Buzz or no buzz, these are top 10 storylines in the upcoming games
By MIKE LOPRESTI
Gannett News Service
How do you get to the Winter Olympics? In 2010, the answer is simple.
Go to Seattle, and turn right.
The jewel city of Vancouver and its mountainous cousin Whistler take center stage, with the torch lit only five days after the Super Bowl. By then, presumably, the viewing public will be acclimated and willing to trade touchdown passes for the giant slalom.
There has been a noticeable lack of buzz. NBC is already talking about losing a bundle, having forked over more than $800 million for broadcast rights. But in the end, the games will still draw a crowd. What else does anyone have to do in February when the wind chill factor undercuts zero, but watch television?
Here are 10 things to look for, once they start playing in the snow in Canada.
NO. 1. LINDSEY VONN
Ever wonder what Michael Phelps would look like on skis? She won't be winning eight gold medals, but if Vonn is healthy, she could bring home a bundle in the Alpine events, and in the process become America's sweetheart of the Olympics.
There is already intrigue, Austrian coaches suggesting her size — 5-10, 160 — gives her unfair advantage. They apologized, but she might not have forgotten.
Vonn injured her shin in a training accident last week putting her participation in the games in doubt. But she completed a practice run yesterday.
It is always risky, predicting great things in the Olympics from an Alpine skier. A lot of bad things can happen coming down a mountain. But that's what makes victory all the more grand.
NO. 2. USA VS. CANADA
The Canadians are serious about this medal business, and you can understand why. The country has hosted two previous games—Montreal in the summer of 1976, Calgary in the winter of 1988 — and did not win one single gold medal.
The hosts' intensity to do better has already led to friction — there has been grumbling from other nations about how Olympic venues were closed off to practice by outsiders. And it is sure to create tense competition moments, especially against Canada's old buddy across the border.
The epicenter of the rivalry could well turn out to be women's hockey, because the two teams are, beyond question, the best in the world, and have never liked each other much.
NO. 3. HAS WOMEN'S FIGURE SKATING GONE RED, WHITE AND BLUELESS?
This is the event that drives the Winter Olympic television ratings, as the wives of America grab the remote controls from their husbands. Often, the husbands are interested, too.
This has usually meant watching one American lass or another do salchows for gold, but Vancouver might be different. The big guns in small packages come from Asia.
The Americans — led by Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu, 16 — will be underdogs and aren't expected to medal. The last time no U.S. woman stood on the podium was 1964.
NO. 4. MEN'S HOCKEY
You can tell how badly the NHL wants the sport to make a global impression. What other league simply goes dark for a couple of weeks in the middle of its season so its players can go to the Olympics?
The curious downside is, the American public seemed to be more interested when its college kids were trying to upset the Russians, than when its professionals were trying to beat Sweden.
Not so north of the border. Nobody has more pressure in these games than the Canadian men's hockey players. It's their sport. It's their country.
NO. 5. SHAUN WHITE, PLUS AN OLDER AND PRESUMABLY WISER LINDSEY JACOBELLIS
The new wave sports have quickly carved their own niche in the Olympics, and White has been the face of the fresh generation with his halfpipe domination. More medals will only make him more of an idol.
Meanwhile, Jacobellis pulled the boner of Torino in 2006, showboating in the snowboard cross and falling near the finish line to hand away the gold.
She tried to make the stodgy public understand; her sport is about having fun, and that's all she was trying to do.
A gold medal in 2010 would make her point a lot better.
NO. 6. OHNO'S FAREWELL?
When he hasn't been winning "Dancing with the Stars," Apolo Ohno has been piling up five short track Olympic medals. Two more, and he becomes the most decorated Winter Olympics athlete in U.S. history.
He is 27 now, and grew up just down the road near Seattle. He has come home to make a run at the record. Has he come home to say goodbye to the Olympics?
NO. 7. BODE MILLER'S REDEMPTION
He was the magazine cover of choice before the 2006 games.
He was brash. He was daring. He was a rebel. He was going to make a fascinating Olympic hero. All he needed was medals.
The medals never came. He's back. Maybe this time will be different.
NO. 8. SHANI DAVIS
The first black athlete to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics is, by all accounts, in peak form, and aiming to medal in multiple individual events.
A speed skating medal binge for an African-American kid from Chicago? Unimaginable a couple of Olympiads ago.
NO. 9. MIRACLE ON SNOW?
This is just a guess, but you and your sports pals probably don't spend a lot of time discussing the biathlon. Pairing skiing with shooting, it has been on the Olympic program for decades, but the U.S. has never won a medal.
Tim Burke has been the World Cup points leader much of this winter in the biathlon. Jay Hakkinen barely missed a bronze in Torino. Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane have won big lately in Nordic combined world competitions. Should any medal, no one will shriek, "Do you believe in miracles?" But considering the U.S. past in both events, it will be one.
NO. 10. THE UNEXPECTED
There's always something. A doping scandal, a judging controversy.
Or maybe the weather.
The Canadians are spending a billion dollars on security, but they are powerless to keep out this troublemaker named El Nino. The weather pattern has brought unusually warm weather rain to the Vancouver area, creating concern that there might be a lack of snow at some venues.
A warm spell could be a major factor not only for the competition, but the ambience of the Vancouver Games. Viewers tune in to see a winter wonderland, not spring training.