American medal possibilities in Vancouver

The Olympics opening ceremony is next week! Hopefully you’ve been reading up on all the latest gossip from Vancouver, but if not, I have the next best thing. I present to you the Olympic sports Americans have a snowball’s chance of medaling in!

Alpine Skiing – This one might bear something metallic. The U.S. is fourth all-time in medals, and a couple competitors are looking good for this year. In the women’s rankings, Lindsey Vonn is No. 2 in the world. Ted Ligety is No. 7 and the venerable Bode Miller is No. 14 in the men’s rankings. Because I know nothing whatsoever about alpine skiing, I’m guessing Vonn has the best shot at a medal and may actually pull it off. Miller didn’t live up to his hype in Torino, but he may fare better in Vancouver.

Biathlon – The U.S. has never won a medal, and don’t expect it to start soon. If you’re proud of your German, Russian or Norwegian heritage, you may want to tune in: They’ll likely be winning everything in this event.

Bobsleigh (Bobsled) – Switzerland has dominated overall, taking 30 total medals to the second-ranked U.S.’s 18. It’s fun to watch and there’s a good chance the U.S. will medal at least once.

Curling – The U.S. won its first curling medal with a men’s bronze from Torino on the shoulders of Pete Fenson, skip of the team. This year, Fenson’s lead, John Shuster, is the skip of the U.S. men’s team and hopes to gain on that momentum. Added officially in 1998 though it was played in 1924, curling has been somewhat dominated by Canada, though the pack is very tight with Sweden, Norway, Great Britain and Switzerland all within four total medals. Realistically, a medal is a stretch for both Shuster’s team and that of Debbie McCormick, the women’s skip. However, the men’s team wasn’t supposed to medal in ’06 and see what happened. Check out my take on the entire curling field from last week’s Merciad.

Cross Country Skiing – No Americans anywhere in sight. One silver medal in 1976 suggests this isn’t our strong point. Don’t watch if you’re hoping for an upset. In fact, cross country skiing isn’t exactly a riveting sport anyway, so don’t watch if any other event is on TV.

Figure Skating – Combined with the medals of the Soviet Union, Russia has the same number of medals all-time as the U.S. Expect some good things out of this event.

Freestyle Skiing – This is a relatively new sport to the Winter Olympics (moguls in 1992 and aerials in 1994), but Americans have done spectacularly. Leaders in the all-time medal count (10), we should do pretty well this year. Ski Cross has been added this year, and it’s basically a downhill ski race with a mass start, so the first person to the finish wins gold.

Ice Hockey – The Big 7 have dominated the sport and will continue to in the near future. Only six medals from 69 total have gone anywhere other than Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, Sweden, Russia, or the U.S. Of the six that have gone elsewhere, Great Britain hasn’t won anything since 1936, Switzerland not since 1948 and Germany once in 1932 and once in 1976. For the women, Canada is a two-time defending gold medalist, but the U.S. has medaled the last three Olympics since the women’s game entered the Winter Olympics. The team is strong, and they have a good chance in Vancouver. Canada and Russia are already penciled into the gold medal game in the men’s bracket, and any other scenario right now is academic at best. The U.S. is hoping for bronze realistically, though GM Brian Burke insists the team is going with the idea of taking gold. Led by Captain Jamie Langenbrunner of the New Jersey Devils, we Yanks may just have a chance. Like you aren’t going to watch just because we’re an underdog: see Winter Olympics, 1980 & 1960.

Luge – Germany has crushed at luge, and Italy makes an interesting appearance at the top of the overall medal count. The U.S. has never won gold but has two silver and two bronze medals. These medals were all in doubles and came in 1998 and 2002. They may have been a fluke, but check it out just in case.

Nordic Combined – Ski jumping combined with cross country skiing, Nordic Combined is dominated by Austria, Finland and Norway (surprise!). The U.S. has never medaled in Nordic Combined, but America has two men in the top 10 of the world rankings, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane. Take that for what it’s worth.

Short Track – Apollo Anton Ohno and Cathy Turner split America’s four gold medals in short track speed skating, and the U.S. sits fourth all-time behind Korea, Canada and China. Ohno’s a two-time defending gold medalist in the men’s 500 m, so make sure to watch that one.

Skeleton – Headfirst luge on a smaller sled, skeleton was at the Winter Olympics in 1928 and reappeared in 1948, and it has been permanently added since 1998. The U.S. had three medals in 2002 and three in the older games, but was shut out in Torino. It’s 50/50 whether the U.S. will medal, but, if nothing else, it’ll be more exciting than cross country skiing.

Ski Jumping – Check out my explanation and preview of Ski Jumping from last week’s Merciad. The U.S. may scrape something out, but I seriously doubt it.

Snowboarding – In each of the last three Olympics, events for snowboarding have been added to make the sport one of the most popular nowadays. In the small sample size, the U.S. has dominated the medals, taking 14 overall with 5 gold (Switzerland also has 5 gold but only 8 overall medals). Shaun White will be back, trying to defend his gold medal in half pipe, so make this event one to watch for American medals.

Speed Skating – Different from short track in regard to the length skated, speed skating has been around forever. The U.S. is third all-time in medals behind Norway and the Netherlands. You’ll recognize the Netherlands because of their solid orange outfits, and the U.S. should medal at least once.