Did you see that counter on the right of the screen? You know, the one that's been there since the day the Summer Olympics ended two years ago. It now shows less than 24 hours until the start of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. I'm so excited!!!
I feel like this Olympics has gotten very little hype and publicity until just this week. I find that very disappointing but probably a sad indicator of the fact that we don't have a whole lot to be excited about in this country. Our medal hopes aren't real high this year, unfortunately. But I can't throw stones. My blog has been silent on the subject as well. But never fear, I have all of your 2010 Olympic predictions for you today....just in time.
....that not a single American male wearing skis on his feet will medal. Our best hopes are Patrick Deneen in Freestyle Skiing and Bode Miller in the Downhill Combined. Bode is certain choke and cause a media circus in the process, that's just how he roles. Deneen can kill the moguls but I don't know if he can take out the awesome Aussie Dale Begg-Smith.
I thought we had a great chance of capturing gold in the new sport of Skicross until I saw Darron Rhalves carried off the course on a stretcher two weeks ago at the XGames in Aspen. I don't think he'll be up to snuff enough to contend.
I don't think we have any chance of beating the Nordic countries in Ski Jumping, Biathlon, or Cross Country Skiing. But that doesn't mean they won't be exciting to watch....well as exciting as watching men ski for 3 hours with frozen snot hanging from their chins can be. Remember Ole Einar Bjorndalen from Norway? He is the most dominant Biathlete in recent history. He is absolutely amazing and will likely win the gold for the third time in a row. I don't know much about Nordic Combined, since it is never televised outside of the Olympics, but I do know that it is a team event that is a combination of ski jumping and relay cross country skiing. Sports Illustrated says that the US has a good team this year and may medal in this event for the first time ever, but it will be a hard podium to top, I'm sure.
Pop off those skis and strap in to a snowboard though and US guys have a much better chance. Of course Shawn White is the favorite in the Halfpipe event but Americans Scotty Lago and Louie Vito may be on the podium with him. In the hazardous sport of Snowboardcross there are two very dominant guys wearing the red, white and blue: Nate Holland and Graham Watanabe.
On skates our men may bring home a little hardware. I'm really pulling for Evan Lysacek and Jeremy Abbott in singles figure skating (thank goodness Johnny Weir won't be an issue), but the real star of that show will be Evgeni Plushenko (Russia) who won in Torino, retired for three years and is now back, supposedly at the top of his game again. We'll see. For the first time in years, and I mean a lot of years, the US could have two, count 'em two, medals in Ice Dancing. Both Belbin and Agosto and Davis and White have won numerous competitions over the last several months and they are favorites to win in Vancouver as well.
In Speed Skating you can bet that Anton Apolo Ohno will be burning up the track, but he'll have a hard time getting past the always dominant South Koreans for the gold. As much as I hate to admit it the anti-establishment, anti-social, anti-authority figure of any kind distance skater Shani Davis will probably end up with a medal or two as well. I won't be cheering though. Hockey players wear skates but they just can't compete with the hometown Canadian boys (or the Russians or Czech teams).
Unfortunately we probably won't be able to hang with the big boys in 2 man bobsled, luge or skeleton either. Our only real chance for a medal on the sleds will be with driver Steve Holcomb leading our 4 man bobsled team. If he brings home the gold it will be the first time since 1948. We really need to break that losing streak!!
So, what about the women? Well, I had high hopes but they are growing slimmer every minute that passes and every news story that comes out. Lindsey Vonn was supposed to be the gold medal winner in two out of five Alpine Skiing events. Now she supposedly has a huge bruise on her shin that makes it too painful to even put on ski boots, let alone ski. I say supposedly because the day before this news broke I read two different articles about Vonn that portrayed her as the toughest and strongest and most physically fit woman on skis...in any country.
She trains more and trains harder than anyone else. They actually showed pictures of her standing on two jump ropes that were hanging four feet off the ground, simulating balancing on skis for 2 minutes while she visualizes the course at Whistler. Remember how she nearly broke her back in training in Torino and still got up to ski (with poor results, but still a valiant effort) the next day? I have a feeling that while she is truly bruised and battered she is mostly a) taking this opportunity to psyche out the competition and b) get more media attention now, and after she wins a couple of medals. (Just think of the drama that story would make. After all, she is the only really marketable athlete at these games. If she wins gold look for her to be the Michael Phelps of Vancouver.)
Maybe all of this is wishful thinking on my part, but women's skiing has had such a pitiful showing in the last couple of Olympics that I'm hoping Lindsey can help us redeem ourselves to some degree. If she can't at least we've got three great moguls skiers that might make it to the medal stand. Be watching for Heather McPhie, Hannah Kearney and Shannon Bahrke.
Once again we seem to be stronger on snowboards than on skis. Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Lindsey Jacobellis all have good chances of winning top spot....if Jacobellis can keep her ego in check and her board on the snow this time. (Her little stunt in Torino is still one of the worst moments in Olympic history in my opinion and a sad testimonial to the mindset of Olympic athletes since "professional" (paid and sponsored athletes) were allowed to compete.)
As with the men, the Nordic women will most likely continue to dominate Cross Country Skiing and Biathlon. But unlike the male Americans, our women's hockey team is supposedly very talented again this year and is predicted to meet up with the Canadians in the gold medal game. Sadly, we have no real contenders in women's figure skating or the pairs competition. Gone are the days of Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi. Maybe 2014 will hold some special promise for us.
In speed skating the Chinese and Canadians will probably dominate all of the medal podiums and our women will be left in their proverbial dust. The only name I have heard mentioned in American women's speed skating is Katherine Ruetter. Of course speed skating is famous for spills, chills, disqualifications and upsets....so anything can happen. Don't blink, or you'll miss it.
On the sleds our women have a couple of slim hopes for medals. The driver of our two woman bobsled team won silver in Torino, but she has a different partner this year. We'll see how they do together. And Sports Illustrated predicts that Erin Hamlin has a good chance for at least Bronze in the singles luge. Skeleton will likely elude us and women are not allowed to compete in Nordic Combined or Ski Jumping.
So that's about it. Oh yeah, except for my new favorite Olympic sport. As a kid I always had Olympic dreams. First it was gymnastics and then figure skating, but by the time I got really interested in the Olympics (7 or 8 years old) I was already too old to get started in a sport and train long enough to be competitive on the Olympic level. Its sad to be too old to pursue your dreams when you haven't even hit double digits yet. But 8 years ago I fell in love with a new Olympic sport. One that I could still compete in today if 1) I trained every day for the next 4 years, 2) I moved to Minnesota and 3) I had even ever played it or watched a match in real life.
The sport? Curling. I love it. It is so competitive and interesting. It always comes down to millimeters on the final throw. The athletes are incredibly intense and yet.....OLD. They are like 40!!! It's crazy. If you haven't watched it before you really should. (It is usually on all night long on MSNBC or CNBC.) It is easy to learn and the skill and strategy are very impressive. The US probably won't have a chance at a medal but our neighbors to the north, the Canadians should be right up there at the top. And here is some behind the scenes drama for you. A Canadian curler went to China and got a women's team together. This will be their first Olympics but they are already so good that they will likely threaten the Canadian women for the gold.
Well, that's the summary. By all means watch the always entertaining, if rather long-winded, opening ceremonies. Admire the Canadian fashions (which are always the best at the games) and listen to the inspiring stories of the flag bearers. Rock out to Nickleback and stare in suspense as the lighter of the flame is revealed (my bet is on Wayne Gretzky). But don't stop there. Watch the events....even the obscure ones. (Trust me, biathlon will amaze you. You've never seen marksmen like this.) Cheer for the underdogs, the favorites, the lone skier from Ghana, whoever you like. Join with the world and celebrate athleticism, dedication and, truth be told, obsession. Enjoy this incredible festival of sports.
I'll be watching every second of coverage and sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the next two weeks. I'll be a sucker for all of the sad underdog stories and I'll be laughing at the wacky stuff Mary Carillo digs up. I'll be drooling over Bob Costas and rolling my eyes at Bode Miller and the Russian ice dancers (just on principle). We'll be humming the theme song all day long and letting Ryker stay up late every night just to watch "one more race".
It's the Olympics! It's only here every 2 years and we wouldn't miss it for the world.
P.S. The big story of course will also be the weather. Vancouver has a climate similar to Seattle. Yeah. Rain, rain, fog and more rain. It's altitude and proximity to the Canadian Rockies provide some nice snow, usually. This year it is warm, which is very bad for skiing in particular. Officials are actually hauling in snow from nearby mountains and dumping it on the slopes necessary for the competition. There isn't even a dusting of snow in the Olympic village or around the media center. On the Today show this morning, live in Vancouver, the reporters were sitting outside in long sleeved sweaters, no coats, hats or scarves in sight. According to reports I've read Vancouver was already the warmest place the Winter Olympics have ever been held and they are currently experiencing the warmest winter ever on record in British Columbia. That is not good. Not good at all.