SOCHI - Pressure? No such thing during these Olympics, according to U.S. bobsledder Steven Holcomb. Not after he led the four-man bobsled to a gold medal in Vancouver four years ago. "It takes a lot of the pressure off,” Holcomb said. ”We've been there, done that. I didn't win a medal until year six or seven of my driving career. We know what it takes to win."
Saturday is the opening act of what could be a great final day for the U.S. at Sanki Sliding Centre. The first two runs of the four-man bobsled take place with Holcomb’s United States-1 sled as one of the favorites. He and Steve Langton earned bronze in the two-man bobsled on Feb. 17 and will joined by Chris Fogt and Curtis Tomasevicz for the four-man competition. They hope to find success again on a day where medals will be awarded in alpine skiing (men’s slalom), biathlon (men’s relay), cross country (women’s 30km event), hockey (men’s bronze medal game), snowboard (men’s and women’s parallel slalom) and speedskating (men’s and women’s team pursuit).
What to watch (all times in Eastern Standard Time)
• ALPINE SKIING: Austrian Marcel Hirscher is the world’s best slalom skier – the 24-year-old Austrian leads the World Cup standings this year – and winning today’s men’s slalom (the first run comes at 7:45; the second run is 11:15 a.m.) can earn him a place alongside the best in history. But he in an admitted funk after finishing fourth behind American Ted Ligety in the giant slalom on Wednesday. Norway’s Henrik Kristoffersen and France’s Alexis Pinturault are also major contenders. Kristoffersen, at 19 years and 235 days old, can become the youngest man to win an Olympic medal in alpine skiing. Ligety, who became the first American to win gold in the giant slalom event, is the biggest threat for the U.S. but is not expected to medal.
• BOBSLED: Who will challenge the Americans? Germany is the current European champion. Russia, Switzerland and Canada are also major contenders, and all eyes in Sochi will be on Russian driver Alexander Zubkov, who dominated in the two-man event. The German driver to watch is Maximilian Arndt. The first run is set for 11:30 a.m.
• BIATHLON: Ole Einar Bjoerndalen gets another opportunity to add to his remarkable resume when he competes in the men's biathlon 4x7.5km relay (9:30 a.m.). He already owns the record for the most medals won at the Winter Games with 13. If Norway hits the podium, Bjoerndalen will top cross-country skier Bjoern Daehlie for the most Winter Games gold medals. Bjoerndalen has previously won gold in the sprint and mixed relay in Sochi. The French are Norway’s biggest challenger, led by Martin Fourcade, who won gold in both the pursuit and individual and silver in the mass start.
• CROSS COUNTRY: Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk aims to become the first woman to win the 30km cross-country event at two Olympic Winter Games. She’ll be one of the favorites in the women’s 30km mass start free (4:30 a.m.) along with Norway’s Marit Bjoergen, who won silver in the race in Vancouver. Bjoergen has already won gold here in the skiathlon and the team sprint classic. Her five career golds have come in sprint classic, skiathlon (twice), the relay and team sprint classic.
• MEN'S HOCKEY: The U.S. and Finland meet in today’s bronze medal game (10:00 a.m.) after the Americans fell 1-0 to Canada on Friday on Jamie Benn’s second period goal. Finland lost 2-1 in its semifinal to Sweden. “The team we're playing against is in the same situation so we'll have to regroup, put our gear on and play our butts off for our country one more time and hopefully bring back some hardware,” said U.S. forward David Backes. The Fins are thinking the same. "We need to try to move on,” said Finland forward Mikael Granlund. “This was a tough loss. We have a new game and we need to try to get our focus on that."
• SNOWBOARDING: The men’s and women’s parallel slalom debuts at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Slovenia’s Rok Marguc, the current world champion, is the favorite. France’s Sylvain Dufour, Austria’s Lukas Mathies and Switzerland’s Simon Schoch are also contenders. The top American is Justin Reiter, who has an outside shot at a medal. Switzerland’s Patrizia Kummer is the favorite in the women’s race. Kummer has already won gold in the parallel giant slalom and will be challenged by Russia’s Ekaterina Tudegesheva and Ester Ledecka of the Czech Republic.
The description of the event via the Olympic News Service: “Parallel slalom is similar to PGS but is considered more technical as the gates are closer together. Snowboarders race side-by-side down courses with the same number of flags. The athletes switch courses for a second run, with the slower of the two riders starting with a handicap amounting to the time by which they lost the first run. The winner of the second run moves on to the next round.” The event runs from 12:15 a.m. to just past 6:00 a.m.
• SPEED SKATING: The men’s team pursuit final (9:59 a.m.) pits South Korea against the Netherlands after both teams advanced to the A (gold medal) Final. The Netherlands defeated Poland, while South Korea took down Canada in the semis. The Dutch squad includes gold medalists Jorrit Bergsma and Sven Kramer. Shani Davis, Brian Hansen, Jonathan Kuck and Joey Mantia will compete for the U.S. against France in the D-Final at 8:51 a.m. The U.S. lost to Canada in the quarterfinals on Friday.
The women’s team pursuit semifinals are set with Russia-Poland (8:30 a.m.) and Japan-Netherlands (8:35 a.m.). The gold-medal skate for the women is set for 10:21 a.m. "We are definitely satisfied,” said Dutch star Ireen Wust. “We were relaxed also during the race and that was exactly what we wanted. And still we managed to skate an Olympic record. It makes me think, what in God's name were we doing in Vancouver (when the Netherlands finished sixth at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games)?" The U.S. will compete in the C-Final (9:20 a.m.) against Canada for fifth or sixth place.
• FIGURE SKATING: The gala event in figure skating will be held tonight. The top skaters in Sochi come back on the ice for exhibition performances. The participants include the top six men, top six ladies, top five pairs and top five ice dance couples. Gold-medal-winning ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White and singles skater Gracie Gold will participate for the U.S.
Tweet of the day
By the numbers
1.2 million -- Unique users streaming Canada’s win over the U.S. in the women’s gold medal game, a record for NBCOlympics.com. The previous record was set a day earlier when the U.S. men’s hockey team’s win over the Czech Republic (798,337 uniques).
27 -- Total medals won by the United States in Sochi, the most won by Team USA at a Winter Games held outside North America.
9 -- Gold medals won by the United States in Sochi, matching the total at each of the last two Olympic Winter Games and falling just behind the record 10 won at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.
4 -- Gold medals won at four successive Olympics by Canadian hockey players Caroline Ouellette, Jayna Hefford and Hayley Wickenheiser, equaling the record of Ukrainian biathlete Alexander Tikhonov and German speedskater Claudia Pechstein.
Around the web
The five stories from Sochi you’ll be talking about on Saturday:
Critics Fear Post-Sochi Crackdown (By Natalya Krainova, Moscow Times) -- What happens when the world leaves Sochi?
In Search Of Sochi’s Best Athlete (By Matthew Futterman, Wall Street Journal) -- The answer is there is no answer.
Do Curlers Make Good Housekeepers? Don’t Ask (By Sarah Lyall, The New York Times) -- Here are some of the crazy questions athletes in little-known sports get, including from reporters.
Crushing collapse against Canada leaves U.S. women's hockey team heartbroken again (By Eric Adelson, Yahoo Sports) -- Mr. Adelson nicely captures the scene of American hockey heartbreak.
Russians Get Misty for 1980 Olympic Mascot Misha—Except for His Creator (By Lukas I. Alpert, Wall Street Journal) -- The creator of the famed mascot reports he received just 2,000 rubles ($1,600 in 1977, or a payment that would be worth about $6,150 today) for his work.