VANCOUVER, British Columbia
(Much of that enthuisasm was dampened Friday when word came down of the
Closer to home, Team USA's 216 athletes (123 men, 93 women) should find success in alpine, bobsled, Nordic combined, snowboarding and speedskating.
With the competition beginning in full Saturday, SI.com's Olympic experts in Vancouver offer a primer on the burning questions, brightest stars and must-see events at the Games:
"He won the overall title at the 2008 World Championships in Gangneung, Korea, and has been among the top finishers on the international circuit this season. He's noticeably leaner, and his technique is more finesse and less power than in the past. Though Ohno won Olympic gold in the 500 in Italy, his improved stamina will give him a good chance to get back on the podium Saturday in the 1,500. With chances to medal in any of three individual races and a relay, Ohno is on the short track to make history."
"A recent Decima-Harris poll revealed that given the choice of leading the Vancouver medal table or winning the men's hockey gold, Canadians predictably preferred the three periods of glory on Feb. 28. In an interview with SI last November, Canadian Prime Minister
"Both U.S. duos will have to be perfect to get past the Canadian champions,
"The U.S. men are deep but full of question marks. The 2009 World Champion,
"The pairs? No chance. The women?
Vonn has been the network's marketing darling heading into the Games, and if she fails to medal early it would be a huge disappointment for the network. (While a number of the alpine events will be tape delayed; NBC plans to carry figure skating, speed skating, short-track skating, snowboarding and freestyle skiing live in prime time).
"Some Canadian athletes have said they don't mind the canceled practices because they already know the course, but it's a bummer for all the visitors -- except perhaps for Vonn, who might grab some extra recovery time like Austrian ski legend
"Luckily, Whistler has a decent base of snow, so when the fog clears, the events there will be good to go. As for skiing events in Cypress, at low altitude near Vancouver, slushy conditions might make for slow moguls runs, and organizers are just going to have to keep the dump trucks and helicopters at the ready."
"As women's hockey goes, these Games are typically as physical as the sport gets, and U.S.-Canada can escalate into a nasty scrum, as it did last October when a friendly got decidedly unfriendly in the closing seconds of a 3-1 U.S. loss. When these two play each other, there's just a little extra oomph, and players have said referees tend to be slightly more lenient on calls just to keep the pace up."
"The current crop of U.S. athletes pulled the team up by its spandex from irrelevance to team-to-beat. The U.S. busted out at 2009 Worlds, with
"The other possibility is someone people wouldn't know -- on sight, anyway.
"Given the number of endurance events in the Winter Games -- cross country skiing, Nordic combined, biathlon, distance events in speed skating -- there are plenty of athletes in Vancouver and Whistler who would stand to benefit from extra red blood cells. The first positive tests for CERA came in the 2008 Tour de France, only months after the drug became available, so clearly world class athletes did not hesitate to take it for a spin. If that first in-Olympics positive for CERA comes from someone who performed well, it would obviously be a big deal."
"Still, the issue must be collectively bargained, and the players are gung-ho for the Olympics. Indeed,
"Now? No one expects a thing; all the attention has shifted to Vonn. Miller has reached Vancouver on his own quirky terms, and it would make perfect Bode-ian sense for him to suddenly lock in, unleash a few astonishing runs, win a gold medal -- and then, beer in hand, tell our oh-so-dismissive world to kiss his frosty ass."
No skater since
No American athlete comes in with more buzz than the 25-year-old skier, an SI cover girl and the star of NBC's pre-Olympic marketing campaign. Vonn won the women's overall World Cup title the last two seasons and finished sixth in Turin. Her injury is the one to watch this week.
The reigning Turin gold medalist said he had "the run of my life" last month -- a five-hit string of soaring acrobatics including consecutive double corks, diagonal flips and the unveiling of the double McTwist 1260. The last, a double-forward-flipping spin, was proclaimed by the 23-year-old rider "the best trick I've ever done." (The move is also the scariest, most demanding and hardest to master of any he has ever tackled.) "I don't think I've crashed as much in the last couple years as I have this season learning it," White told SI. "I was talking about it in interviews, and I was going to feel like a bit of a sissy if I didn't stick it."
The 19-year-old is the reigning world champion and holds the record scores for both the short program and free skating. Dubbed by the South Korean media as the Figure Queen for her artistry, Kim moved to Toronto in 2006 for training and is coached by 1984 and '88 Olympic silver medalist
Lindsey Jacobellis hot-dogged her way down to a silver in Turin. Now comes her chance at gold again versus
The signature Alpine race -- Vonn is a heavy favorite --and the ones most casual fans can best relate to. Vonn has won 17 World Cup titles in the downhill.
On a halfpipe with walls 22 feet high -- four feet higher than Turin -- Americans Shaun White, Scotty Lago and Louie Vito are expected to put on a show. "White is between a heavy and prohibitive favorite," says SI's Austin Murphy. "The X-Factor in the halfpipe will be the elements. There will be water in the flat-bottom, and these people who normally nick the pipe up a little bit will be taking two-inch gouges out of it. But my experience with him is Shaun White handles that sort of adversity better than anyone."
In this sport, making its Olympic debut, four skiers race in a pack at up to 65 mph down a course filled with turns, jumps and moguls. The U.S. men's hopefuls are Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett.
If Canada is in the final, the country will come to a halt. No team will have more pressure to win in the history of modern sport.
The eagle-eyed driver might have gone blind if not for a radical surgery he underwent two years ago to combat his eye disease. Now the self-proclaimed computer nerd could drive his way to Everyman heroism.
She likes fast cars as much as fast skating, and earlier this season she was so far ahead in a relay race that she straightened up and hot-dogged her way across the line to win a race in a photo finish. She has openly said she thinks she can win gold medals in all four events.
The colorful bad boy of an oft-colorless sport is likely to skate and trash talk his way to several Olympic medals.
The 19-year-old will shoulder high expectations for his Olympic debut. He's coming off a 2008-09 breakthrough campaign, with the World Cup title and two medals in the World Championships, among his many successes. There is reason to believe he could continue his domination of the sport in Vancouver: Two of his 2009 Cup wins came at Whistler, the Olympic venue.
217 -- Total medals won by U.S. in Winter Olympics competition
129 -- U.S. team members who are competing in their first Olympics
31 -- U.S. team members who have medaled in previous Games
24 -- Difference in age between the oldest U.S. Olympians (curlers
23 -- Members of the U.S. Olympic team who have children (17 dads, six moms)
11 -- Gold medals predicted for U.S. athletes by CanWest news service; it forecast 12 for Team Canada
6 -- U.S. athletes who are active or formerly served in the military
0 -- Days until the Opening Ceremonies