Olympics

Feb 8, 2014 10:00 AM by Greg Smith

What to Watch: Day 1 2014 Winter Olympics

Women's hockey

U.S. vs. Finland

The world champion Americans open the women's hockey tournament with a test. Finland handed the U.S. a 3-1 defeat on Nov. 8 at the Four Nations Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Finland was led then as it is now by goalie Noora Raty, who stopped 58 of 59 shots in Lake Placid and backed the University of Minnesota to the 2013 NCAA Championship.

This could be the closest game the U.S. plays outside of a Feb. 12 date with Canada and a probable gold-medal game against Canada. Canada plays Switzerland on Saturday at 10 a.m.

The U.S., Canada, Finland and Switzerland make up one of two four-nation groups. They are the top four nations in the world and are guaranteed spots in the playoff round regardless of group results.

Tough as leather on the ice, the U.S. women's hockey team is surprisingly fun when the skates come off. A good mix of experience and youth, Team USA has Canada and a gold medal in its sights.

Snowboarding slopestyle

Men's semifinals, Men's final

The first gold-medal winner of the Olympics will be crowned at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. It will not be Shaun White, who pulled out of slopestyle Wednesday (but is still scheduled to go for his third straight halfpipe gold Tuesday).

Canada has a shot to sweep the podium, which the nation has never done before at a Winter Games. It's led by Winter X Games champion Max Parrot, the top qualifier from Thursday. Sebastien Toutant won the 2013 European X Games and also qualified directly into the 12-man final.

Then there's Mark McMorris, the 2012 and 2013 X Games champion who was the prohibitive favorite one month ago. He broke a rib at the X Games and did not qualify for the final. He'll go in the semifinals, where 21 men compete to lock up the remaining four spots in the final.

The three Americans -- Chas Guldemond, Sage Kotsenburg and Ryan Stassel -- are also in the semifinals.

The top medal threats to Canada are Norway's Stale Sandbech and Finland's Roope Tonteri, the 2013 world champion, and Peetu Piiroinen, the 2010 Olympic halfpipe silver medalist. Piiroinen is trying to become the first snowboarder to win medals in multiple disciplines.

Figure skating, team event

Dance, women's short, pairs.

The U.S. will need to rebound if it's to win a medal in this new Olympic event. Jeremy Abbott and Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir put it in a tie for fifth (but seventh for all intents and purposes) out of 10 nations Thursday.

That puts more pressure on world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White to win the short dance over Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

Ashley Wagner then makes her Olympic debut in the women's short program. She won't have to deal with Yuna Kim (South Korea isn't entered), but Mao Asada, Yulia Lipnitskaya and Carolina Kostner won't make it easy.

If the U.S. is in the top five as expected after the short programs, it will advance to free skates. The first of four free skates, pairs, concludes Saturday night's session. Castelli and Shnapir will look to improve upon their fifth-place showing from the short program there.

The team event ends with the men's, ice dance and women's long programs on Sunday.

Here are the standings after Thursday's programs:

1. Russia -- 19 points

2. Canada -- 17 points

3. China -- 15 points

4. Japan -- 13 points

5. Germany/France/U.S. -- 10 points

Luge

Men's singles

German Felix Loch is the favorite as luge begins with the first two of four total runs over two days. Loch will begin a quest to become the third man to win back-to-back Olympic luge titles, joining legends Georg Hackl and Armin Zoeggeler.

Zoeggeler, the 2002 and 2006 Olympic champion, is trying to become the first athlete to win a Winter Olympic medal in six straight Games.

He's also in the medal mix along with countryman Dominik Fischnaller, German David Moller and Russian Albert Demtschenko, who is in his record seventh Winter Olympics.

Chris Mazdzer, who took second in a pair of World Cups this season, is the top U.S. hope. No American has ever won an Olympic singles luge medal.

Medals won't be determined Saturday, but a major mistake in either run could take a slider out of the running for the podium Sunday.

Shiva Keshavan, a 31-year-old luge athlete participating in his fifth Olympic Games, falls off his sled but manages to remain calm and regain control to finish his practice run. Keshavan, who hails from India but will be racing under the Olympic flag because of his home country's suspension by the IOC, has already achieved a measure of viral fame due to his use of a Himalayan highway as a training track. There are no rules about falling off a sled and completing a run, so Keshavan's time of 1:01.64 during his training run is recorded as official in the session's results.

Freestyle Skiing

Women's moguls final.

Hannah Kearney is a heavy favorite to bring home the first U.S. gold medal of the Olympics. That's exactly what she did four years ago in Vancouver, where she upset Canadian Jenn Heil and made up for tearfully washing out of 2006 Olympic qualifying.

Kearney was the top qualifier into the final from Thursday and is trying to become the first freestyle skier to win multiple Olympic gold medals. Freestyle skiing has been in the Olympics since 1992.

Her biggest threats are Canadian sisters Chloe, Justine and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe.

American Eliza Outtrim also made the final, while Heather McPhie must compete in another round of qualifying earlier Saturday to make the 20-woman final. The fourth American, Heidi Kloser, crashed in training and missed qualification.

Speed skating

Men's 5000m.

Dutch superstar Sven Kramer is the clear favorite to repeat as Olympic champion here. He hasn't lost a 5000m at a major international meet since taking silver at the 2006 Olympics at age 19.

It could be the first of three gold medals in Sochi for Kramer, the best distance skater of his generation and one of the greatest-ever across all distances.

Kramer could lead a Dutch sweep if Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen are in form. Bergsma is engaged to American skater Heather Richardson.

The best U.S. hope, Jonathan Kuck, is paired with Kramer. Russia has a medal contender in Ivan Skobrev.
- See more at: http://www.nbcolympics.com/news/day-1-sochi-olympics-what-to-watch-nbc#sthash.K3xWODCP.dpuf

 

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