Feb. 12, 2010
Meet the captors of ice and snow
Olympic Medal Count
As winter continues to bring heavy snow, fiery world-class athletes from around the globe are just warming up. The 21st annual Olympic Winter Games of 2010 in Vancouver, Canada offer the excitement and intensity that can make even the coldest February night sizzle. This year, Team USA is packed with both medal-holding experts and novice athletes ready to make impressive debuts.
Team USA should steal the Olympic stage in Freestyle Skiing, Snowboarding, Alpine Skiing, Nordic Combined and Speed Skating. Depth and experience decorate these U.S. teams, which consist of top-notch athletes such as Lindsey Vonn, Bode Miller, Shaun White and Shani Davis.
Norway and host Canada are expected to pose the toughest competition for Team USA. Norwegian athletes have won the most Winter Olympics medals of all time, while the Canadian bobsled team and curling squads are also expected to do well. Of course, Canada's hockey team and its fan base should bring noise to the ice.
With 15 sports and more than 80 countries participating in this year's Winter Olympics, the festivities are gearing up and Silver Chips Online is here with a look at the top Team USA contenders and the most competitive athletes to watch out for as the teams compete in the ice and snow.
Top Man on Team USA: The daring and occasionally reckless Bode Miller will be back again for his fourth Olympic run, planning to conquer the ski slopes with his feast-or-famine scare tactics. He has snagged two World Cup championships and is energized for a fourth Olympic run this year.
Who to Watch: Germany's Maria Riesch dropped to second place when Vonn stole her World Cup title, but Riesch should bring her gold glitter and skill to the slopes as Vonn's top rival. The two have exclusively occupied the top skiing niche - no other competitor has come within 200 points of either woman's score. For the men, skier Carlo Janka of Switzerland is defending champion and 2009 bronze medal winner for the Downhill World Championships.
Top Woman on Team USA: Lanny Barnes is the only woman on the U.S. team who is not a newcomer to the Olympics. Unfortunately, the U.S. team won't be held to high expectations this year.
Top Man on Team USA: As the first American to become the World Cup points leader, Tim Burke leads the U.S. Team as an elite biathlete. He had three top three finishes in a World Cup breakthrough performance and came in second to world-class biathlete and winner of five Olympic gold medals Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway.
Who to Watch: The Norwegians are the kings of the biathlon, with expert Bjorndalen leading the way to victory. Expect great things from this history-making legend, who boasts more wins than any other Winter Olympics athlete. For the women, Swede Helena Jonsson has only recently become the top dog over Russian rivals Svetlana Sleptsova and Olga Zaitseva. She currently ranks number one and swept first place in the World Cup.
Top Man on Team USA: Steve Holcomb has taken the front seat as one of the world's best drivers with both World Championships and World Cup titles to his name. After a surgery that fixed his legal blindness, Holcomb is back on track for the Vancouver races.
Who to Watch: Germany boasts Sandra Kiriasis, winner of eight consecutive World Cup titles, as an intensely competitive and successful bobsled driver. Another potent woman of the bobsled, Canada's Hellen Upperton just barely missed victory in her first Olympics at Torino by five-hundredths of a second. She is returning this year, ready to reclaim her stolen medal. Germany's Andre Lange also has his sights set on gold; he has claimed two consecutive Olympic golds in the four-man race and is the returning winner for the two-man race. Pierre Lueders is also expected to bring the gold and glory for Canada in his fifth Winter Olympics.
Cross Country Skiing
Top Woman on Team USA: With the best score for a U.S. woman competing in individual cross country skiing, Kikkan Randall looks to turn the heads of American fans nationwide. Her recent World Cup and World Championships wins inspire high expectations for an Olympic performance.
Who to Watch: On the cross country ski scene, Poland's Justyna Kowalczyk dominates the slopes. With seven wins this season and 268 points more than all other World Cup competitors, she looks to be the star in Vancouver. Russia seems to have the upper hand for the men - duo Nikolay Morilov and Alexei Petukhov took first in the World Cup's Cross Country team sprint. Russians Artem Zhmurko, Ilia Chernousov and Sergej Sommerfeldt are also at the top of cross country competition this year.
Top Woman on Team USA: Skip Debbie McCormick will lead a struggling U.S. team. The squad finished 4-7 in the 2009 World Championships and is not expected to contend for a top medal in Vancouver.
Top Man on Team USA: With two new recruits, 2006 bronze medal winner John Shuster will lead the men's curling squad as the skip. Shuster and his team are not expected to receive medals, but may impress. Shuster remains one of the world's best skips.
Who to Watch: Despite having only a handful of curling athletes and facilities, China will surprise the world by appearing at its first Olympic curling event. With the first 2009 World Championships curling title, skipper Wang Bingyu is expected to help the women's team go for the gold. For the men, Scotland's skipper David Murdoch has two World Championship medals under his belt and a rink that has claimed three consecutive victories over a strong Canadian squad. Canada's skip Kevin Martin should lead a powerful rink as they attempt to defend their home turf.
Top Woman on Team USA: With bubbly enthusiasm and impressive technique, Rachael Flatt looks to impress on the ice. Although the ladies of U.S. Figure Skating may not stand up to the intense Olympic competition, Flatt brings consistency that could grant a fleeting glimpse of gold if luck is on her side.
Who to Watch: China is home to this year's top pair skating contenders. At the Four Continents Championships, duo Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao placed first and easily out-performed the Americans with an impressive 126.36 points. With a silver medal on their necks from the last Winter Olympics, these two will be the top Vancouver gold contenders.
Top Man on Team USA: In his third Olympics, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson hopes to bring spice to the slopes with crazy tricks. At a recent competition, "Speedy" performed a leap combining five twists and three flips in a feverish three-and-a-half seconds. With an all-or-nothing philosophy, expect Peterson and his experienced squad to work hard for U.S. medals.
Who to Watch: In the aerials, Canadians Anton Kushnir and Lydia Lassila should grace the air with jaw-dropping jumps and awe-inspiring flips. With a recent World Cup win for these Canada competitors, the Americans will have a tough time competing against the aerial athletes.
Top Woman on Team USA: Winner of two World Championships, the women's hockey team is expected to get close to the gold in Vancouver. Goalie Jessie Vetter and teammates Jenny Potter and Angela Ruggiero will spearhead the team, which uses creative offensive strategies to boost the scoreboard.
Top Man on Team USA: Goalie Ryan Miller will be the team's greatest strength as they buck against opponent powerhouses. Despite the fact that he is making an Olympic debut, Miller has years of National Hockey League (NHL) experience as a consistent goaltender and star hockey player.
Who to Watch: With crowds of roaring spectators in the Vancouver stands who live and breathe hockey, Canada's teams should come up strong. Both the men and women could be gold medal contenders. Sidney Crosby, alternate captain of the men's team, has been dubbed the "face of the Games" and could be instrumental in an inspired Canadian victory. Facing this tough team are the equally daunting Russians, who have snagged the last two World Championships and had four of the top six NHL scorers last season. Alexander Ovechkin should lead a potent offense.
Top Woman on Team USA: Erin Hamlin made history in 2009 when she became the first American woman to win a World Championship in this event. Although an Olympic gold may not be entirely realistic, Hamlin represents the United States' strongest luge contender and has the skill to trounce the best of the best.
Who to Watch: Germany has dominated luge competition in the women's races for both the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics. Favorite Tatjana Huefner is only one of three German women who are capable of winning gold this year.
Nordic Combined Skiing
Top Man on Team USA: Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick (the United States Olympic Committee's male athlete of the year) will lead a U.S. team that has only recently risen above international competitors to that status of Olympic favorite. With a silver medal at the 2007 World Championships and gold and bronze at the World Cup in 2009, Demong will bring his skilled resume to achieve success. At the Nordic Ski World Championships last year, teammate Lodwick became the first American to win two gold medals.
Who to Watch: Norwegian Magnus Moan and Finnish Anssi Koivuranta have swept seven victories at the World Cup this season. Although Norway and Finland are the primary competitors in this sport, Team USA also has a decent chance of scoring a medal.
Top Woman on Team USA: With both 1000m and 1500m as her signature events, first-time Olympiad Katherine Reutter should bring fresh excitement to the ice. With a World Cup gold medal on her plate, Reutter could be a competitive Olympic athlete in all four women's events.
Who to Watch: Despite his nickname "Little Ahn," South Korean Olympic Champion Lee Ho-Suk should cause Olympic athletes to cower. Ohno's greatest competitor, Lee has three gold medals from Torino and the title of 2009 World Cup Champion to bring to the games.
Top Woman on Team USA: Although a stray bobsled injured her just before she had an opportunity to compete for the Torino games last year, 2005 World Cup Champion Noelle Pikus-Pace is making a comeback. In 2007, she became the first American woman to receive a world title. She will be an intimidating opponent in Vancouver.
Top Man on Team USA: Zach Lund won the World Cup title following the Torino games and should make a noteworthy skeleton appearance.
Who to Watch: The Canadian home team typically has the edge in skeleton; it won three medals at the last Winter Olympics. With silver medal-winner Jeff Pain and bronze medalist Melissa Hollingsworth on board, this year will be no exception.
Top Man on Team USA: Perhaps the greatest member of the U.S. Ski Jumping team is Nick Alexander, who has regularly qualified for the World Cup, although all three members on the team are equally experienced. Unfortunately, the team is not expected to see any gold.
Who to Watch: Although Poland's Gregor Schlierenzauer is only 19 years old, he may be the biggest name in ski jumping for the Vancouver Olympics. His most recent World Cup win was the 31st World Cup victory of his incredible career. Watch out - this small athlete has quite a large profile. His skill and success are unmatched.
Top Woman on Team USA: Queen of the halfpipe, Kelly Clark has won four out of five recent snowboarding competitions, which makes her competitive for the approaching Vancouver games. With a gold medal from 2002 on her resume, Clark will spend her third Olympics attempting to make up for the winning medal she barely missed in Torino four years ago.
Who to Watch: Austria's Benjamin Karl and Russia's Svetlana Boldykova have recent wins for the Giant Slalom World Cup, but Team USA looks to dominate the halfpipe and snowboard cross this year.
Top Woman on Team USA: While gold may be slightly out of reach for four-time Olympian Catherine Raney, she will help her fellow skaters in the team pursuit. Raney performed best in that race at the 2006 Olympics.
Top Man on Team USA: The clear favorite for the strong men's team is Shani Davis, a gold and silver medal-winner in Torino and world record holder for the 1000m and 1500m races. Along with 50-time World Championship winner Chad Hedrick, the U.S. men's team looks to impress in Vancouver.
Who to Watch: On the foreign fast track, Holland's Sven Kramer will bring his large stride to the ice. Canadian Christine Nesbitt and Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic are also expected to have a taste of gold this year.
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