Daily Briefing, Feb. 13

Saturday February 13th, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- The Games go on, of course. Olympic competition begins in full today, albeit with a somber tone after the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, the first Olympic athlete killed during training or competition since the 1964 Innsbruck Games. It's a day with medal hopes for the U.S. in the men's downhill, women's moguls and short-track speedskating.

(All times Eastern)

• The U.S. has never won a medal in normal hill (90 meters) ski jumping and today (the final round competition begins at 12:45 p.m.) won't be the day the streak ends. The jumpers to watch are Austria's Gregor Schlierenzauer, the 20-year-old who many believe will be the greatest in the history of the sport, Switzerland's Simon Ammann, who won double gold in 2002, and Austria's Wolfgang Loitzi, who won the normal hill competition at last year's world championships. Schlierenzauer is SI's pick, followed by Ammann and Loitzl. Seventeen-year-old Peter Frenette was the best U.S. jumper in the preliminaries. He stood in 30th place after jumping 97 meters and earning a score of 115.0.

• The men's downhill is wide open, but the competition has been postponed due to a dangerously slushy course. The favorites include Austria's Michael Walchofer, the Swiss trio of Carlo Janka, Didier Defago and Didier Cuche -- who, at 35, would be oldest downhill winner ever -- and Norway's Aksel Lund Svindal. The rejuvenated Bode Miller and Marco Sullivan have the best shot among Americans. The home country's hopes ride with Manuel Osborne-Paradis. Walchhofer leads the world cup standings but Cuche is SI's pick, with Canadian homeboy Osborne-Paradis taking silver.

• If you're looking for the day's best bet, go with Sven Kramer of the Netherlands in the men's long-track 5,000 (3 p.m.). The Dutchman has not lost at this distance in three years. The last man to beat him -- Italy's Enrico Fabris -- is a medal contender along with Havard Bokko of Norway and Kramer's countryman, Bob de Jong. The U.S. contingent is led by 20-year-old rising star Trevor Marsicano, the reigning world bronze medalist at this distance, and Chad Hedrick, who won gold at this distance in Turin. Shani Davis will race, too, but the shorter distances are his specialty.

• The women's biathlon 7.5K sprint (4 p.m.) sets up as a duel between Germany's Kati Wilhelm, Simone Hauswald and Sweden's Anna Carin Olofesson-Zidek (say that 10 times fast). Wilhelm has won three golds and three silvers in two Olympics. U.S. biathletes Hayley Johnson, Laura Spector and Sara Studebaker are all first-time Olympians and are unlikely to find the medal stand.

• The home nation turns its eyes to women's moguls (4:30 p.m.), as world cup points leader Kristi Richards and third-ranked Jennifer Heil (who won this event in Turin and has won every race she's entered in 2010) attempt to make history. Canada has never won a gold medal on its own soil, and it has two serious contenders here. The qualifying (7:30 p.m.) and final (10:30 p.m.) will be held on the same day at the Cypress Mountain Freestyle Skiing Stadium. The U.S.'s has its own medal contenders with Hannah Kearney -- an oft-injured Vermonter who led last year's World Cup point standings; Heather McPhie, who has three podium placements this year; Shannon Bahrke, who won a silver medal in 2002, and Michelle Roark, the current U.S. champion. Japan's Aiko Uemura, the 2008 world champion, is known as the best carver in the world

• The Whistler Sliding Center will be a solemn place this week after the tragic death of Kumaritashvili. If the opening run of the men's singles competition goes off today (8 p.m.), Italy's Armen Zoggeler is, as always, the man to beat. The 36-year-old owns gold from Turin and Salt Lake City, as well as a silver in Nagano, and bronze in Lillehammer. Zoggeler finished at the top of the World Cup standings for the ninth time in 2009-10. Russia's Albert Demencchenko, a 38-year-old who won silver in Turin and finished behind Zoggeler in the World Cup standings, and Felix Loch of Germany will be chasing the luge legend. SI's pick for gold is Zoggeler followed by Demchenko and Loch. Runs 1 and 2 (featuring 40 athletes) will begin Saturday. The final runs come Sunday.

• Look for the red light to flash often today (8 p.m.) as the powerful Canadian women's hockey team should rout Slovakia at Canada's Hockey Place.

• Wang Meng of China is the favorite in the women's 500 short track event, which begins its preliminary round today at 8:42 p.m. (The finals are Feb. 17). Americans Katherine Reutter and Alyson Dudek will make their Olympic debuts in the event.

• China, South Korea, Canada and the U.S. will all be in the hunt in the women's 3,000 short-track semifinal relay (9:50 p.m.). The U.S. team of Allison Baver, Kimberly Derrick, Dudek, Lana Gehring and Reutter is currently ranked third in World Cup standings. The finals come Feb. 24.

Apolo Anton Ohno skates after history today (the event begins at 8 p.m.; finals start at 10:18 p.m.) in the men's 1,500 short track event. The short-track speedskater is tied with Eric Heiden with five medals, one behind Bonnie Blair for the most medals won by a U.S. Winter Olympian. Will Ohno do it here? SI says no. We look for the South Koreans to sweep the medal stand: Lee Ho-suk, Lee Jung-Su and Sng Si-bak. Canada's Charles Hamelin (USA Today's pick for gold) is a serious contender as well while American J.R. Celski will race for the first time since a terrible crash at the Olympic trials in September.

• "Here you have a young athlete who lost his life pursuing his passion. He had a dream to participate at the Olympic Games, he trained hard, and he had this fatal accident. I have no words to say what we feel." -- International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, on the luge tragedy.

• "If I had to choose an American designer, I would choose Heatherette or something like that. Something crazy. But Ralph Lauren is very classic, very American. It's something you think of when you think of American style. You think of Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen and Calvin Klein. You think of those names. I think Ralph Lauren did a really good job to outfit everyone but that's not my style." -- U.S. figure skater Jonny Weir, on the United States team uniform.

300 - Meters run by NBC's Matt Lauer Thursday as a member of the Olympic Torch relay (One might ask why an American journalist is running in Canada's torch relay but we digress ...).

98 - Gold medals won by Norway, the most of any nation in Winter Olympic history.

34 - Medals predicted by USA Today newspaper for Canada, topping Germany (32) and the U.S. (25) for overall honors.

• 1. The message: These Games are ours (by Cam Cole, Vancouver Sun): Canada wants to own the podium in Vancouver.

• 2. Other Deaths At The Winter Games (by The New York Times staff): The death of Nodar Kumaritashvili was the fifth fatality connected with the Winter Olympics.

• 3. Games have chipped off the old bloc (by David Wharton, Los Angeles Times): Is nationalism dead at the Olympics? Wharton takes a look.

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