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Daily Briefing, Feb. 14

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- The third day of Olympic competitions falls on Valentine's Day, and no one can use a bigger hug than Canada following a tough Saturday in which the host country failed to end its home-gold medal drought. It's unlikely the Canadians will win a medal today (though they have a shot in men's moguls), but Sunday holds major promise for the U.S. in Nordic combined. Medals will also be awarded in the biathlon sprint, men's singles luge and women's speedskating. The highlights:

(All times Eastern)

• The U.S. Nordic combined athletes have become the sport's It boys. At the 2009 Worlds, BillDemong and five-time Olympian ToddLodwick combined to take all three of the individual events. The Americans might have swept the golds if Demong hadn't misplaced his competition bib for the relay, disqualifying him from the ski-jump. Now comes the opportunity to see whether the U.S. is, surprisingly, the new world power in the sport. The individual competition begins at 1 p.m. with the ski jump, followed by the cross-country at 4:45 p.m. MagnusMoan of Norway and JasonLamyChappuis of France are the Americans' main competition.

• The king of the men's 10K sprint (2:15 p.m.) is OleEinarBjørndalen, who won this event in 1998 and 2002 and owns nine Olympic medals, including five golds. The 36-year-old Norwegian needs four medals in Vancouver to break the all-time Winter Olympics record held by compatriot cross country skier BjørnDaehlie. SI says he'll add gold today, followed by Austria's DominikLandertinger and SimonFourcade of France. But watch out for Norway's HalvardHanevold and MichaelGreis of Germany. American Tim Burke took silver and bronze at a World Cup event in Sweden two months ago, the best performance by an American since 1992.

• The U.S. women hockey team opens against China (3 p.m.) in a game that should be a cakewalk; the Americans have outscored the Chinese 17-1 in two Olympic Games. Finland and Russia meet for the first time in Olympic women's play (7:30 p.m.) in a game with an American bent: Finland goaltender NooraRaty is in the middle of remarkable freshman season at the University of Minnesota: The 20-year-old has a 14-2-4 record, an 0.80 goals-against average and a .967 save percentage. The Finns were fourth in Salt Lake City and Turin.

• The men's singles luge concludes competition today (4 p.m.) at the Whistler Sliding Centre. Germany's FelixLoch (1:36.570) and DavidMoeller (1:36.852) were 1-2 after the first two rounds. Two-time Olympic champion ArminZoeggeler (1:37.002) of Italy was third, followed by Russia's AlbertDemtschenko (137.169). TonyBenshoof of the U.S. stood in seventh place, 0.834 off the pace set by Loch, with only a distant shot at a medal.

• The women's 3,000-meter long-track speedskating final (4 p.m.) appears to be a three-athlete race: The favorite is the Czech Republic's MartinaSablikova (SI's pick for gold). Germany's StephanieBeckert and Canada's KristinaGroves are also medal contenders.

• Another Woe, Canada moment? Men's moguls champion and 2010 favorite DaleBegg-Smith of Australia was born in Vancouver and began skiing in Canada, but left the national team at age 15 after coaches said his teenage business ventures were distracting him. (He's since moved Down Under and become a millionaire, thanks to multiple Web-marketing companies; some have accused him of producing Internet spam.) Begg-Smith won gold for the Aussies at Turin and owns three overall World Cup titles. But Canada is not without hope for that first home gold: AlexandreBilodeau, the reigning world cup champion, and Pierre-AlexandreRousseau are serious medal contenders. So are France's GuilbautColas and JesperBjornlund of Sweden. The competition begins at 5:30 p.m.; finals are scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m.

• The Soviets/Russians have won or shared every Olympic title in pairs figure skating since 1964, but SI's prediction is for China's husband-and-wife team of ShenXue and ZhaoHongbo to break that stranglehold on gold. (The short program begins at 7:30 p.m.; the free skate comes Monday at 8 p.m.) The two-time bronze medalists returned to competition this season after a two-year layoff and have won every event they've entered, including the Grand Prix in December, when they upset 2008 and '09 world champions AlonaSavchenko and RobinSzolkowy of Germany. (Savchenko and Szolkowy are the only team to be awarded a perfect 10 since the ISU instituted its new scoring system in 2005.) Russia's best pair is YukoKavaguti and AlexanderSmirnov, while China has two other powerful teams: PangQing and TongJian (SI's pick for silver) and ZhangDan and ZhangHao, who won silver in Turin. CaydeeDenney and JeremyBarrett are the best hope for the U.S. JessicaDube and BryceDavidson are Canada's top pair.

Alpine update: The men's downhill, originally scheduled for Saturday afternoon, has been postponed until 1:30 p.m. on Monday, and the women's combined, originally scheduled for today, has been moved to Thursday at 12:30 p.m. Indeed, weather delays have forced organizers to schedule seven Alpine events in seven days, beginning with Monday's men's downhill. The Women's downhill, featuring LindseyVonn, is on schedule for Wednesday at 2 p.m.

• "We don't want to give him too heavy a workload. We treated him carefully, like a flower bouquet that should look fresh on the day of the competition. --Russia's figure skating coach AlexeiMishin, on Evgeni Plushenko's preparation following his European Championship victory.

• If you had a ski jump in Miami, on Miami Beach, I wouldn't mind to come and ski there." --Swiss gold medalist SimonAmmann, on how to make his sport more popular in North America

• Canadian moguls silver medalist JennHeil told CTV that she was inspired to become an Olympian by reading this SI cover story in 1992.

• In a fantastic display of endurance, HaraldsSilovs of Latvia competed Saturday in both the men's 5,000 in long-track speedskating (he finished 20th) and the men's 1,500 short-track event (he finished fourth in the 'B' Final) within hours of each competition.

• 3,000 - Olympic pucks produced for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Referees try to use a new pucker every two minutes, according to The Vancouver Sun.

• 34 - Percentage of voters in a SeattleTimes.com survey of 758 readers who chose ShaunWhite as the athlete who would be the biggest star at the Games.

• 14 - Percentage who voted for LindseyVonn.

1. Indian Olympic team gets donated uniforms in Vancouver (by BBC.com staff): Vancouver's Bollywood radio station steps up for its homeboys.

2. The Strong Link Between Sports and Religion (by DouglasTodd, The Vancouver Sun): An interesting examination.

3. Chinese Women Battling Back in Ice Hockey (by Charles McGrath, The New York Times): The Chinese hockey program fights back from extinction.

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