2. Border battle
Most will be surprised to know that America's neighbors to the north could beat the United States at anything, but Canada could top the U.S. in the medal standings in 2010. At the 2006 Torino Games, an emergent Canadian team won a national record 24 Olympic medals - one less than the U.S., which finished in second place overall. That finish, coupled with a home Olympics, has emboldened Canada to spend resources with the intent of yet another record haul. One small problem: Canada has never won a gold medal at home. At the 1976 Montreal Games and the 1988 Calgary Games, Canada failed to win a single Olympic title. Those results will weigh heavy on the national consciousness, not to mention the athletes themselves, in the opening days. If a gold doesn't come early, things could get ugly.
3. Drama kings
With the return of reigning Olympic champion Yevgeny Plushenko of Russia and Torino silver medalist Stephane Lambiel of Switzerland, the men's figure skating field is suddenly as crowded as Moscow's Red Square during a Paul McCartney concert. Not since the 1994 Lillehammer Games, when Olympic champions Brian Boitano (1988) and Ukraine's Viktor Petrenko (1992) returned to challenge Russian Aleksei Urmanov and Canadians Elvis Stojko and Kurt Browning, has a men's competition featured such a compelling lineup. Representing the U.S. are Jeremy Abbott, Johnny Weir and 2009 world champion Evan Lysacek. The trio is exected to challengeÂ for medals. No matter the outcome, there promises to be an extra helping of drama.
4. Old kids on the block
Torino marked the arrival of a relatively new cast of U.S. Olympians. Of the nine American athletes who won gold in 2006, seven were Olympic rookies. But even with the veterans the average age of the golden nine was a tender 23. More important, all but one of the gold medal winners will return to compete in Vancouver (speed skater Joey Cheek has since retired). With four more years of seasoning, the U.S. team will enter the Games as one of the more accomplished in Vancouver
5. Apolo and protÃ©gÃ©
After introducing the U.S. to short track as a one-man machine in Salt Lake and Torino, the Apolo Ohno show will finally have a supporting character. Ohno's understudy is 19-year-old J.R. Celski, who had a breakthrough performance at the 2009 World Championships winning four medals and finishing second overall. (Celski has recovered from a serious crash at the Olympic Trials in September, but his first competition since then will be at the Games.) Celski, who happens to be from Ohno's hometown of Federal Way, Wash., first began short track after watching Ohno on television during the 2002 Games. But don't think that Ohno is ready to pass the torch just yet. As a five-time Olympic medalist, Ohno needs two more to become the most decorated winter Olympian in American history. Only 27-years-old, the fleet footed Dancing With the Stars champion has every intention of staying centerstage.
6. Halfpipe hegemony
The U.S. snowboarders ooze cool, like a rat pack redux in polarized wayfarers. And in such an individual sport, the pack of women halfpipers isÂ as close to a team as it comes. When 2006 silver medalist and snowboard's darling Gretchen Bleiler wedded last summer - to the cringe of adolescent boys everywhere - multiple female riders were in attendance, with 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark serving as bridesmaid. "It's a privilege to be friends with your competitors in a sport that's so creative and artistic rather than competitive," says 2006 halfpipe gold medalist Hannah Teter, who was unable to attend the ceremony. "Last winter I was telling the girls we need to be called â€˜The Dream Team.'" Leading the way onÂ the men's side is 2006 gold medalist Shaun White, the man, the myth, and the emerging legend. Right now no other country can match the skill level of American boarders. Expect Clark to take the women's title and White to unleash his latest brain-melting move, known as both theÂ McTwist and Whitesnake, all over the Cypress halfpipe on his way to gold.
7. El NiÃ±o returns
El NiÃ±o, Spanish for.... "The NiÃ±o," has made an uninvited, though notÂ unexpected,Â landing ahead of the 2010 Olympic Games. And like Chris Farley in the now infamous SNL skit, the irregularly occurring phenomenon has been a troublesome sight. The weather pattern has broughtÂ warmer weather to Vancouver. The record warmth and dearth of snow has proven particularly problematic at low-lying Cypress Mountain, site of the snowboarding and freestyle skiing events. The mountain has been shuttered for the past sveral weeks as hundreds of workers have been working round the clock to create a winter wonderland in time for the Games. Cypress is expected to be ready for competition.
8. Canadian pastimes
For most Canadians, the whole of the Olympics could be canceled so long as the curling and ice hockey competitions stay the course. Both are considered national pastimes and no medals mean more to the 2010 hosts. While Canada should be considered a strong candidate for gold in the men's and women's competitions of both, victory is far from assured. In curling, Scottish skip and 2009 world champion David Murdoch is as tough an opponent as they come; in hockey, the maple leafs will face dominant squads from the Russian men and American women. If one of the Canadian teams falter, expect a country in mourning.
9. Partying on an Olympic level
10. Old men and the ski (cross)
In an attempt to youthanize the skiing events, the International Olympic Committee has added ski cross to the Olympic program for 2010. Think BMX with skis and snow. The addition comes on the heels of the wildly successful snowboard cross competition in Torino. The U.S. features two strong participants in the mass start event: four-time Olympian Casey Puckett and three-time Olympian Daron Rahlves. Both were successful Alpine skiers and either of the friendly pair could win the Olympic medal that eluded them in their previous careers.
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