Women's Ice Hockey
SOCHI -- If anyone can prevent what seems like an inevitable showdown in the gold-medal game between the U.S. and Canadian women's ice hockey teams, it's Noora Raty, the Finnish goaltender who helped the University of Minnesota to a perfect 41-win season last year. In November, the Finns topped the Americans, 3-1, at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid when Raty made 58 saves; in contrast, U.S. keeper Jesse Vetter faced just 16 shots.
"She's good technically, you can't really beat her on the first shot," says Amanda Kessel, Raty's collegiate teammate. "You need to play for deflections and rebounds, otherwise she's just going to frustrate you all night."
And Raty equally praises Kessel, saying "It's no secret that she's the best player in the world right now. Somehow she always finds the back of the net. Her speed is unbelievable." The U.S. women open preliminary-round play against the Finns on Saturday.
Men's Ice Hockey
If anyone's best suited to evaluate the men's hockey teams in Sochi, it would be Finnish veteran Teemu Selanne, the 43-year old Anaheim Ducks forward who will play in his sixth Olympics in Sochi. Selanne has an astounding 96 points in 90 games of international play, including Olympics and world championships. He warned not to underestimate the change in style created by the larger international rinks. "If guys try to go for the big hits, they take themselves right out of the play," he said. "You can't dominate a game physically."
Selanne isn't sold on the chances of the host Russians. "The problem is that there is only one puck," he said recently. "They need five pucks."
Yet Selanne admires Canada's depth. "They are the only team that can put together three Olympic teams," he said. "Nobody else can do it."
Dutch speedskater Jorien Ter Mors is pulling a historic double in Sochi, where she will become the second skater and first woman to compete in both short track and long track events at the same Olympics. Latvia's Haralds Silovs became the first male to compete in two different Winter Olympic disciplines on the same day in 2010, racing both the 1500 meter and 5000 meter races.
"My season is getting better because I'm also doing long track," she says. "I'm getting a lot stronger on the ice. For me, it's a win-win to do long track and short track."
Ter Mors, 24, had been a lifelong short track skater before taking up long track events three years ago to increase her overall stamina. She will compete in all the short track events, with her best chance to medal in the 1000 meters. She will skate the 1500 meters and team pursuit in the long track.
Hannah Kearney has had runs of dominance since winning the Olympic moguls title in 2010, but she doesn't feel her performance has slipped despite some surprise defeats on the world cup circuit this season.
"I think I've been punished more for my mistakes this year, which is totally reasonable," she says, "but I don't think of it as a case of everyone's getting better and I'm not getting better."
Care to buy your way to a curling gold medal? Well, do we have an island for you. Alisa Craig, a Scottish isle and well-known bird sanctuary with 220 acres, is being put up for sale with an asking price of roughly $2.5 million. It isn't for people -- in fact, nobody lives there. It's the site of pristine green granite and its cousins, red-hone granite and blue hone micro granite, which produce the world's finest curling stones. Times must be tough for the 8th Marquess of Alisa, whose family has owned the island since the 16th Century.
Short track speedskating
The Canadian short track speedskating team may have an advantage they can wear this year, but don't ask them what it is.
"We can only say that there are some changes to our competition uniforms and it makes a big difference, " says Yves Hamelin, the team's director.
Olivier Jean, a skater who returns from the relay team that won gold in Vancouver, believes the new blend of textiles, "feels much more flexible and makes it more comfortable."
"I cannot say how many hundredths of seconds that could mean, but we'll be glad for any advantage," says Hamelin. And Hamelin feels those advantages are more important now than ever.
"There has never been so much depth in short track," he says "Ten countries have won World Cup medals this year. It's going to be very difficult to predict."
Misc. Winter Olympics notes
Some stories translate better than others. From the official Soviet Olympic news service, we have the following: "The coach of the Russian women's hockey team, Mikhail Chekanov, is so friendly that he has jumped out of the shower several times after rigorous training sessions just to take more questions from journalists."
Chekanov also recently compared his team's relative anonymity to the highly scrutinized men's team that is under enormous pressure to win gold before the home crowd.
"We're less visible and we're less popular," he said. "We swim in our own boat and we control the current."