vancouver Sun. Fierce though it may be, the rivalry is one-sided: The U.S. is 2-10-3 against the Canadians in Olympic play, the most recent win coming 50 years ago in Squaw Valley. In the last Olympic match between the two, the 2002 final, Jarome Iginla scored twice in a 5-2 trouncing of the host country. The ramifications moving forward are big: The winner will be the champs of Pool A and advance to the quarterfinals. The loser will likely have to play a qualification game.
- Finland vs. Sweden (midnight): The Swedes (2-0) knocked off the Finns (1-0) four years ago in the gold medal game in Turin on a goal from Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal for Sweden after resting against Belarus, while Finnish forward Saku Koivu needs one more assist to tie the Olympic record (the Olympic assist leader is Russian Valeri Kharlamov with 22). Sweden leads the overall series 5-2-3.
There's a good chance that Canada will own the podium in women's 1,500 long-track speedskating (6 p.m.). Kristina Groves is the World Cup leader in the event, and Christine Nesbitt has the fastest time this year. Both have already won medals here: Nesbitt struck gold in the 1,000 and Groves won a bronze in the 3,000. SI picks Nesbitt and Groves to go one-two. Ireen Wust of the Netherlands is the pick for bronze.
Two American ice dancing teams are in contention after the compulsory portion of the competition: Meryl Davis and Charlie White sit in third, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto are fourth. Now comes the second of the three legs, the original dance (7:15 p.m.). Russia's Oskana Domina and Maxim Shabalin lead going in, followed by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. Davis and White, Moir and Virtue and Belbin and Agosto will skate in the final group tonight. The leaders will be the last skaters in Group 4.
Curling continues its round-robin play (noon), with the U.S. women (2-3) taking on the top two teams on Sunday: Canada (5-1) and Sweden (5-1). There are four games remaining in the round-robin. The U.S. men, who have bounced back from an 0-4 start to win their last two, play Great Britain at 5 p.m.
Quote Of The Day
"I told myself today if I got the gold medal, I would relax. I always wanted to win gold. Being a two-time runner-up will probably keep me in the sport. I have to be as optimistic as I can. Hopefully, I can keep up. I will be 31 years old."
By The Numbers
488,000 -- Number of passengers on Vancouver's SkyTrain's Expo/Millennium subway lines on Valentine's Day, a single day record for the city. The normal average is around 150,000.
16 -- Times Canada and the U.S. have met in men's Olympic hockey, including today's game.
7 -- Medals for U.S. short track speedskater Apolo Ohno (two gold, two silver, three bronze), making him the most decorated U.S. winter Olympian in history. Speedskater Bonnie Blair won five gold medals and one bronze medal in four Winter Olympics.
What We're Reading Around The Web
1. Will Russian anger over Plushenko's loss have an effect on ice dancing? (by Phil Hersch, Chicago Tribune): Is the fix in for ice dancing?
2. Tune In, Pump Up, Get Psyched (by Francois Marchand, Vancouver Sun): The right music can make all the difference for Olympic athletes.
3. CTV not yet prime-time ready (by William Houston, Special to Yahoo! Sports): A Canadian critic looks at his country's TV coverage.
4. May The Fourth Be With You -- Athletes Lament Falling Short of the Podium (by Dan Barnes, Vancouver Sun): Basically, fourth place sucks.