VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Bode Miller, Chad Hedrick and the men's four-man bobsled team will all be in action Saturday. Here's what we'll be watching:
Alpine skiing: Men's slalom: Three events into these Games, Miller was two medals from becoming the first Alpine skier to medal in all five events since 1988, the first year five events were contested at the Olympics. But after a DNF in giant slalom, those plans changed. Now, with a medal performance in slalom Saturday morning, he can become only the fifth athlete to medal in four events in one Olympics. Miller's teammate Jimmy Cochran, a slalom specialist, also is a medal hope for the U.S., as well as Ted Ligety, a two-time Olympian who looks to live up to a 1972 performance by his aunt, who won gold in slalom in Sapporo. Besides reigning gold and silver medalists Benjamin Raich and Reinfried Herbst of Austria, the greatest challenge Team USA will face is the weather, and themselves.
Cross-country skiing: Women's 30-kilometer mass start: This torturous event -- 18.6 miles, if your math is rusty -- is simply a survival of the fittest. Since the event's debut in 1992, the Italians have won three of five gold medals, and Marianna Longa could continue the tradition. Finn Aino-Kaisa Saarinen, Norwegian Kristin Stoermer Steira and Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk all are talented distance skiers, but the hometown crowd will be behind four-time Olympian and British Columbia native Sara Renner. American Kikkan Randall also will race, but she excels in freestyle skiing, and in this race, athletes are required to use the classical style.
Four-man bobsled, Day 2: American Steven Holcomb and his Night Train crew built a whopping (in bobsled terms) four-tenths of a second lead over Canada's Lyndon Rush in the first two runs of the competition Friday, setting successive track records with each run. Defending champ Andre Lange of Germany is just three-hundredths of a second behind the Canadian sled. But on the track at the Whistler Sliding Centre, no lead is safe. Six sleds failed to make it through Curve 13, ominously dubbed the "50-50 curve" due to the chances of making it through unscathed, and slid down the track upside down. Should Holcomb's group hold on to its lead, it will win the first U.S. gold in four-man bobsledding in 62 years.
Men's curling: Gold- and bronze-medal matches: Unbeaten skip Ken Martin and the Canadian team will face Norway -- flashy, diamond-print pants and all -- for the gold medal Saturday afternoon at Vancouver Olympic Centre. The home team is trying to become the first curling squad to go undefeated at the Games since the sport returned as a medal event in 1998. The Norwegians have lost just one match in Vancouver after Team Canada beat them 7-6 in extra ends Feb. 16, and the rivalry is an old one. Canada won gold in 2006, and Norway won it all in 2002. In the earlier match, Sweden and Switzerland will face off for bronze.
Snowboard: Men's parallel giant slalom: Sure, one country (the U.S.) has dominated halfpipe snowboarding. But in recent years, one family has dominated men's PGS: the Schoches. Phillip and Simon Schoch finished 1-2 in Torino in 2006, and younger brother Phillip won gold in 2002. Both return in the hopes of once again making the Olympic PGS race a family affair. The U.S. team of Tyler Jewell and Chris Klug could jumble those plans. Jewell placed 11th in his first Olympics in 2006 and was 10th at the 2009 World Championships. Klug, the only American to medal in this event (bronze in 2006), is a sentimental favorite. Spreading his story of overcoming a liver transplant to compete in the Olympics is much of his motivation for returning for another Games (aside from also becoming the second medalist, that is).
Long-track speedskating: Men's and women's team pursuit: Despite having earned the most winter medals in U.S. Olympic history, American long-track speedskaters have won just three medals in Vancouver: Shani Davis' gold in the 1,000 meters and silver in the 1,500, and Hedrick's bronze in the 1,000. They have a chance to earn more in the team pursuit Saturday afternoon at the Richmond Olympic Oval. Veteran Hedrick, joined by youngsters Trevor Marsicano, 20, Brian Hansen, 19, and Jonathan Kuck, 19, upset the favored Dutch in qualifying and will face Canada in the final. The women's team consists of two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jen Rodriguez, four-time Olympian Catherine Raney Norman, and newcomers Jilleanne Rookard and Nancy Swider-Peltz Jr. They have advanced to the semifinals, along with Japan, Poland and Germany.
Ice hockey: Men's bronze-medal game: Goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff and the Finns looked stunned after suffering through a one-sided first period Friday in which Team USA scored six goals. Team Finland managed to score just one goal in the 6-1 semifinals rout. Now, Finnish veterans Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have one chance to redeem themselves in what likely will be their last Olympics. They play Slovakia in Saturday afternoon's bronze-medal match at Canada Hockey Place. The Slovaks, though, enter the game on a roll: Their third period against Canada was one of the best of the tournament, and they nearly beat the home team in the closing seconds.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Apolo Ohno, Lindsey Vonn, and the men's U.S. and Canadian hockey teams will all be in action Friday. Here's what we'll be watching:
Snowboarding: Women's Parallel Giant Slalom
Since PGS was added to the 1998 Games - it was individual giant slalom back then -- European riders have dominated the event. Austrian racers Marion Kreiner and Doris Guenther, the top two women at the 2009 world championship, will be the women to beat Friday afternoon at Cypress Mountain. The U.S. has only had one medalist: Rosey Fletcher, who took bronze at Torino in 2006. But the lone American in this year's field would like to change that stat. Michelle Gorgone finished in the top 10 at four World Cup races in 2009 and returns for her second Olympics with a real shot at placing in the top five. Known for going for broke on every turn of every run, Gorgone hopes to finally cash in before retiring at the end of this season.
Alpine Skiing: Women's Slalom
Once again, the talk heading into women's slalom - the final event on the women's Alpine roster -- is about one of Lindsey Vonn's body parts. Vonn broke her right pinkie finger in her first run of the giant slalom Wednesday afternoon, but has decided to race her final event of the 2010 Games. "She's had way worse than that. She'll be fine," U.S. coach Jim Tracy told Reuters on Wednesday. Vonn's teammate Julia Mancuso opted out of the final event, and Sarah Schleper de Gaxiola of Vail is a technical skier who has posted two top-10 finishes in World Cup races this year. But Maria Riesch of Germany and Sandrine Aubert of France are still the women to beat.
At a news conference earlier this week, Steven Holcomb was pranked by his U.S. teammates, who told him he had to take his final eye exam in front of the media. A degenerative eye disease left him nearly blind last year, but an experimental procedure restored his vision to nearly 20/20. As he read the eye chart, Holcomb spelled out "The Night Train Will Win Gold." And after piloting his sled, dubbed the Night Train, to the first U.S. world title in 50 years last March, Holcomb and teammates Steve Mesler, Curt Tomasevicz and Justin Olsen could become the first U.S. athletes to win gold since 1948. John Napier, pilot of the USA 2 sled, also has medal potential. A 1-2 U.S. finish? You'd have to see it to believe it.
Curling: Women's Gold- and Bronze-Medal Matches
Skip Cheryl Bernard and the top-seeded Canadians are exactly where they wanted to be: playing for gold in front of the home crowd. They will face Anette Norberg and the defending gold medalists from Sweden in Friday's final match at the Vancouver Olympic Centre. On Thursday morning, Norberg, 43, competing with the same team she had in Torino, Italy, defeated the Chinese team in the semifinals. It was a rematch of the 2009 world championship final, a match the Chinese won. The Canadians defeated the Swiss in their semifinal in a match that came down to the last stone. China and Switzerland will play for bronze.
Short-Track Speedskating: Men's 500m, Men's 5,000m Relay, Women's 1,000m On Friday evening at Pacific Coliseum, Apolo Ohno will defend his gold medal in the 500 meters while shooting for his eighth overall Olympic medal. Later on, he'll lead the U.S. men in the relay, the final race of the short-track competition, against strong teams from France, China, South Korea and Canada. Sandwiched between the two men's events is the women's 1,000. American Katherine Reutter set an Olympic record in the qualifying round Wednesday afternoon, but will have to contend with 500m gold medalist Wang Meng and 1,500m gold medalist Zhou Yang, both of China.
Ice Hockey: Men's Semifinals, USA vs. Finland, Canada vs. Slovakia
By now, everyone knows Canada blew out the Russians in Wednesday's quarterfinals, rendering superstar Alex Ovechkin virtually useless by putting the sheer size and skill of winger Rick Nash and defenseman Shea Weber in his way. Now, Canada will have to get through Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa and the rest of the Slovakian team to earn a berth in the gold-medal gamel. The Americans, who squeaked by Switzerland in the quarters, will face Finland, which eliminated the Czechs on Wednesday night at UBC Arena.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The highlight of Thursday's Olympic action will be the men's figure skating free program -- but that isn't the only event you should check out. Here are our picks:
Biathlon: Men's 20km Individual
Things did not go as planned for American Tim Burke in Sunday's 10-kilometer sprint; he got caught in a midrace snowstorm, missed three shots and finished 47th. Because the finish in the 10km race decided the start order for Tuesday's pursuit, Burke didn't start until sprint gold medalist Vincent Jay of France had already been on the course for more than three minutes. It was an impossible amount of time to make up, and Burke finished 46th. On Thursday, Burke will look for redemption in the 20km race and try to become the first American to win an Olympic medal in biathlon. He'll have to watch out for Jay, and for Norwegian star Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who is in search of his 10th Olympic medal.
Christian Pondella/Getty ImagesKelly Clark enters the Olympics at the top of her game.
Snowboarding: Women's Halfpipe Finals
In 2006, the American women were a few points from sweeping the podium. This year should be no different. The U.S. team is composed of the same four riders who competed in the Torino Olympics, and this year, they're not content to share the spotlight. Kelly Clark, the 2002 Olympic gold medalist, won nearly every contest she entered in the past year and a half and is riding with unmatched amplitude -- something Olympic judges seem to value above all. At contests when Clark found herself in second place, she usually was taking a backseat to 2006 silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler, who changed her run this season and is peaking when it counts. Bleiler beat her teammates in one of the most progressive contests in women's halfpipe history at the X Games last month. Returning Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter, Jiayu Liu of Japan and Torah Bright of Australia also all have solid chances of landing on the podium.
Figure Skating: Men's Free Program
The gloves will be dropped Thursday night at the Pacific Coliseum. Although reigning Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia landed a perfect quadruple toe-loop and posted a new Olympic record with a score of 90.85 in the free skate Tuesday night, he is just .55 points ahead of American Evan Lysacek in second and .6 points ahead of Japan's Daisuke Takahashi in third. And neither of those men did a quad. Takahashi and Lysacek both scored significantly higher than Plushenko in the component score (the old artistic impression number), picking up the slack from the executed elements column. The free skate will pit athleticism against artistry. Plushenko has never been known for the latter, and Lysacek will not do a quad. In his long program, Takahashi will have both.
Men's Hockey: USA vs. Norway and Canada vs. Switzerland
Women's Hockey: USA vs. Finland
The American and Canadian men's teams will be in action again Thursday at Canada Hockey Place, this time against Norway and Switzerland. It's unlikely either team will be tested. And with the lopsided nature of the scores coming out of the women's tournament, you'd expect the same from the U.S. women against Finland. But don't forget: It was the scrappy Finns who upset the Americans in Torino in 2006, forcing them to settle for the worst finish in their brief Olympic history: a bronze.
Speedskating: Women's 1000m
Two-time Olympian Christine Nesbitt of London, Ontario, is favored for gold in Thursday night's race at the Richmond Olympic Oval. She's the reigning world champ at the distance and has won all four 1,000-meter World Cup races this season. Nesbitt's toughest challengers will be Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands, Japan's Nao Kodaira and China's Beixing Wang. Ottawa's Kristina Groves is a sleeper in the race; there's no telling how much inspiration she'll draw from the home crowd. Americans Jennifer Rodriguez and Heather Richardson also will compete.
Skeleton: Men's and Women's, Day 1
American skeleton racers Noelle Pikus-Pace and Zach Lund have been waiting a long time for this. Lund was kicked out of Torino on the eve of the 2006 Games for testing positive for a banned substance in his hair-restoration medicine (he was later cleared of any wrongdoing). Pikus-Pace's right leg was literally shattered in the fall of 2005 when she was struck by an out-of-control bobsled in Calgary, Alberta. Both will look to fulfill their Olympic medal dreams Thursday night at the Whistler Sliding Centre. It won't be easy. Pikus-Pace and teammate Katie Uhlaender are ranked sixth and seventh in the world, but all three Torino medalists -- Maya Pedersen of Switzerland, Shelley Rudman of Great Britain and Mellisa Hollingsworth of Canada -- are returning. Lund will have his hands full, too. Martins Dukurs of Latvia won seven World Cup medals this season. Canada's Jon Montgomery has posted lightning-fast training times all week, and countryman Jeff Pain holds the official track record. And Germans Frank Rommel, Sandro Stielicke and Michi Halilovic are all contenders, as well.
The world's most talked-about shin injury will finally be tested Wednesday. What else should you be watching? From Shaun White to Stephen Colbert, here are our picks:
Harry How/Getty ImagesAlaska's Kikkan Randall is looking to end America's cross-country medal drought.
Alpine Skiing: Women's Downhill
Despite her much-discussed shin injury, American Lindsey Vonn is still the favorite in women's downhill on Franz's Run at Whistler Creekside in British Columbia. She was "very sore" after her training run Monday, but still posted the day's top time. "It was by far the bumpiest course I have ever skied," Vonn wrote on her Facebook page. Teammate Julia Mancuso was second, .39 seconds behind, followed by Austria's Elisabeth Goergl. The second women's downhill training run, scheduled for Tuesday morning, was canceled because of bad weather, but with one run in, the event can go off as scheduled. "I'm a fighter," Vonn says. "I just want to get out there and start competing." Vonn also will face stiff competition from Germany's Maria Riesch, who ended Vonn's perfect record in the World Cup this season by beating her in a downhill race in January. Anja Paerson of Sweden is third in the World Cup standings and won three medals at the Torino Olympics, including a bronze.
Cross-Country Skiing: Women's Individual Sprint Classic
No American has ever won gold in cross-country skiing, but in 2007, Alaska's Kikkan Randall became the first American woman in 29 years to win a Nordic World Cup race. In Torino in 2006, Randall finished ninth in the sprint. It was the best-ever Olympic finish by an American woman in the discipline. But in Italy, Randall was permitted to use the much faster freestyle stride with which she has achieved her best results; skiers use a stride similar to a speedskater's, pushing off on the diagonal. In Whistler, the classical technique, which uses a parallel stride, will be required. "It's a big challenge," Randall says. "But the Olympics are all about seeing what you can do." The current World Cup standings are topped by Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk with Slovenia's Petra Majdic; they should both fare well in Wednesday's race.
Short Track Speedskating: 1,000m
Apolo Ohno's silver medal Monday night in the 1,500 meters was his sixth Winter Olympic medal, tying him with Bonnie Blair's record. He gets his first chance to break the record Wednesday night at Pacific Coliseum in the 1,000. The race is shorter and faster, with more contact. Trying to derail Ohno's plans will be South Korean Lee Jung-Su and fellow American J.R. Celski, the gold and bronze medalists in the 1,500. Five months ago at the U.S. Short Track trials, Celski outskated Ohno in the 1,000m time trials before accidentally stabbing his left leg with his right skate, suffering a gruesome cut that required 60 stitches to close. Doctors told him he might never walk again, much less skate. It's tough not to root for a kid who defied those odds.
Snowboarding: Men's Halfpipe
Before arriving in Vancouver, American snowboarder Shaun White, the defending Olympic halfpipe gold medalist, was considered the heavy favorite to repeat. Now, with the weather conditions forcing many riders to bag their most progressive tricks, that could mean an advantage for European and Asian riders used to competing in less-than-pristine pipes. Only thing is, in the case of White vs. the rest of the world, it's not. At practice Monday evening, White landed his signature double McTwist 1260 and appeared the least affected by the conditions. "The best riders shine through in bad weather," White said in an interview with ESPN The Mag this fall; Wednesday will be White's chance. The remaining two spots on the podium are anyone's to grab. Swiss rider Iouri Podladtchikov and Kazuhiro Kokubo of Japan finished 2-3 at the Winter X Games last month, and Americans Scotty Lago, Louie Vito and Greg Bretz all have the talent, and the runs, to medal.
Women's Ice Hockey: Canada vs. Sweden
On a day when Men's Group 2 powerhouses Finland and Sweden will loosen their legs against Belarus and Germany, the Canadian women will face off against Sweden, having outscored their opponents 28-1 in these Olympics thus far. Sweden can't be taken quite as lightly as Slovakia and Switzerland; the Swedes upset the Americans in Torino in 2006, then fell to the Canadians and took silver. Still, it seems as if Team USA and Team Canada are on a crash course to the final, and there's not much any other country can do about it.
Speedskating: Men's 1,000m
American Shani Davis, the defending Olympic champion and world-record holder in the 1,000 meters, was the hands-down favorite for Wednesday night's race, but the surprise win in Monday's 500 by 21-year-old Korean Mo Tae-Bum, and the fact that Davis pulled out of that race after placing 18th in the first of two heats, has raised some questions. Davis, though, says he pulled out to focus on the two races he has a better chance of winning: the 1,000 and the 1,500. He will have extra motivation Wednesday night at the Richmond Olympic Oval; team sponsor and "Colbert Report" host Stephen Colbert will be in Vancouver, as a fully accredited member of the media, to cheer Davis to victory.
Tuesday's theme is return and redemption -- and the start of the men's hockey tournament. Our picks for what to watch Tuesday:
Kyle Terada/US PresswireLindsey Jacobellis is hoping to erase memories of 2006.
Snowboardcross: Women's Final
American Lindsey Jacobellis enters Tuesday's race in the same position she was in four years ago: as the hands-down favorite. But this year, Jacobellis is hoping that by reclaiming the gold medal she left lying on the final jump of the snowboardcross course in Torino, Italy, she can put to rest the story of 2006. "It has been with me for four years. There hasn't been a break," says Jacobellis, the most dominant athlete -- male or female -- in the history of her sport. "But if this is what makes people tune in -- Will she come back and win it all? -- then that is better for our sport down the road." Jacobellis comes to Vancouver, British Columbia, hot off a win -- her third straight -- at the Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., but she is no sure thing. Maelle Ricker of host team Canada is a medal contender, as are Norwegian teen Helene Olafsen and Sandra Frei of Switzerland. And although she is not expected to contend for a medal, Jacobellis' U.S. teammate Callan Chythlook-Sifsof is a great story herself. A native of Girdwood, Alaska, (pop. 224) Chythlook-Sifsof is the first Inuit Eskimo in U.S. Ski and Snowboard team history.
Men's Hockey: USA vs. Switzerland / Canada vs. Norway
OK, sports fans, the day you've been waiting for has finally arrived. Let the 2010 Winter Olympic hockey games begin! Team Canada plays its first game on home soil, against Norway, at 4:30 p.m. PT. Team USA makes its debut earlier, against Switzerland at noon PT. Norway hasn't qualified for an Olympic tournament since it hosted the Games in Lillehammer in 1994, and defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is the only NHLer (OK, AHLer now) on the roster. Switzerland's team features D's Mark Streit, Luca Sbisa and Yannick Weber of the Islanders, Ducks and Habs, respectively, as well as Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller. We won't bore you savvy fans with the details of Team Canada and Team USA's stacked rosters, but we will say this: In such a short tournament, anything can happen.
Figure Skating: Men's Short Program
Call it the return of the king. After winning gold in Torino, Russia's Evgeni Plushenko announced his retirement from the sport. In his absence, the Russians, lords of the Olympic rings in men's figure skating, suffered in international competition. This year, Plushenko returned to the team, looking strong and consistent. Known for having the best quad in the sport, Plushenko, 27, is also the only skater with a quad combo. Only Jeremy Abbott on the U.S. team has the quad, a trick viewed by new-school skaters as unnecessary under a new scoring system that favors transitions and spins over pure athleticism. Americans Johnny Weir, who announced his switch from fox to faux fur for these Olympic Games, and Evan Lysacek also have a spinning chance at landing a medal.
Alpine Skiing: Men's Super Combined
With a bronze in the downhill Monday, American Bode Miller became the first U.S. medal winner in Alpine skiing at these Games. Tuesday, he looks to upgrade the finish on that prize. A virtual fitness test, the super-combi is one of the toughest events on the Alpine program. Unlike the one-downhill, two-slalom format used in Torino, this year's format features one downhill and one slalom run. The times from both runs are added together, and the skier with the fastest combined total is the winner. In 2006, American Ted Ligety won the U.S. ski team's only gold medal in this event, and he is a medal contender here in Vancouver, once again. Still, all eyes will be on Miller, who returns for his third Olympic Games in search of his first gold medal. Benjamin Raich of Austria and Carlo Janka of Switzerland hope to derail that plan.
Luge: Women's Singles
On the same day a memorial was held in downtown Vancouver honoring Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the women began their first day of competition on the Whistler track that claimed his life. In response to Kumaritashvili's accident, a 12-foot-tall wooden wall was constructed at Turn 16, padding was added to the exposed steel beams and the women's start was moved down 800 feet to the junior start. Day 1 of competition was led by the German team, which swept the podium in 2002 and 2006. The U.S.'s team's strongest slider is Erin Hamlin, who snapped the German team's 99-race international win streak to win the 2009 world championship and beat four-time Olympian Natalia Yakushenko of Ukraine at a World Cup this season. Hamlin sits in 20th place after one day of competition. Germany's Tatjana Huefner is in first.
All eyes will be on Shani Davis on Monday, as the American speedskater goes for gold in the men's 500 meters event. What else should you be watching? Here are our picks:
Alpine Skiing: Men's Downhill
This event has already been rescheduled a few times due to weather conditions at Whistler Creekside, but looks set to finally begin Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET. It will be Bode Miller's first of a planned five races here at these Games.
Cross-Country Skiing: Men's 15K
All eyes will be on Norwegian Petter Northug, cross-country skiing's newest superstar. At 24 years old, he already owns eight individual World Cup titles, along with five additional podiums, and he's leading the current World Cup overall standings. It will be up to Czech Lukas Bauer, Swede Marcus Hellner and Italy's Pietro Piller Cottrer to keep Northug from his first Olympic medal. Also racing with a chance to medal is 30-year-old American Kris Freeman, a three-time Olympian who has overcome Type 1 diabetes to become one of the most successful American cross-country skiers in history. In Vancouver, the 15K will be the first of his five events.
American Erin Hamlin has her work cut out for her at the Whistler Sliding Center on Monday evening. The Remsen, N.Y., native won gold at the 2009 World Championships in Lake Placid in February 2009, nearly two-tenths of a second ahead of Germany's Natalie Geisenberger. A miracle, her teammates called it. Why? Because the Germans had won 99 consecutive World Championship, World Cup and Olympic races dating back to 1997, and no non-German woman had taken World Championship gold since 1993. Now, Germans Geisenberger, Tatjana Huefner and Anke Wischnewski hold the top three spots in the World Cup standings. They'll be eager to start a new winning streak.
The sport of snowboardcross was so popular in its Olympic debut in Torino that the IOC added its sister sport, skiercross, to this year's program. Hands down one of the most exciting events in the Olympic lineup, snowboardcross is also one of the most difficult to predict. Anyone who saw the women's final in Torino knows it's not just about being fastest down the hill. To win requires a mix of speed, technical prowess, luck, patience and crash-avoidance skills. This year's race should not disappoint. The Americans field the strongest team, led by 2006 gold medalist Seth Wescott and five-time defending Winter X Games champ Nate Holland. The thrilling Holland-Wescott final at Winter X in January provided a taste of what's to come on Monday. But if anyone is going to stop the U.S. from landing a one-two punch, chances are it will be Austrian Markus Schairer, the reigning World and World Cup champ.
Speedskating: Men's 500M
It seems long distances belong to Dutchman Sven Kramer, middle distances to American Shani Davis. But there is no clear favorite for Monday night's sprint at the Richmond Olympic Oval. The hometown crowd will try to will Jeremy Wotherspoon, of Humboldt, Saskatchewan, to gold in his last Olympic hoorah. Wotherspoon won a silver medal in Nagano, his first Olympics, but has crashed and burned -- sometimes literally -- in each Olympics since. The world-record holder will face tough competition from Koreans Lee Kang-Seok and Lee Kyou-Hyuk, Mika Poutala of Finland and Tucker Fredricks of the United States.
Figure skating: Pairs free skate
We've previously mentioned how China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo had a chance to beat reigning world champs Aliona Savchekno and Robin Szolkowy of Germany in the pairs competition. On Sunday night, the Chinese duo (they are also married) set a new world record with a score of 76.66 in the short program, besting their own mark of 75.36 from January. But Savchenko and Szolkowy were almost as brilliant (75.96), while the Russian team of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov is in a close third (74.16). Heading into tonight's free skate, just 5.38 points separate first from fifth, leaving all three medals up for grabs.
A photographer who wants to capture the true essence of his subject doesn't snap photos while she is posing for his camera. Instead, he shoots the moments in between. For it is in these moments, when she believes his camera is off or its focus is trained elsewhere, that she relaxes into her true self, freed of the pressure of having to manufacture a mood. It is these moments that also enable a writer to tell the story of an athlete like halfpipe snowboarder Gretchen Bleiler.
Because her in-between moments are equally as jam-packed and filled with passion and personality as those she has scheduled for public viewing.
"From the beginning, I committed to seeing how far I could take snowboarding, and that meant on and off the hill," said Bleiler, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist and four-time Winter X Games champ, during a 30-minute drive from Thursday afternoon's snowboard halfpipe press conference in Vancouver to an Oakley fashion show at Grouse Mountain, where she debuted her fall 2010 signature line to a gathering of international media. "Some people choose just to be a snowboarder, but my goal was always to be more than that."
While most athletes in Vancouver are focusing 100 percent of their time and energy on preparing for competition, Bleiler will continuously change hats, from athlete to sport ambassador to fashion designer to corporate spokesperson. Often, each role change means a literal change of hats, from the Polo-issued beret worn by U.S. Olympians to the pageboy cap of a trend-setting fashion designer to the pastel purple beanie she donned for a television interview with the BBC on Thursday night. "I feel like the busier I am, the more productive I am," Bleiler said. "Why slow down just because I'm at the Olympics?"
On Thursday morning, Bleiler awoke in the athletes' village, worked out with her roommate and close friend Kelly Clark, and then ate her first meal in the athletes' lunchroom, where she experienced her first Olympic "celebrity moment." "A guy on the curling team asked me to take a picture with him," Bleiler said with equal parts humility and unmasked excitement. "That never happened to me in Torino."
After a long session of meet and mingle with athletes from around the world -- "I took a photo with Errol Kerr, the only Jamaican athlete. And have you ever met Johnny Weir? He is awesome. He was carrying this amazing purple Balenciaga purse I totally want!" -- Bleiler met her U.S. teammates and drove to the Main Press Center for their only press conference before competing on Feb. 18. There, she fielded the lion's share of questions, which focused on training and competition instead of pot smoking, partying and life off the hill. That's quite a departure from the press conferences of four years ago. "The media is so much more educated about our sport now," Bleiler said. And she has a lot to do with that.
Like Shaun White on the men's side, Bleiler is both a magnet for media attention and acutely aware that the public's opinion of her is also the public's opinion of snowboarding. She knows that what she says and how she acts -- whether the cameras are on or not -- reflects directly back onto herself, her teammates and her sport. That is something few athletes, especially those in the young sport of competitive snowboarding, comprehend. Her awareness of this fact is the reason that while Hannah Teter emerged from Torino with a gold medal, Bleiler emerged as the face, and the voice, of women's snowboarding. It is a role she proudly embraces and a role she played well on Thursday afternoon.
At least, that is, until it was time to hop in the van to Grouse and swap beanies once again. Bleiler would slip effortlessly between personas several more times Thursday night before returning to the athletes' village. She sat fireside while giving a TV interview about her sport, stood on a makeshift outdoor stage in the rain answering questions about her clothing line and then jetted off to an autograph signing and corporate event for sponsor AT&T in downtown Vancouver. "Busiest girl in town," one Oakley employee said as Bleiler distributed a round of goodbye hugs before hopping in the gondola for a ride down the mountain.
Before leaving Grouse, and before all the hugging, Bleiler granted one final television interview to a reporter from the BBC. After listening to Bleiler talk about how far the sport of women's snowboarding has progressed in the four years since the Torino Games and how empowering the sport of snowboarding is for young girls, the reporter asked, "So then, would you consider yourself a feminist?" Yet another hat?
"The word feminist has such a negative connotation," Bleiler said. "Let's just say I'm a woman who likes to push herself and push past boundaries. And of course, look good doing it."