The Winter Olympics: What to watch

Sports Staff
Former Olympic downhill skier Phil Mahre, left, passes the Olympic flame to Canadian torchbearer Chamila Anthonypillai on the Canadian side of the U.S.-Canadian border on Tuesday. (Mike Siegel | Seattle Times | MCT)

Former Olympic downhill skier Phil Mahre, left, passes the Olympic flame to Canadian torchbearer Chamila Anthonypillai on the Canadian side of the U.S.-Canadian border on Tuesday. (Mike Siegel | Seattle Times | MCT)

Mere mention of the Olympics conjures up many images, from sheer athleticism to Olympic medals to Michael Phelps at the Beijing Games. Two years later, the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, begin without marquee names. The Olympic flame arrives in Vancouver on Friday, and the games begin with opening ceremonies (broadcast on NBC at 8 p.m. Central time) and qualifying rounds of ski jumping.

There are plenty of sports to watch in the following 17 days as fans can cheer on compatriots and underdogs. With the games in Vancouver (Pacific Standard Time), many competitions will be broadcast live.

Lack of snow

Weather forecasters predict scattered showers with a high of 48 degrees Fahrenheit and a low of 43 degrees. Vancouver is currently affected by unseasonably warm weather. As a result, Olympic organizers are scrambling to bring in snow in time for various events such as freestyle skiing and snowboarding.

Hockey

Many people have heard about the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” in which a young team of American hockey players defeated the vaunted Soviet juggernaut and went on to capture the gold medal. Just 30 years later and the situation is much the same, as a young group of American players take the ice in pursuit of the gold.

Standing between them and their goal are the Canadians and the Russians. The Canadians, who are playing on home ice, are led by Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby. For Canadians, hockey is akin to religion, and the arena will become hostile territory for Team USA. The Russians, led by Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin, are also stacked with talent. The American squad includes two members of the St. Louis Blues and last year’s NHL Rookie of the Year, Patrick Kane.

Ice skating

American skier Bode Miller. (Clem Murray | Philadelphia Inquirer | MCT)

American skier Bode Miller. (Clem Murray | Philadelphia Inquirer | MCT)

In each of the last 11 Winter Olympics, the United States had a representative on the medal stand for women’s figure skating. But the Americans are not favored this year. Competing for the U.S. are two skaters younger than most Washington University students: Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu, 16. They will face the favorites: reigning world champion Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and Miki Ando of Japan.

Snowboarding

Shaun White, already a gold medalist from the 2006 games, has a trick that’s sure to wow crowds while upsetting the establishment. “The Flying Tomato” has pulled off the double cork before, but doing it on the world’s grandest stage might put on too much pressure. In this trick, White launches himself into the air and completes a spinning, double flip over a span of about 25 feet.

Downhill skiing

Russian hockey star Alexander Ovechkin. (Gary Reyes | San Jose Mercury News | MCT)

Russian hockey star Alexander Ovechkin. (Gary Reyes | San Jose Mercury News | MCT)

Readers might recognize Lindsey Vonn from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Some members of the media have dubbed her the Winter Games version of Phelps. With an injury to her shin, however, all that talk has been greatly diminished. People used to bet she would sweep several events and take home multiple gold medals. Now fans are wondering if this world champion will even compete at all. In a somewhat encouraging development, Vonn participated in a course inspection on Thursday saying that she felt strong enough for a training run later in the day.

Speed skating

American skater Shani Davis will not compete in any team events, but has the potential to match Eric Helden’s Olympic record of five victories set at the 1980 games in Lake Placid. Apollo Anton Ohno, one of the Winter Games’ most famous athletes, needs only one medal to tie Bonnie Blair as the most decorated U.S. Winter Olympian.

  • TAW

    Shani Davis is only competing in four individual events, not 5, so he can’t tie Heiden. He gave his 10,000 meter spot to Jonathon Kuck.