Day 3: What to watch

February, 13, 2010

Love is in the air. Too bad love isn't a synonym for cold temperatures and snow. Our take on the top events to watch this Valentine's Day:

Alpine Skiing: Women's Super Combined
What was scheduled to be the first woman's alpine event of the Games -- and the debut of Lindsey Vonn's shin -- has been postponed until Thursday due to weather.

Luge: Men's Singles
In the wake of the tragic death of 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training run Friday morning, Olympic officials announced changes to the track and contest format. Most notably, the men are starting from the lower women's start at a turn called The Wedge. That means slower speeds and changes in racing tactics. In the first day of competition Saturday, athletes were hitting top speeds about 9-15 mph lower than in previous sessions, where top speeds reached 95 mph. American Tony Benshoof crashed in a training run Friday and is competing with three herniated discs in his lower back, yet is the USA's best hope for a medal. Benshoof is a three-time Olympian and finished just off the podium in Torino, losing the bronze by 0.153 of a second to Latvia's Martins Rubenis. Two-time defending champion Armin Zoeggeler of Italy is one of the most decorated lugers in history and the gold-medal favorite once again.

Women's Ice Hockey: USA vs. China
[Due to the high volume of reader feedback concerned with the fact we are omitting men's hockey from our daily previews, an editor's note: The Olympic men's hockey tournament begins Tuesday. The NHL is currently in session until it begins a two-week break to accommodate the Games, Feb. 15-28.]
Two-time defending World Champion Team USA makes its Olympic debut against China on Sunday afternoon at UBC's Thunderbird Arena. Team China qualified for these Games with three straight victories over Norway, the Czech Republic and Japan, and returns to Olympic competition after an eight-year hiatus. With just 166 registered female hockey players in the country to choose from, China will be overmatched against the U.S. (There are 66,000 registered female hockey players in the United States.) But Sunday is Chinese New Year and begins The Year of The Tiger. In Chinese astrology, the tiger is good luck.

Figure Skating: Pairs Short Program
Two-time and reigning world champs Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germay are the pair to beat. And there's a duo who could do just that. China's Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, two-time Olympic bronze medalists, returned after a two-year absence from the sport to dominate the international circuit this past fall. Known for their athleticism and emotion, the pair is skating heads and shoulders above the rest of the field and should head into the long program with a sizable lead. Even more impressive in the youthful sport of figure skating: Shen is 31; Zhao is 36.

Biathlon: Men's 10 km Sprint
The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon. Heck, the best American finish thus far was 19th by Lyle Nelson in 1980. On Sunday, those stats should change. The U.S. brings its strongest Olympic team in history to Vancouver, led by Tim Burke of upstate New York. Burke became the first American in history to reach the podium at a World Cup event when he finished third in the sprint event at Ostersund two months ago. He then became the first American in history to race in the yellow bib as the overall leader in the World Cup standings. Teammate Jay Hakkinen of Alaska is competing in his fourth Olympics, Jeremy Teela in his third and Lowell Bailey in his second. With all that experience, the U.S. should be stiff competition for the Norwegians -- favorites here in Vancouver.

Alyssa Roenigk

ESPN The Magazine senior writer
Alyssa Roenigk is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and whose assignments covering action sports, Olympics and football have taken her to six continents and caused her to commit countless acts of recklessness. (follow @ESPN_Alyssa on Twitter).



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