Daily Briefing, Feb. 23
Bode Miller tries to become the first man to win four Alpine skiing medals
South Korea's Kim Yu-Na will take center stage in ladies figure skating
Team USA has already matched its medal total (25) from four years ago at Turin
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- No man has ever won four Alpine skiing medals at a single Olympics, but Bode Miller is a threat to make history today in the men's giant slalom. Medals will also be handed out in biathlon, Nordic combined, women's ski cross and the men's speedskating.
But the most-talked-about event is the start of the ladies figure skating competition, which features South Korea's transcendent Kim Yu-Na, whom SI's E.M. Swift says is the best female skater he's ever seen when she is at her best. " I don't say that lightly, but Kim is the complete package: elegant, athletic, fast, beautiful, charismatic," says Swift. "Her programs are wonderfully choreographed. She has all the jumps, except the rare (for women) triple axel. Her spins are weightless. But the 2009 World Champion will have to win here before I put her above the likes of past Olympic champions Kristi Yamaguchi and Katarina Witt. She'll have to prove she can withstand the suffocating Olympic pressure." That pressure starts tonight.
What To Watch
(All times Eastern)
The men's giant slalom, a race where each skier make two runs down two different courses on the same slope, could be another big day for the U.S. skiers. Ted Ligety (SI's pick for silver) is the current World Cup leader in the event while Miller has been the star of these Games, with a gold in super-combined, a silver in super-G and a bronze in the downhill. Austria is also primed for a big event with Benjamin Raich (SI's pick for gold) and Marcel Hirscher (SI's pick for bronze) and Reinfried Herbst, the pick of many other publications. France's slalom specialist Julien Lizeroux, Ivan Kostelic of Croatia, Italy's Massimiliano Blardone, Norway's Kjetil Jansrud and Switzerland's Carlo Janka are also medal contenders. The first run comes at 12:30 p.m.
The U.S. won its first Olympic Nordic combined medal last week thanks to Johnny Spillane's silver in the individual normal hill competition. He'll be back on the course today for the team's large hill competition (competition begins at 1:30 p.m.) as part of a strong American group that finished in three of the top six in the earlier event. SI predicts Germany for gold, the U.S. for silver, and Norway for bronze. Todd Lodwick and Billy Demong, both former world champions, join Spillane and veteran Brett Camerota for the U.S. The athletes make one jump off the large hill followed later in the day by a 4x5K freestyle relay.
The women's 4x6K biathlon (2:30 p.m.) relay won't include German star Magdalena Neuner, but Germany remains a medal contender with Martina Beck, Andrea Henkel, Simone Hauswald and Katie Wilhelm. Russia is the world champ in the event and the favorite. Sweden and France will also be factors. This is the last opportunity for Sweden's Helena Jonsson and Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek, both favorites to reach the podium prior to the Games, to win medals. Lanny Barnes, Haley Johnson, Laura Spector, and Sara Studebaker will compete for the U.S.
Dutch hero Sven Kramer, who has already won gold in the 5,000 and might be the most popular man in Holland these days, is back on the track in the 10,000 (2 p.m.). He holds the world record time (12:41.69) and is SI's pick for gold followed by Norway's Havard Bokko and France's Alexis Contin. Other contenders include Holland's Bob de Jong, who won this race in Turin and is ranked second in the world at this distance; Russia's Ivan Skobrev, who won bronze in the 5,000, and South Korea's Seung-Hoon Lee, the silver medalist in the 5,000. The Dutch have won seven of the last nine Olympic medals at this distance, and Kramer and de Jong are the only competitors here who have times under 13 minutes.
Women's ski cross makes its Olympic debut today (the finals are at 5 p.m.) and holds great promise for Canada with Ashleigh McIvor, Kelsey Serwa and Julia Murray. Each are considered medal contenders. France's Ophelie David, who has won six consecutive World Cup events and is at the top of the World Cup standings, is the one to beat. She is SI's pick for gold. Switzerland's Fanny Smith and Sweden's Anna Holmlund must also be considered.
The streak appears to be on thin ice: Since 1968, the U.S. women have medaled in every Winter Games in the ladies competition (which starts tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Pacific Coliseum), but America's best hopes in Vancouver, Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu, are longshots to the hit the medal stand. (The U.S. qualified for two ladies spots in Vancouver, failing to earn the maximum three for only the second time since 1924.).
South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, the reigning world champion, is the favorite in the event. A six-time Korean national champion, Kim moved to Canada in 2006 for training and is coached by '84 and '88 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser. She has not lost a competition in more than a year.
Then there is Japan's Mao Asada, who became the first woman to land a triple-triple-triple combination in competition -- at the tender age of 12 -- and by '05, she was widely considered the best figure skater in the world. Now 19, Asada is finally eligible for the Olympics. She has won four straight Japanese national titles, two Four Continents championships and a world title in '08, though she finished fourth in the world in '09.
Asada's teammate, Miki Ando, won the '07 world championship, suffered through a miserable two years before finishing third at the '09 world championships. At the Turin Games, Ando finished an ugly 15th, a performance she hopes to extinguish in Vancouver. One of the sad tales in Vancouver is the story of Canadian Joannie Rochette, the 24-year-old who finished second (behind Kim) at the worlds last March and has held the Canadian national title since '05. Her mother died of a heart attack earlier this week in Vancouver. For tonight's short program, Kim skates in Group 5 with Asada, while Rochette is in the sixth and final group with Flatt, 17, Ando and Italy's Carolina Kostner, currently second in the world's standings. Nagasu, 16, will skate in the third group.
Canada-Germany (7:30 p.m.) highlights the quartet of games scheduled for the men's playoff qualification round in men's hockey. The other matchups are Switzerland vs. Belarus (3 p.m.), Czech Republic vs. Latvia (10 p.m.) and Slovakia vs. Norway (midnight). The U.S. plays the winner of Switzerland-Belarus on Thursday.
The first two heats of the women's bobsled begin at 8 p.m. Americans Shauna Rohbock and Michelle Rzepka are medal favorites, along with two strong German teams (Cathleen Martini-Romy Logsch and Sandra Kiriasis-Christin Senkel). Canada's Kallie Humphries and Heather Moyse and Great Britain's Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke will also be in the hunt for a podium position. In Turin, Rohbock won silver with Valerie Fleming. The other American teams include Erin Pac and Elana Meyers, and Bree Schaaf and Emily Azevedo. The two-day competition concludes Wednesday.
The U.S. women's curling team will conclude round robin competition with two games against China (noon) and Switzerland (10 p.m.). With a 2-5 record, they are a longshot to advance to the playoff round.
By The Numbers
25 -- Medals for Team USA at the Vancouver Games, matching the total medals won by the U.S. four years ago in Turin. The 25 medals are the most medals won by the United States at a Winter Games not held on U.S. soil.
Quote of the Day
"I remember the first time I saw him play. I was struck by how skinny he was. Even now, this guy should be doing ads for one of those weight-loss things. He's still a bone rack." -Team USA general manager Brian Burke on U.S. goalie Ryan Miller.
What We're Reading On The Web
1. Anxious. Sadder. Sorrier. (by Allan Maki, The Globe and Mail): The hot word in Canada is...sorry.
2. The Comfortable Delights of Ski Jumping, With or Without Cowbells (by John Branch, The New York Times): Come fly, with the New York Times.
3. Bettman's View Of What's Good For the Game Distorted As Olympics Become Gold Standard(by Roy MacGregor, The Globe and Mail): The NHL is talking tough about keeping its players out of the Olympics.