There is more to the U.S. Olympic team than Lindsey Vonn.
Even as Vonn makes her much anticipated debut in the women’s downhill this afternoon, day six at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver should showcase the depth of the American team.
A day after failing to produce a medal and falling behind in the medal count for the first time at these games, the Americans could bounce back strongly today and crown more Olympic champions than they have in the first five days of the Olympics combined.
Vonn is favored to win gold in the downhill, which is considered to be the best of her five events that she will contest in Vancouver. Shaun White and Shani Davis, meanwhile, are favorites to defend their respective gold medals from four years ago in the men’s snowboard halfpipe and 1,000 meters speed skating.
After numerous delays at the alpine skiing venue, Vonn will finally take to the slopes today in search of her first medal in her third trip to the Olympics. While questions surround her about an injured right shin and how she will handle the pressure of the intense American media attention she has received in the lead up to Vancouver, Vonn’s stiffest challenges will come from a relatively unpredictable and unfamiliar course as well as a number of worthy rivals, mainly her close friend Maria Riesch of Germany.
The event promises to be close—in the men’s downhill less than a tenth of a second separated first from third—and anything can happen with just one run to determine the champion. Vonn, however, has won five of the last six downhill races on the World Cup circuit, so assuming her shin is healthy enough she has to be the pick for gold.
White and Davis are even better bets for gold.
In the snowboard halfpipe, White brings a degree of difficulty and a level of creativity to the sport that no other athlete in the competition can match. His record in big competitions is unprecedented and he won gold in Torino easily.
Riders do dangerous and high-flying tricks that create some measure of uncertainty in the competition. The gold medalist, however, will be determined by the best score of two runs in the final round, meaning White will have two opportunities to put all of his tricks together flawlessly. With a clean run it seems unlikely that anyone can match the scores White will receive from the judges.
Davis is clearly the class of the field in the 1,000 meters as defending Olympic champion, two-time world champion, and current world record holder at the distance. He will likely face tough competition from South Korea’s Lee Kyou-hyuk, who will look to add to the success his nation has already had at speed skating in these Olympics, and Canada’s Denny Morrison and Jeremy Wotherspoon, who will look to benefit from a home ice advantage.
By Winter Olympic standards, however, long track speed skating is predictable. With only limited potential for crashing out and no novel elements thrown at athletes from unfamiliar course layouts, the best man most often wins. All indications are that right now that is Davis.
White, Davis, and Vonn may not find themselves alone on the podium should they claim gold in their respective events. Scotty Lago and Louie Vito of the United States could make it an American sweep in the men’s halfpipe, while Chad Hedrick, the 5,000 meter gold medalist in Torino, and Julia Mancuso, the women’s giant slalom gold medalist in Torino, could add to their Olympic hardware behind Davis and Vonn, respectively.
The U.S. also has a few podium hopefuls in the day’s other four medal events.
While no American has a realistic chance for the top three in the men’s 1.4K sprint in cross country, American Kikkan Randall could earn the first U.S. medal in the women’s 1.2K sprint after winning silver at the last world championships.
In men’s doubles luge, the team of Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin face long odds against talented German and Austrian sleds. Grimmette, the U.S. flag bearer for the Opening Ceremony, however, has the type of Olympic experience and track record that cannot be discounted. He is competing in his fifth Olympics and medaled in the event in both Nagano in 1998 and Salt Lake City four years later.
In the women’s 500 meters in short track speed skating, Katherine Reutter, the three-time defending U.S. champion could reach the podium, though China’s Wang Meng is the heavy favorite. Given the unpredictability of the sport, Reutter’s teammate Alyson Dudek could also find herself in the mix if a few breaks go her way.
American star Apolo Anton Ohno will also be in action in short track in the qualifying rounds of the men’s 1,000 meters and 5,000 meters relay.
While Lindsey Vonn’s Vancouver debut is sure to steal the spotlight today, it is also a critical day for the entire U.S. team. If all goes relatively to plan, the Americans should have their most successful day in Vancouver yet and find themselves atop Germany in the overall medal count again.