Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Day 1 Storylines to Follow

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

Sochi Winter Olympics 2014: Day 1 Storylines to Follow

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    With the Opening Ceremonies now complete, the Winter Olympics can officially begin.

    On Saturday some of the most intriguing events of the Games will be in full swing. Ashley Wagner will make her Olympic debut as Team USA competes for a medal in the figure-skating team competition, moguls skier Hannah Kearney will be going for another gold and women's hockey will get off to a star-studded start as Canada and Team USA both take the ice.

    As hard as it is to believe, by the end of the day Saturday new Olympic legends will be made, while other athletes will already be packing their bags to head home and focus on 2018. Here's what to watch for on Day 1...

How Will Ashley Wagner's Olympic Debut Go?

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    It's time to see how Ashley Wagner responds to the Olympic stage after her controversial qualification for the Games. The 22-year-old will be representing Team USA in the ladies short program in the debut of the figure-skating team competition.

    Wagner just missed qualifying for the 2010 figure-skating team in Vancouver. She cemented herself as one of the United States' best by winning back-to-back national championships in 2012 and 2013. At this year's U.S. Championships, though—with the pressure of an Olympic berth in the balance—she fell twice and ended up fourth.

    But the U.S. Figure Skating Association put her on the team over third-place finisher Mirai Nagasu. Now it's up to Wagner to prove that they made the smart decision. 

How Will the Rest of Team USA Fare in the Figure-Skating Team Competition?

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    Besides the ladies short program, two other events in the figure-skating team competition will take place on Saturday: the ice-dance short program and the pairs free skate. This is the second day of a three-day team competition—medals will be awarded after the skates on Sunday. 

    In the ice-dance short program, gold-medal favorites Meryl Davis and Charlie White will be skating for the United States. Davis and White are the only members of Team USA's figure-skating squad who have medaled in the Olympics before, and they are a big reason why the U.S. is a favorite for a gold or silver in the team event.

    For the pairs free skate, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir will be representing the United States. The two-time national champions will have some support in Russia, as Shnapir is from there and fluent in Russian. 

Will Canadians Mark McMorris or Max Parrot Win Slopestyle Gold?

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    With Shaun White now out of the slopestyle competition, all eyes will be on Canadians Mark McMorris and Max Parrot.

    McMorris is a fun-loving 20-year-old who has his own reality show on MTV Canada and hasn't been afraid to call out White in the past. McMorris told The Globe and Mail in Dec., 2011: 

    Shaun is just an unbelievable snowboarder but he could definitely represent snowboarding better. Just be way more cool. He’s so lame. He’s on his own page, he doesn’t hang out with anybody but himself.

    He will surely relish the extra spotlight. McMorris was the favorite in this event before fracturing his ribs in the X Games last month, but he claims he is healthy enough to compete.

    His biggest competitor will be Max Parrot, who won the X Games this year when White and McMorris were both out. Parrot said in a since-deleted tweet that he thought White pulled out of the slopestyle because he was scared.  

    The confrontation-loving duo will be kicking off the Games with a duel on the slopes to see who wins this event's Olympic premiere. 

Will Sven Kramer Defend His Gold in the 5,000 Meters?

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    The last time Dutchman Sven Kramer skated an individual race at the Olympics, it ended in devastation as he was disqualified in the 10,000-meter race for an illegal lane switch, despite the fact that he seemed to be skating his way to gold.

    Now he comes back on the ice four years later trying to defend his 5,000-meter gold and win gold in the 10,000 meters and team pursuit. Already a superstar in the Netherlands, what he does in Sochi will go a long way to defining his legacy, and it all starts with his quest for 5,000-meter gold.

    Kramer is the favorite, but his biggest competitors are countrymen Jorrit Bergsma and Jan Blokhuijsen, and his podium-mates from Vancouver, South Korea's Lee Seung-Hoon and Russia's Ivan Skobrev.

Can Hannah Kearney Hold off the Dufour-Lapointe to Win Moguls Gold?

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    American Hannah Kearney is trying to defend her gold medal from Vancouver in the freestyle-skiing moguls competition. 

    The 27-year-old's biggest competitors happen to all come from the same family: Canadian's Justine (19), Chloe (22) and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe (24) all have a shot at making the podium, as all are ranked in the top five in the world, with Justine at No. 2.

    But make no mistake about it, the fearless Kearney is the favorite. She came back from a horrific crash in 2012, where she broke her ribs, punctured a lung and tore her liver, to win the world championships in 2013. Now, she is trying to become the first freestyle skier ever to win two Olympic gold medals.



Will the U.S. and Canada's Women's Hockey Teams Get off to Winning Starts?

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    There is a new format in women's hockey this year that allows for much more competitive round-robin matches, and it will be on full display Saturday as Team USA, the favorites in Sochi, play Finland, while the three-time defending champions from Canada take on Switzerland.

    Because of the dominance of the U.S. and Canada, hockey officials have separated the two round-robin groups into the top four teams (U.S., Canada, Switzerland and Finland) and the bottom four teams. The top two finishers from the first group get an automatic trip to the semifinals, while the bottom two teams play the top two teams from the second group in the quarterfinals.

    This may sound complicated, but what it means is that the U.S. and Canada have much more dangerous round-robin matches. It's crucial for both teams to get off to a winning start.