5 Things to Watch At The Winter Games On Thursday

By: Greg Palmer
By: Greg Palmer
The United States is hopeful it will be a big day on the ice and ski slope, luge fans get an added treat and the male figure skaters show off their short programs.

The crowd goes wild for the entrance of the home team, Russia, during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

SOCHI, Rus. (CNN)-- The United States is hopeful it will be a big day on the ice and ski slope, luge fans get an added treat and the male figure skaters show off their short programs.

Men's figure skating

Russian fans will need to make sure they are at the Iceberg early. Evgeni Plushenko is seventh on the start list for the men's short program.

Skaters worry that going near the beginning will mean a lower score. He'll have to wait through 23 more skaters to see where he stacks up.

Most of the favorites -- Patrick Chan of Canada, Javier Fernandez of Spain and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan -- are much later in the program.

Chan is still a favorite in the event, as you would expect a three-time running world champion would be. But he was only third in the short program for the team competition, and longtime USA Today Olympics writer Christine Brennan said Chan has looked shaky in practice.

Still, Chan claimed after the team competition that he had gotten the jitters out.

"It wasn't the best, obviously, but I've learned that I enjoy what I do," he said. "The crowd was great and I could feel the energy out there. That's why I do this. Winning and getting a medal would be great but, at the end of the day, it's not why I'm out there."

Others to watch: Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, second at the 2013 world championships but has dealt with recent injuries; Jeremy Abbott of the United States, who had a bad performance during the team competition.

Luge

If you only watch the Olympics once every four years, we have great news. Now improved, with even more luge!

This is the first time they'll have a team relay, one of the few mixed-sex events at the Games.

It goes like this: Man slides down track, goes through finish line and hits touch pad. Woman sees light and races down track. After she finishes, the two-person team makes its run and completes the race.

Officials say this will give a chance for nations that aren't dominant in any of the other luge disciplines. Or in Germany's case a chase to earn more medals for the trophy case.

They have won all three events so far at Sochi, so they're the 1 to 20 odds-on favorite.

Who else to watch: Canada and the United States also slid well during the World Cup season. If Canada goes top 3, it will be that country's first luge medal.

Women's speed skating (the long and short of it)

The red, white and blue has been red-faced so far at the Adler Arena. Team USA has zero medals so far in speed skating, but Thursday brings the women a chance to get back on the medal stand.

Now this may sound familiar, but a U.S. skater is a firm favorite to win the long-track 1,000 meters. The skater dominated the 1,000 races this season. The skater didn't do well during the 500.

But can Heather Richardson avoid the same dismal fate as Shani Davis did in the men's race?

Richardson is confident despite her eighth-place finish in the shorter race.

"I used it as a good warmup. My speed is there. I am more calm than I was in Vancouver because I know what to expect," she said, referring to the 2010 Games when she finished ninth in the 1,000.

And Richardson has another thing going for her. Her boyfriend is Dutch skater Jorrit Bergsma, so maybe some of the Netherlands' medal mojo will come the way of Team USA.

Also check out the women's 500 meters on the short track, which is sure to include a few spills. There are four quarterfinals, two semis and the final -- 44 seconds of madness each time.

Who else to watch in the 1,000: Brittany Bowe of the United States, who set the world record this season, and Olga Fatkulina, the champion at last year's worlds held in Sochi. The Russian also won silver in the 500 on Tuesday.

Men's hockey

Four years ago the Canadians rode the wave of home country support (and a whole bunch of talent) to win gold in men's hockey. The celebration throughout Vancouver and the rest of the nation was epic.

Russia begins its quest for the same result on Thursday. How important is it for the Big Red Machine to triumph in Sochi? A news conference this week was attended by hundreds of reporters. All 25 players from the team attended, something you almost never see.

"How we perform we will have to see, we will see the results later, but everyone on the team understands what they are expected to do," Vladislav Tretiak, president of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation said.

First games are big uncertainties, given that up until a week ago many of them were playing in the National Hockey League. Fortunately for the Russians, they start with Slovenia, and this year's tournament has had more practice time than previous events that included NHL players.

Canada and the United States also open group play on Thursday, with the Americans playing Slovakia and Canada facing off against Norway.

Men's slopestyle skiing

Those crazy kids are at it again. Sliding down railings, taking on quarterpipes and soaring off ramps.

This time they are doing it on skis as the debut of slopestyle events wraps up with the men's freestyle skiing version.

And as you might have guessed, skiers from the United States are favored. Nick Goepper and Gus Kenworthy are the only dudes to have landed a triple-corked 1440, which includes four rotations. They did them at the X Games, kind of throwing down an icy gantlet.

"I think there's going to be a lot of guys throwing the triple cork. I think it's just going to be about grabbing it all the way through and stomping it down," he said last week after testing out the Sochi course.

Who else to watch: Bobby Brown and Joss Christensen, the other two U.S. slopestylers could medal. Other skiers who will be fun to watch are James Woods of Great Britain and Andreas Haatveit of Norway.


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