By Richard Deitsch
February 18, 2010

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Out of roughly 5,500 athletes in Vancouver, Evgeni Plushenko may be the most nerveless competitor. Tonight, the defending champion attempts to become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic golds in men's figure skating since Dick Button of the U.S. in 1948 and '52. "It gets more difficult each Olympics," Plushenko told reporters on Tuesday night, after placing first in the short program. "It's not because I'm getting older. It's that you have to prove yourself all over again. Gold, silver, bronze, fourth place ... I will take any result." That result will be the headline of the night -- and if it's anything but gold, the headline will be even bigger. Other medals will be awarded in men's and women's biathlon, women's halfpipe and women's speedskating.

(All times Eastern)

• Sweden's Helena Jonsson arrived in Vancouver as the favorite in today's women's 15k individual biathlon (1:20 p.m.), but she has struggled at the Games. Jonnson is ranked No. 1 in the world, while her countrywoman Anna-Carin Olofsson-Zidek is second. Magdalena Neuner of Germany, SI's pick for bronze, has already won two medals here, including gold in the 10K pursuit and silver in the sprint. Sara Studebaker is the top American hopeful.

Lindsey Vonn goes for Alpine gold No. 2 at Whistler Creekside in the women's combined event, which consists of one downhill run (12:30 p.m. start) followed by one slalom run. Vonn's strength is in the downhill, and the manner in which she crushed the field on Wednesday certainly bodes well for her in the combined. Sweden's Anja Paerson, the pre-race favorite, says she's ready to go after a terrifying crash on Wednesday. Paerson has five Olympic medals in Alpine events, one short of the women's record, held by Croatia's Janica Kostelic. The third major contender is Germany's Maria Riesch, who sits first in the World Cup slalom standings and second in the downhill. Austria's Michaela Kirchgasser, Elisabeth Goergl and Anna Fenninger and American Julia Mancuso, the surprise downhill silver medalist, also deserve attention.

• It's another men's hockey tripleheader at Canada's Hockey Place:

- U.S. vs. Norway (3 p.m.): The Norwegians (0-1) don't have the horses to stay with the U.S. (1-0), who need to keep winning big to earn a top-four seed and an automatic bid in the quaterfinals.

- Switzerland vs. Canada (7:30 p.m.): It's a revenge game for the Canadians after the Swiss stunned them 2-0 in the group round in Turin. Devils star Martin Brodeur gets his first start in net for Canada, who won't lose in this spot.

- Slovakia vs. Russia (midnight): The Slovaks (0-1) went 5-0 in round robin play in 2006, but they'll have to face a powerful Russian team just 24 hours after losing to the Czech Republic. Russia (1-0) destroyed Latvia in its opening game.

• The U.S. has never lost to Finland in women's hockey (5:30 p.m.) in four games, including a 4-0 win in the 2006 bronze medal match, their last meeting. Russia's and China's women's hockey teams play against each other for the first time tonight (10:00 p.m.).

• Canada's Christine Nesbitt, SI's pick to win the women's 1,000 long track event (4:00 p.m.), is the world champion at the distance and the winner of four World Cup races this year. Other medal contenders include Wang Beixing of China, Japan's Sayuri Yoshil and Nao Kodaira and Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands. Rebekah Bradford, Elli Ochowicz, Heather Richardson, and Jennifer Rodriguez will compete for the U.S. Richardson finished sixth in the 500.

• The men's 20K individual biathlon (4:20 p.m.) -- which demands terrific skiing ability -- is a showcase event for Christoph Sumann of Austria, who was ranked No. 1 in the individual on the World Cup this season. He finished second in the pursuit, behind Sweden's Bjorn. France's new star, Vince Jay, won gold in the 10k sprint and bronze in the 12.5k. Norway's Ole Einar Bjørndalen, a five-time Olympic gold medalist and one of the giants in the history of the sport, is still looking for a medal at Whistler Olympic Park. Other contenders include Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, the silver medalist in 10k Sprint, Russia's Ivan Tcherezov and Serguei Sednev of the Ukraine. American Tim Burke is the best hope for the U.S., though he has finished well back the pack in the first two events at Whistler. Lowell Bailey, Jay Hakkinen, Wynn Roberts and Jeremy Teela will also compete for the U.S.

• The women's skeleton competition (7:00 p.m.) could be a hometown celebration: Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth owns the Whistler track record and won bronze in Turin. Germany's Marion Trott, the world champion in the event and Great Britain's Shelley Rudman and Anja Huber will also contend for medals. The American women have compelling back stories: Katie Uhlaender's dad, the late big league slugger Ted Uhlaender, died just before last year's worlds, and she had knee surgery before this season; Noelle Pikus-Pace was the 2006 Olympic favorite but got hit by a rogue bobsled before those Games and couldn't compete in Turin. The four-heat competition will take place over the next two days.

• The Germans and Americans will be major players in men's skeleton (9:30 p.m.), though Germany brings the heavier firepower with the trio of Frank Rommel, Sandro Stielicke and Michi Halilovic. The best U.S. hopes are Eric Bernotas and Zach Lund, the latter of whom was banned from the Turin Games because he failed a drug test when traces of finasteride were found in his system (the drug was considered a masking agent for steroids and prohibited at the time; Lund was taking it to treat male-pattern baldness). Latvia's Martins Dukurs and Canada's Jon Montgomery are also gold medal threats. The four-heat competition will take place over the next two days.

• Plushenko seems poised to make history Thursday night as the free skate concludes the men's figure skating competition (8 p.m.). The 27-year-old Russian scored a 90.85 for his "Concierto de Aranjuez" program in the short program on Tuesday, just 0.45 points off the world record he set at the European championships last month. American Evan Lysacek scored a 90.30 to take second place, 0.55 behind the leader. Japan's Daisuke Takahashi (90.25) sits third, while American Johnny Weir is sixth. Lysacek will skate first in the last group.

• The U.S. has high hopes for the women's halfpipe (3:30 p.m. start, 9 p.m. final), with Kelly Clark, winner of the event in Salt Lake City, and Gretchen Bleiler, who took silver in Turin, hitting the snow. Clark finished a disappointing fourth in 2006 but was on her game at the X-Games. Australia's Torah Bright has talked about debuting the double cork -- she would be the first female rider to perform the move in competition. Bright also often does a Switch Backside Twist, one of the most difficult halfpipe tricks. China's Liu Jiayu and American Hannah Teter, the defending champion in the event, also bear watching.

• Curling continues with eight men's matches, including U.S-Denmark men (noon). The American men are 0-3 after a tough loss to Switzerland on Tuesday. The U.S. women, who are also looking for their first win, meet Denmark (5:00 p.m.) as well.

"I went to Harvard Law School, and I'm not sure I understand them." -- Team USA's general manager Brian Burke, to the Globe and Mail, on the rules for seeding the men's Olympic hockey tournament.

"This sucks. This is the biggest sh-- place you can end up at." -- Dutch long-track speedskater Stefan Groothuis, on finishing fourth in the men's 1000.

16 -- Career Olympic goals for Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser, topping the recently retired Canadian player Danielle Goyette for the most ever by a women's hockey player in Olympic competition.

1.Shooting the messenger will not right the wrongs at Vancouver 2010 (Lawrence Donegan, The Guardian) -- Don't blame the press for criticism of the Vancouver Games, says this British pressman.

2.VANOC, the truth hurts (Stephen Brunt, The Globe and Mail) -- Don't blame the press for criticism of the Vancouver Games, says this Canadian pressman.

3.The Stalwarts of Speedskating (Bonnie D. Ford, -- No one is cooler than Dutch speedskating fans.

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