Heinrich: Ridiculously in depth Olympic preview - Part I
Welcome to the three part series of my Olympic Preview. Here is to many Cool Runnings references and many many pictures of Lindsey Vonn. Let's not bore you with a long intro and just get into the facts. Here is Part 1:
How it Works - Strap some ski's to your feet and go as fast as you can down the mountain. Don't forget to stay inside the flags. Fastest to the bottom wins. Oh, don't forget your helmet. (Fast forward to the 52 second mark if you want to see the stupidest photographer of all time.)
Consists of five different races: Downhill, Super G, Giant Slalom, Slalom, and Super Combined. Bonus points to Alpine Skiing for adding the words ‘Giant' and ‘Super' to there event names. It certainly brings a whole other level to event.
Best Event - It's hard to claim a best event when they all involve people going 70-90 miles an hour down steep slope. But since you insist, I'd go with the Giant Slalom. As I mentioned above the word ‘Giant' really adds more to the race. Think if Figure Skating decided to go with the Giant Program instead of Long Program, tell me that doesn't just sound better.
Total Medals Available - 30 (There are three medals per event, multiply that by five events, and multiply that by the two genders competing, and you get 30 medals. I hope you don't have issues with word problems.)
Country to Watch - Austria returns a solid group of skiers from the 2006 games which saw them atop the Alpine medal count (14) with a medal in every event except Women's Giant Slalom and a sweep of the Men's Slalom. The exit of Hermann Maier from the Olympic competition is big but the Austrians will surely land on the podium again.
Athlete to Watch - Lindsey Vonn (USA) - Sports Illustrated claimed Vonn might be the best U.S. Women's Skier ever. Entered in all five events she has a chance to be the highest decorated skier ever for the States. All of the hype might get derailed as Vonn has come out and said she has a deep muscle bruise on her shin that makes it hard to even wear her boots while standing. Keep an eye on the situation, but I would be shocked if Vonn doesn't give it a go.
U.S. Chances - Vonn leads the World Cup in points coming into Vancouver, and is the heavy favorite to grab gold for the U.S. Also, if you thought Bode Miller had retired because he hasn't been up to his usual loud and boisterous ways pre-Olympics think again. Miller is competing in all five Alpine events and has only one way to go after Turino saw him put up a goose egg for medals.
How it Works - The Cross Country/Rifle Shooting combo sport is a mixture of endurance and nerves of steel. Sometimes one missed shot can be the difference between standing on the podium and sitting in your room wondering what went wrong. If a shot is missed the Olympian is either penalized one minute or must complete a penalty lap in the CIRCLE OF DOOM! OK, so they haven't taken my advice on adding a few more obstacles to the penalty lap but tell me the Biathlon wouldn't be a lot more exciting with an alligator pit and tunnel of fire. And you get to call them Biathletes. Come on, that is fun to say.
Best Event - "The Mass Start" - Only medal winners from the other three non-relay races and the top finishers from the World Cup are allowed in this field of 30 competitors. Missed shots result in the CIRCLE OF DOOM! This event debuted in Turin in 2006 and is a pure race; first one to cross the finish line wins.
Total Medals Available - 30 (There are three medals per event, multiply that by five events, and multiply by the two genders competing, equals 30 medals. I hope you don't have issues with word problems.)
Country to Watch - Germany. The Germans won 11 medals in Biathlon in Turin. Including five gold and four silver. Is anyone else scared that Germans are getting really good at skiing and shooting? Wasn't there something about this in the Treaty of Versailles?
Athlete to Watch - Ole Einar Bjorndalen (Norway): Arguably the best Winter Olympic athlete ever Bjorndalen has nine total Olympic medals, five gold. He is competing in his fifth Winter Olympiad and is looking for redemption as he failed to grab gold in Turino after battling the flu the week before the games.
United States Chances - Well the U.S. hasn't medaled in biathlon in, how do I put this gently, ever. But this year Tim Burke is the first American to sport the yellow bib going into the Olympics. What is the yellow bib you ask? Not only does it serve as the proper accessory when he chows down on some fresh lobster in Vancouver, but it also means he's leading the World Cup points right now. Burke is the best shot for a States team that has four Olympic rookies on it.
How it Works - First lets all make sure we don't call it bobsled. I'm sure if we do it too much it might take the Swiss out of there neutrality (that is a word!) and then we'll have some issues. It is a simple event. Shove two or four people into a hollowed out torpedo and fly down a strategically dangerous track as fast as possible. Four chances to go fast. Fastest overall time after four runs wins. GO JAMAICA! (Sadly Jamaica is not in this years bobsleigh event. Their bid to return to the country that saw the first Winter Olympic appearance for the island country fell just short.)
Best Event - The Four Man. Four guys push a sled super fast jump in try not to crash. You have to give some credit to the guys in the middle of the sled. All they do is help the push start then they sit there tucked as low as possible with their well being in the hands of the driver and the brakeman. The Women do not have a four person competition.
Total Medals Available - 9: Four Man, Two Man, Women's (or as I like to call it "Women's two Man")
Country to Watch - Switzerland. I will be honest I am basing this entirely on the fact that Derice Bannock idolized them. Even though the Germans swept gold in Italy. Eins, Zwei, Drei!
Athlete to Watch - Astrid Loch-Wilkinson and Cecilia McIntosh (Austrailia): The Aussie women's team has been staying in a Vancouver hotel not sure if they would be competing in the Olympics. They were waiting an appeal to allow them into the field of twenty. Tuesday the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in their favor and they are in. We'll see if this last minute inclusion leads to a "Cool Runnings" type situation. The Irish (20th team in) will also be able to compete. I am sure if the French were trying to get in they would have pulled a preverbal hand ball and knocked out the Green and Orange. (I wasn't even sure if I could pull off a soccer reference in a Winter Olympic article but look at that. World Cup: 180 days left!)
U.S. Chances - U.S. Chances - The Women for the US have the best chance to medal. They received silver in 2006 and Elana Meyers drove the women to gold on this very track in the Olympic Test Event last year. I would like to now take the time to shout out to the Brakemen and Brakewomen out there competing in Vancouver. The Drivers get all the praise for leading there sled to glory all the while the breakers just get to stop the sled at the end. Can we get a little more credit for the people who do very little and still win? Brakemen are the middle-reliever of Bobsleigh.
How it Works - Ski as fast as you can on flat ground and up and down little hills. The Marathon of the Winter Games.
Best Event - Maybe the hardest sport to determine best event. There is no CIRCLE OF DOOM! There is nothing more than racing the "fastest" but since I've told myself I'll choose one we will pick Men's 50K individual. I like anything with Mass Start. If the IOC calls the events Super 50k and Giant Pursuit they've got me hooked.
Total Medals Available - 36 (Cross Country Skiing just doesn't deserve 36 medals. It is tied for the most of any sport with Speedskating. Could you have two more opposite sports. I think in 2014 we take some of the Cross Country medals and get a Curling Trick Shot competition and knock Cross Country down to 30 medals.)
Country to Watch - Estonia! That is right the birth place of Brendan Frasier. Estonia took three Gold's home in 2006. All in Cross Country so watch out for those Estonian's they get places in the snow at a very leisurely pace better than most. Surprisingly Estonia has no Brendan's on it's Olympic Team.
Athlete to Watch - Robel Teklemariam (Ethiopia): The only member of the Ethiopian ski team will be competing in his second Olympics. Teklemariam, who attended the University of New Hampshire, practices in his home country on roller ski's down suburban streets in shorts and wrap around sunglasses, avoiding cars and constantly being stopped to answer questions about what he is doing.
U.S. Chances - This sport is a little too relaxing for Americans. Try walking up to a 12 year old kid in Vermont and saying "Hey you want to go down this mountain as fast as you can or would you like to ski across this flat part for an hour?" Yeah sorry Cross Country we're not giving you are best athletes. Look at the pictures of the US Cross Country Skiers. Do any of them look like they are happy to be cross country skiers? No they are just hoping to meet a hot Swedish Downhiller in the Athletes Village.
How it Works - Two teams take turns throwing stones down a long sheet of ice, trying to stop the stones as close to the center of the target. Ten teams are entered in the Olympics and they play every team in a round robin format to start the competition. The top four teams advance to the semi finals with the top ranked team playing the fourth and the second and third place facing off. For a detailed look at the greatest sport in the Olympics read my Curling Blog from earlier this week. Even though Curling is the best sport NBC seems to neglect ever so much, they would do well to add a Giant Stone or Super Stone to the end. Kind of like the Money Ball in the three point contest.
Best Event - The Whole Thing! There really is only Men's and Women's and since there is no difference in the rules or the skill the two genders I propose a Tournament of Champions be added to the Olympics where the top five teams from the Men's and Women's competitions play out another Tourney against each other with the same rules as the normal competition. You are telling me the sexual tension between the Norwegian Men's team and the Canadian Women's team wouldn't add another dimension to this already great sport.
Total Medals Available - 6 (Right Now - See Above)
Country to Watch - Canada - Home Ice Advantage might actually play a big role for the Canadians. Our neighbors to the North love the sport and should get a good turn out for all their matches. It's hard to hurl your stone properly with crazy Canadians screaming around your sheet. Canada is the favorite in both Men's and Women's going into the Games.
Athlete to Watch - Vernon Davis - Yes Vernon Davis. He is now an honorary captain for USA's Olympic Curling Team. (And yes I did link to my own article that links to the article about Vernon Davis, so what, if you didn't click above now you have a second chase. DO IT!)
U.S. Chances - The Men's Team stole Bronze in 2006 and gained a ton of recognition from the National media. Coming into the Olympics the Men finished the 2009 World Championships in second after the Round Robin, but finished out of the medals. Look for both U.S. teams to put forth a strong showing but Curling is a sport where anything can happen.
Part 2 coming Thursday with Figure Skating, Freestyle Skiing, Ice Hockey, Luge, and Nordic Combined.