Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's Winter Olympics Time...

Tomorrow night marks the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. With so many big names coming together in all divisions it's shaping up to be one of the games to remember (how does Canada always get so lucky? They had a great games in 88, too!)

Figure Skating events start of on Sunday with the Pairs Short Program. Right now it looks to be anyone's game between the big names.

Sentimental favorites are most definitely Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao. They were third in 2002, basically forgotten amidst the media scandal that surrounded the second and first place teams. They soon broke away from the shadows, though, comanding the attention of all a year later at the World Championships when Shen skated on a very injured ankle. It was their breakout program. After a few seasons away from competition the team is back for one last go at the Olympic Title. Unlike Plushenko's comeback, however, it's not as certain that they will just take command and bring home Gold. But we can certainly hope for that outcome.

Hard hitters Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy are the big defenders. Coming off of a World Title this team is hungry, and full of action. They're powerhouse moves could dazzle the judges to put them above the more subtle Shen and Zhao if both skate clean, but Shen and Zhao have already come out on top once this season going head to head. It's the character, and in your face innovention that makes this team stand out. Germany should be proud.

Canada's hopes for a medal rest in the hands, most likely, of Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison. They're coming off a win at home at their National Championships last month. They're touted as the next Sale & Pelletier... I wouldn't put it that far. In comparison Dube & Davison are like Sale & Pelletier -with no emotion. Their programs are pretty, they are nice to look at, but you don't get the same energy/emotion coming OUT of the skaters that you found in Sale & Pelletier. The performance aspect just isn't there.

Dube & Davison's teammates also have a bit of buzz surrounding them, but it'll be a rather steep uphill climb to make the podium for Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay. Anabelle is a veteran of the games, having participated with her former partner (Patrice Archetto) in 2002 as one of Canada's three pairs. This season Canada only has two teams on the team. It will be interesting to see where this team stacks up with the world's best (They sat out last season due to injury and illness).

China might have all their eggs in Shen & Zhao's basket, but they've the strongest team in the field. Qing Pang and Jian Tong are going into their third olympics, and while they may not be crowd favorites - many say they lack in chemestry, artistry, and performance - they're solid competitors. And it seems very few pairs teams outside of China have the explosive power. Pang and Tong WILL be top 10, if not top 5.

Also from China, Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang are back for redemption. They were the pair four years ago who went for the quad throw and had a horrible landing, only to rebound and snatch the silver medal. They've been major contenders the last four seasons, and a podium finish is not out of their reach. It wouldn't be a total surprise - to me - to see a Chinese Sweep of the podium, but everyone better bring their A-game.

Surprisingly, the spoilers of this event could be the Russian pair of Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov - yes, that's right, they aren't favored to win - and not really even favored to podium. Don't expect to see Russia off the podium, but they're going to have to skate clean to place there. Also note that the great Tamara Moskvina is their coach, and you may notice Yuko's haircut/look is similar to that of Elena Bereznaya (co-pairs Olympic Champion with partner Anton Sikharuledze & Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2002). Just something to notice. (no photo available from Vancouver at this time.)

Teams not expected to have podium placements but should steal the show here in America are the two American teams (naturally). Caydee Denney & Jeremy Barrett burst onto the scene last season, nearly upsetting the heavy favorites (and eventual winners) at the US Figure Skating National Championships. Many, in fact, believed that they should have been first. This season they successfully made it to the top of the podium skating nearly flawlessly. There's a lot of buzz surrounding these two, and one can only hope that the media and fans alike allow this team to grow and mature on their own without the added pressure of being 'our only hope.'

Second place team of Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are the surprise out of Nationals. Most had written this team off believing the Olympic team would have Denney and Barrett and either Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker (two time national champions) or Rena Inoue & John Baldwin (Olympic Veterans and multiple national champions). It was not to be for those pairs and Amanda and Mark came out on top (but not with some controversy where some suggested Rena and John should be named to the team instead). In the spirit of the games, and the name of tradition Amanda and Mark join Caydee and Jeremy in Vancouver. Here's hoping the magic in Spokane caries over the border and we see them dazzle us again.

Photos by Getty Images c/o

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