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Daily Briefing, Feb. 26

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- "Ten days ago if you had said the United States would be 4-0 and the top seed and guaranteed to play in a medal game, well, to paraphrase coach RonWilson, you would be facing drug charges," says SI's MichaelFarber. "But this team has grown up before a nation's eyes."

Certainly all eyes in Vancouver -- and across the True North -- will be on today's hockey semifinals at Canada's Hockey Place. It's the U.S. against Finland and Canada versus Slovakia, and it's part of a big day that includes medals in men's biathlon, women's curling, men's and women's short track, women's parallel giant slalom, and women's slalom.

(All times Eastern)

Lindsey Vonn will race in today's slalom (the first run is scheduled for 1 p.m.) with a splint protecting the non-displaced fracture in her right pinkie finger, suffered at some point in Wednesday's violent crash into the safety netting. "In seeking a third medal at these Olympics (after gold in downhill and bronze in Super-G), Vonn's slalom is hit or miss -- she can win or fail to qualify for the second run," says SI's Tim Layden. "Since the 2006 Olympic Games, Vonn has raced 32 World Cup slalom races. The tally: Two victories, five podiums and 12 races in which she either didn't finish one of the runs or failed to qualify (based on time) for the second run. On top of that, her slalom training has been minimal since the shin injury. However: She was ripping in the GS when she crashed, and only 15 seconds from the bottom. So she's going to put herself in the race." The favorite for gold is Germany's MariaRiesch, who won the Super combined. Sweden's AnjaPaerson, France's SandrineAubert, Austria's KathrinZettel and MarliesSchild, Czech Republic's SarkaZahrobska and Slovenia TinaMaze are also medal contenders. Paerson won gold in this event in Turin. Hailey Duke, Megan McJames, and Sarah Schleper will also ski for the U.S.

NicolienSauerbreij of the Netherlands is the one to beat in women's parallel giant snowboard event (the qualifying round starts at 1 p.m.; the finals come at 4:31 p.m.). Switzerland's FraenziMaegert-Kuhil, AmelieKober of Germany, Russia's AlenaZavarzina and Austrians DorisGuenther and MarionKreiner are all medal contenders. Sauerbreij currently leads the World Cup standings; Kober is second. MichelleGorgone is the best hope for the U.S., though it will be hard not to root for this competitor:

• The men's 4 x 7.5K biathlon relay (2:30 p.m.) might be the last Olympic race for OleEinarBjoerndalen, the 36-year-old Norwegian legend who won silver here to increase his overall medal total to 10. He and EmilHegleSvendsen (gold in the 20K individual) will lead Norway. France, Austria, Russia are also medal contenders. Germany won this race in Turin. Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Jay Hakkinen, and Jeremy Teela will compete for the U.S.

Most of Canada will be watching today's men's hockey semifinals:

United States vs. Finland (3 p.m.): No team has been a bigger surprise here (save Slovakia) than the Americans, who are a win away from playing in the gold-medal game. Finland blanked the Czech Republic behind goalie MiikkaKiprusoff, whose duel with U.S. goalie RyanMiller promises to be dazzling. (Kiprusoff leads the Olympic tournament in save percentage -- .946 to Miller's .944.) The Fins, defending silver medalists, always seem to play well in big tournaments.

Canada vs. Slovakia (9:30 p.m.): We figured Canada would be here but Slovakia? Yes, Slovakia. The hockey tournament's best story pulled off the biggest ice hockey upset of the Games Wednesday, knocking out defending gold medalists Sweden. That comes off the Slovaks earlier upset of Russia. Slovakia does not have the kind of deep NHL roster Canada does but they are led by NHL All-Star forward MarianGaborik, the skilled MarianHossa, Canucks center PavolDemitra ("He has shocked Vancouver with a passion he rarely has displayed in his day job with the Canucks," says Farber) and Bruins All-Star defenseman ZdenoChara. Slovakia finished in fifth place four years ago in Turin and are a huge underdog after the ease in which Canada said 'Do svidanya' to Russia.

• Dutch speedskater SvenKramer returns the ice for the qualification round of the Men's Team Pursuit competition after his stunning disqualification in the 10,000 earlier this week. He and his Netherlands teammates are the favorites for gold in the event. Italy and Canada will also be factors. Chad Hedrick, Trevor Marsicano, BrianHansen and Jonathan Kuck will skate for the U.S. The women's race is wide open between Canada, Germany, Japan and Russia. The U.S. women's team consists of Jen Rodriguez, Catherine Raney Norman, Jilleanne Rookard and Nancy Swider-Peltz, Jr. Both qualification rounds come at 3:30 p.m. The finals are Saturday.

• Want dominance? We give you Germany's AndreLange, who is bidding for his third consecutive gold medal in men's four-man bobsled (the opening heats begin at 4 p.m.). Earlier in the Games, Lange won the gold medal in the two-man bobsled and he and brakeman KevinKuske are only Olympians to have earned four bobsled gold medals. (They won gold in the four-man in Salt Lake City and defended that title in Turin, and the two-man in Turin). The American team is led by driver SteveHolcomb, and his team will be in close pursuit (the rest of USA-1 includes SteveMesler, JustinOlsen and CurtisTomasevicz). Last year, Holcomb drove the U.S. team to its first world championship in half a century. Germany has won this race since 1994 and has a second bobsled (piloted by ThomasFlorschuetz) that will be a major contender. Russia's AlexandrZubov and USA-2 (JohnNapier, CharlesBerkeley, StevenLangton and ChrisFogt) should also be considered.

• It won't draw many eyeballs in the States, but the women's curling gold medal (6 p.m.) match is appointment viewing in Canada. The top-seeded Canadians, led by the growing-in-popularity-by-the-minute skip CherylBernard takes on second seed Sweden, who won the gold medal in Turin behind skip AnnetteNorburg. The teams met earlier in the competition -- a 6-2 win after nine ends for Canada. Norburg is considered one of the sport's best skips and led Sweden to a gold medal in Turin four years ago. Canada has lost only once at the Games, a 6-5 defeat to China on Feb. 21. The winner of this match will be the first country to win two gold medals in women's curling. Canada won the title in 1998.

• China will play Switzerland in the women's curling bronze medal game (12 p.m.)

• Canada has been focusing on the short track 500-meter race with CharlesHamelin, 2006 Olympic silver medalist Francois-LouisTremblay and OliverJean. South Korea's Lee Ho-Suk is also a medal contender. ApoloOhno is the American hope and this is likely his last shot to add to his record Winter Olympic medal total. The quarterfinals begin at 9 p.m.; the finals come at 10:14 p.m.

KatherineReutter has a shot to medal in the women's short track 1,000-meter race (finals start at 10:24 p.m.) after setting an Olympic record by winning her heat in 1:30.508. China's WangMeng is the world champion at the distance and won silver in Turin. Her countrywoman, YangZhou, is ranked No. 3 in the world. Koreans Park Seng-Hi and Cho Ha-Ri, and Canada's KalynaRoberge are medal contenders. Wang is SI's pick for gold.

• The finalists for the men's short track 5,000 relay (the finals are at 10:51 p.m.) include South Korea, Canada, China, France and the U.S. Defending champ South Korea (it holds the world record with a time of 6:38.486) is a heavy favorite. Ohno will also be entered as part of the U.S. team that are the reigning world champions. J.R. Celski, Travis Jayner and Jordan Malone will also skate for the Americans, a long shot to win gold. Canada, which won Olympic gold here in 1998 and 2002, lost the lead to South Korea on the final lap in Turin.

• "People who said the Sweden team didn't prepare, I'm going to nail them on it because the Swedish team worked their asses off." -- Team Sweden women's hockey coach Peter Elander, following his team's 3-2 loss in the bronze medal game.

• "Even though she's not here anymore, I'm not afraid to say it: 'She was a pain in the ass ... She was my biggest fan, my best friend.' " -- Canadian JoannieRochette, who won bronze in ladies figure skating four days after the death of her mother, Therese.

100,000 -- Free condoms handed out to athletes in Vancouver, which works out to 14 condoms per athlete at the Games.

89.4 -- Percent increase versus 2009 for the same period for downtown Vancouver restaurants during the Games, according to the Vancouver Sun.

1. How Hard Can It Be? (by The Wall Street Journal.com Sports Staff): How hard is it to get to the Winter Olympics? Uh, damn hard. Nice series by Rupert's dudes.

2. The snowboarder supported by grocers (by Greg Bishop, New York Times): How can you not root for snowboarder AlaxaLoo?

3. Line-up still under wraps but VANOC promises fun-filled goodbye (by Marsha Lederman, Vancouver Sun): Best line in the piece: "Celine Dion's publicist has said she won't participate."

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