Daily Briefing, Feb. 16

Tuesday February 16th, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It remains on the short list of famous (or infamous) Olympic finishes: American snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis reaching back and down with her left hand, and grabbing the heel edge of her board in a stunt known as a Method air. The move, on her second-to last jump in the snowboard cross final in Turin, cost Jacobellis the gold. Now the 24-year-old returns to the same event in a race that is likely to define her athletic legacy.

On a day that includes defending Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko and Bode Miller (weather permitting), Jacobellis' run in the women's snowboardcross event is the most compelling story. Medals will be also be awarded in the men's super-combined, women's luge, and women's speedskating.

(All times Eastern)

• It's back-to-back Bode Miller for the viewing public as the men's super-combined Alpine race is scheduled today (1 p.m.) at Whistler Creekside. (Note: SI's Tim Layden says there's a good chance the event ---which consists of one downhill run and one Slalom run, with the winner posting the best combined time -- will be postponed because of weather). While Miller has another excellent chance to medal here, Ivica Kostelic of Croatia and Benjamin Reich of Austria are the prerace favorites, and SI's picks for gold and silver. Other contenders include Switzerland's Carlo Janka and Silvan Zurbriggen. American Ted Ligety could also surprise.

• "So who did you come up with? Fred Merkle? Wrong Way Riegels? Bill Buckner? After you finish reaching for comparisons, think about cutting Lindsey Jacobellis some slack. Yes, the 20-year-old gave away a gold medal last Friday as if handing a pin to a fawning poliziotto at an Olympic Village checkpoint. In the final of the first women's Olympic snowboardcross, Jacobellis took a Secretariat-like lead over Switzerland's Tanja Frieden, then couldn't resist a bit of showboating."

So wrote SI's Austin Murphy four years ago after one of the more remarkable finishes in Olympic history. Jacobellis, Canada's Maëlle Ricker and Dominique Maltais and Norway's Helene Olafsen are the favorites in the women's snowcross event (1 p.m.). Jacobellis has won two World Cup overall titles in last three years, but SI says its silver again for the American, and Ricker for gold.

• Sweden's Helena Jonsson, Germany's Andrea Henkel and German Magdalena Neuner are the medal picks in the women's biathlon 10K pursuit (1:30 p.m.). Sara Studebaker will compete for the U.S.

• The men's hockey tournament -- otherwise known as the most important event in the history of Canada -- debuts this afternoon with the U.S. vs. Switzerland (3 p.m.). The teams have met seven times in the Olympics, with the U.S. winning six. (The Swiss pulled off the upset in 1948). Worth noting: Switzerland upset Canada (2-0) and the Czech Republic (3-2) in Turin.

• Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who finished a stunning 21st in the 10K biathlon sprint, is back on the course again for the 12.5K Pursuit event (3:45 p.m.). Bjorndalen won this event in 2002 and has nine Olympic medals overall, but he'll be a longshot to win here given that he is 1 minute, 41.1 seconds behind the leader, France's Vincent Jay. (Athletes start in the same order as they finished in the sprint.) Austria's Dominik Landertinger, SI's pick for gold, is in 34th and 2:16 behind. Arnd Peiffer of Germany (SI's pick for bronze) is 37th and 2:21 behind. Norway's Emil Hegle Svendsen starts second (0.12 behind). "I'm far behind, but anything is possible if I shoot well," Bjoerndalen told reporters Monday.

• The favorite in the women's 500 speedskating event (4 p.m.) is Germany's Jenny Wolf, who has won six of eight World Cup races and owns the track record at Richmond, a mark she set at the world championships in March 2009. China's Wang Beixing beat Wolf twice this season and is also a threat for gold. Lee Sang-hwa of South Korea (SI's pick for silver) and Nao Kodaira of Japan are also medal contenders. Elli Ochowicz and Heather Richardson are the best hopes for the U.S.

• It was rough opening day for U.S. women's luger Erin Hamlin. Her total time of 1:24.054 after two runs left her in 15th place and 0.813 seconds behind the leader, Germany's Tatjana Huefner, who has a total time of 1:23.241. Austria's Nina Reithmayer is 0.05 behind, followed by Natalie Geisenberger of Germany. The third run scheduled is scheduled for 4 p.m., followed by the fourth and final run at 5:50 p.m.

• Can the defending Olympic champion, Evgeni Plushenko, repeat in Vancouver? SI's Ed Swift says he's the favorite in men's figure skating (the short program begins at 5 p.m.) based on his win at the Europeans, when he landed two quad-triple combinations with ease and absolutely hammered the field. "Since then, however, an American judge who isn't here, Joe Inman, has brought to light Plushenko's dirty little secret: his transitional moves between his jumps are virtually non-existent and there is a disconnect between him and his music much of the time," says Swift. "His spins are average, at best; his footwork is strong but not great. So he needs those jumps. But he has been remarkably consistent landing them over the course of his great career-three world titles and six European championships in addition to a gold medal in Torino and a silver in Salt Lake City. The man is clutch."

He's also SI's pick to win gold. Reigning world champ Evan Lysacek of the U.S. will try to outdo him as will France's Brian Joubert and Alban Preaubert, Canada's Patrick Chan and Japan's Daisuke Takahaski. No American has won the men's figure skating gold since Brian Boitano in 1988, but the U.S. is strong here with Lysacek, Jeremy Abbott and Johnny Weir. The free skate finals come Thursday at 8 p.m.

• In women's hockey, the U.S. should roll over Russia (5:30 p.m.). China and Finland meet in a late game (10 p.m. with a bit of an interesting twist: The former Finnish national team coach is now coaching the Chinese.

• Led by Sidney Crosby and Joe Thornton among other NHL stars, Canada opens with Norway (7:30 p.m.) in what should be a rout. The Canadians have outscored the Norwegians 29-3 in Olympic play, including a 10-0 win in 1992.

• The Russians are loaded with Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk. They open with Latvia (12 a.m.) in what should be a blowout. The neighbors met in 2006, a 9-2 win for Russia.

• Men's curling gets underway (noon) at the Vancouver Olympic Center with gold medal favorite Great Britain meeting Sweden. Other matches include Canada vs. Norway, the U.S. vs. Germany and Switzerland vs. Denmark. U.S. skip John Schuster is the only member of the American team with Olympic experience. The American men will also face Norway later in the evening at 10 p.m. The U.S. women's curling team -- skipped by Debbie McCormick -- debuts against Japan in round robin action (5 p.m.).

1:30.75 -- American skier Lindsey Vonn's time during Monday's downhill training run, the fastest time among all skiers and 0.39 seconds faster than teammate Julia Mancuso.

28-1 -- Amount the Canadian women's hockey team has outscored its opponents in two games.

22 years and 208 days -- Age of Sweden's Charlotte Kalla, who Monday became the third youngest gold medal winner in an individual ladies event in cross-country skiing by winning the 10K Freestyle.

4 -- Winter Olympic athletes who have won a gold medal on their birthday including 21-year-old Tae-Bum Mo of South Korea, who won the men's 500 speedskating event on Monday.

• "I have put it all aside. It was a really hard thing to go through. I've been able to grow from it and become a better person. It was hard because my whole life my hair was my insecurity. I had a mullet in grade school and then going bald I would always wear a hat. And then my insecurity was all over the media." --American skeleton racer Zach Lund, on missing the Turin Games (when he was ranked No. 1 in the world) because of a positive drug test for a hair loss treatment that is no longer on the banned substance list.

• "Everything is much, much bigger here. The houses, the cars, the onions, everything." -- Kallas, on her impressions of Canada

• 1. The Olympics Sap-o-Meter (by Josh Levin, Jeremy Singer-Vine and Chris Wilson, Slate.com): Sentimentality makes an emotional return, thanks to NBC.

• 2. UK Press Slams Canada's Hosting of the Games (by CBS News, Seattle Times): Surprise, the Brits are not happy.

• 3. Anger as Olympic Flame Fenced Off (by Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star): Thousands dismayed to find access strictly limited to the elite.

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