Daily Briefing, Feb. 14

Sunday February 14th, 2010

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, Bill Demong and five-time Olympian Todd Lodwick 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. Magnus Moan of Norway and Jason Lamy Chappuis of France are the Americans' main competition.

• The king of the men's 10K sprint (2:15 p.m.) is Ole Einar Bjørndalen, 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 Bjørn Daehlie. SI says he'll add gold today, followed by Austria's Dominik Landertinger and Simon Fourcade of France. But watch out for Norway's Halvard Hanevold and Michael Greis 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 Noora Raty 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 Felix Loch (1:36.570) and David Moeller (1:36.852) were 1-2 after the first two rounds. Two-time Olympic champion Armin Zoeggeler (1:37.002) of Italy was third, followed by Russia's Albert Demtschenko (137.169). Tony Benshoof 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 Martina Sablikova (SI's pick for gold). Germany's Stephanie Beckert and Canada's Kristina Groves are also medal contenders.

• Another Woe, Canada moment? Men's moguls champion and 2010 favorite Dale Begg-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: Alexandre Bilodeau, the reigning world cup champion, and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau are serious medal contenders. So are France's Guilbaut Colas and Jesper Bjornlund 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 Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo 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 Alona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy 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 Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, while China has two other powerful teams: Pang Qing and Tong Jian (SI's pick for silver) and Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao, who won silver in Turin. Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett are the best hope for the U.S. Jessica Dube and Bryce Davidson 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 Lindsey Vonn, 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 Alexei Mishin, 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 Simon Ammann, on how to make his sport more popular in North America

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

• In a fantastic display of endurance, Haralds Silovs 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 Shaun White as the athlete who would be the biggest star at the Games.

• 14 - Percentage who voted for Lindsey Vonn.

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 Douglas Todd, 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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