SOCHI -- Let’s travel back four years ago when Kim Yu-Na became South Korea's first figure skating gold medalist with one of the most mesmerizing performances of our time.
“In two programs involving 20 distinct elements over some seven minutes, Kim did not make a mistake,” wrote SI’s E.M. Swift in 2010. “This is only the second Olympics to be judged by the new scoring system, but it's beyond question that Kim's 228.56 total (a record 78.50 for the short program, an unheard-of 150.06 for the free) will stand the test of time. She finished a whopping 23.06 ahead of silver medalist Mao Asada of Japan, whose own score would have easily won the gold four years ago. Kim was the essence of what the sport is supposed to be: graceful, athletic, fast and fun. As flirty and steely as Katarina Witt, as limber and fast as Kristi Yamaguchi, as easy and elegant as Peggy Fleming, she could not have given us more.”
Now, at 23, Kim is back, the favorite to defend her Olympic title but with a pixie nipping at her skate. Russia’s 15-year-old sensation Julia Lipnitskaia beat Japan’s Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki, Italy’s Carolina Kostner and Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold when competing against them in the team event. She is a serious rival for the champ Kim – who did not compete in the team event because South Korea did not qualify -- with the start of the short program Wednesday night, the first of two nights where figure skating will dominate the Sochi Games.
Kim, brilliant as a gold medalist in Vancouver, can become just the third woman after Norway’s Sonja Henie (1928, 1932, 1936) and East Germany’s Katarina Witt (1984, 1988) to win consecutive gold medals.
The women’s short program is part of a day when medals will be handed out in alpine skiing (men’s giant slalom), women’s bobsled, biathlon (2x6km women + 2x7.5km men mixed relay), cross-country skiing (men’s and women’s team sprint classic), snowboard (men’s and women’s parallel giant snowboarding), and speed skating (women’s 5,000m)
What to watch (all times in Eastern Standard Time)
• MEN’S GIANT SLALOM: The event sets up as a three-man race between American Ted Ligety, Austrian Marcel Hirscher and France’s Alexis Pinturault. Ligety won the giant slalom, Super-G and combined (a mix of slalom and downhill) at last year's world championships and has dominated the World Cup giant slalom since 2007. Hirscher has yet to ski in Sochi and is major threat in both the giant slalom and slalom. The Austrian currently leads the overall World Cup standings. The first run comes at 2:00 a.m. The second run is at 5:30 a.m.
• MEN’S HOCKEY: The men’s hockey tournament has reached the quarterfinals, and it’s a great day for puckheads. The United States begins its playoff round at Shayba Arena at noon against the Czech Republic, a dangerous opponent featuring a number of NHL players, including Patrik Elias (Devils), David Krejci (Bruins) and Jaromir Jagr (Devils). The winner is likely to face Canada. “When we saw the draw, we knew it was a possibility,” U.S. forward Zach Parise said. “If it happens, we'll make sure we're ready for it. But a lot has to happen before that. It's something that's in the back of all our minds that we could face them in the semifinals.” The Czechs beat Slovakia 5-3 Tuesday to advance to the quarters.
The early game (3:00 a.m.) features Slovenia against top-seeded Sweden. “It is, for sure, the biggest thing we have ever done in the history of Slovenian hockey,” forward Ziga Jeglic said after beating Austria on Tuesday.
That’s followed by Finland-Russia (7:30 a.m.), which will not be easy for the home country. “The Norwegians are Finland Lite, only without NHL players and a world-class goalie like Tuukka Rask,” SI’s Michael Farber wrote of Russia’s 4-0 win over Norway. “The Finns are quick, structured and fearless even if they have been decimated with injuries at center.”
Canada-Latvia (noon) will be held at Bolshoy Arena at the same time as the U.S.-Czech Republic game. Buffalo Sabres coach Ted Nolan is the coach of Latvia, which upset Switzerland to make it to this round.
• CURLING: The women’s semifinals pit Sweden-Switzerland (5:00 a.m.) and Great Britain-Canada (5:00 a.m.). The men’s semifinals are Sweden-Great Britain (10 a.m.) and Canada-China (10:00 a.m.). Since curling returned to the Olympic program in 1998, Canada has reached every men's final and has won two of the four finals it played in. Great Britain is aiming to win its first men's Olympic curling gold medal in 90 years.
• SNOWBOARD: Austrian parallel giant slalom ace snowboarder Lukas Mathies is the favorite to win the men's PGS event, but he’ll have to hold off teammate Benjamin Karl, France’s Sylvain Dufour, Austria’s Andreas Prommegger, Slovenia’s Zan Kosir and Vancouver Olympics champion Jasey Jay Anderson of Canada. Karl was the 2013 world champion while Mathies currently leads the World Cup standings. The men’s final is set for 5:35 a.m. The women’s race favorites include Germany’s Isabella Laboeck, the 2013 world champion, Switzerland’s Patrizia Kummer, Austria’s Julia Dujmovits, Czech Republic’s Ester Ledecka and Russia’s Ekaterina Tudegesheva. The women’s final is set for 5:31 a.m.
• CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: Two gold medals will be awarded today in the cross-country team sprint classic. SI’s pick for the women’s race (final is 6:45 a.m.) is Norway. In that race, American Kikkan Randall will be partnered with Sophie Caldwell. The men’s favorites are Russia, Norway and Sweden, with Norway’s Ola Vigen Hattestad attempting to become the second man to win gold in the individual sprint and team sprint at the same Winter Games. The men’s final follows the women.
• WOMEN’S SPEED SKATING: The Czech Republic’s Martina Sabilkova and Holland star Ireen Wust are the favorites for the 5000m (8:30 a.m.). Other contenders include Dutch skaters Carien Kleibeuker and Yvonne Nauta and Germany’s Claudia Pechstein, the 41-year-old who won Olympic gold in the 5000m in 1994, 1998 and 2002. Sablikova won the 5000m at all six world single distance championships from 2007 until 2013 while Kleibeuker has the season's best time (6 minutes and 57.30 seconds). Wust has already won a gold and two silvers in Sochi.
• BIATHLON: Norway is the favorite to win the mixed relay (2x6km women + 2x7.5km men relay), a new event at the games. The Norwegians has won this event at the last three world championships and are led by women’s star Tora Berger. The Czech Republic and France are also strong medal contenders. The start time is 9:30 a.m.
• FIGURE SKATING: The skating positions have been set for the short program, which begins at 10:00 a.m. at Iceberg Skating Palace. Kim will skate 17th while Lipnitskaia and Asada will go 25th and 30th, respectively. Japan’s Akiko Suzuki drew No. 24, Italy's Carolina Kostner drew the 26th spot and Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova will go 28th. The American lineup: Polina Edmunds (12th), Gold (22nd) and Wagner (27th). Kim has been troubled by a right foot injury and missed the Grand Prix Series, but she did win the worlds in 2013 and the South Korean national title last January. Wagner became the first skater to win consecutive U.S. ladies titles since Kwan in 2005.
• WOMEN’S BOBSLED: The U.S. sled of Elana Meyers and Lauryn Williams leads after the first two rounds of the competition with a time of 1:54.89. The Canadian team of driver Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse sits in second at 1:55.12 followed by the U.S-2 sled of Jamie Gruebel and Aja Evans (1:55.45). The third American team of Jazmine Fenlator and Lolo Jones are in 11th place (1:56.73). If Williams wins a gold medal in Sochi, she would become only the second athlete and first female to win a gold medal in both a summer and winter sport. The only athlete to pull off the feat is Eddie Eagan, who won gold as a light-heavyweight boxer at the 1920 Summer Games in Antwerp and in the bobsled four-man competition at Lake Placid in 1932. The third run starts at 11:15 a.m. Here’s SI’s Sarah Kwak on the opening two heats.
Tweet of the day
By the numbers
38 -- States represented on the U.S. Olympic team including 20 athletes from California, 19 from both Colorado and Minnesota and 18 from New York.
22 -- Members of the U.S. team that have children; 19 fathers and three mothers.
1 -- Fantastic video from the University of Illinois bar, The Red Lion, after the T.J. Oshie scored against Russia.
Around the web
The five stories from Sochi you’ll be talking about on Wednesday:
The Inside Story of How Olympic Photographers Get Such Stunning Images (By Mario Aguilar, Gizmodo.com) -- An fantastic post on how AP and Getty Images create their magic at an Olympics.
How a Big Bet on Racing Suits Left U.S. Skaters in the Cold at Sochi (By Joshua Robinson and Sara Germano, Wall Street Journal) -- The Wall Street Journal continues its tremendous coverage of the U.S. speed skating woes.
Jailed Russian Critic of Sochi Olympics Now on Hunger Strike (By Andrew Roth, The New York Times) -- Yevgeny Vitishko, a member of the Environmental Watch on the North Caucasus, a regional environmental activism group, has refused food since Feb. 11.
Top 25 Sochi Beats (By Chuck Culpepper, Sports On Earth) -- One man's Sochi top 25, including songs heard frequently and enchantingly.
The Wall Street Journal Wages War on Sochi, Russia (By Ryan Kearney, The New Republic) -- You decide.