SOCHI, Russia — No skier has ever won two gold medals in a men's combination race but that could change Friday when Americans Ted Ligety and Bode Miller hit the snow at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center. Miller took gold in Vancouver in the super combined race while Ligety won the combined event in 2006. Both will compete in Friday's super-combined, which consists of one run of downhill and one run of slalom. The traditional combined race, which Ligety won, had one run of downhill and two runs of slalom. FIS has since altered that format, because it gave too much advantage to slalom specialists.
"Both are contenders in Friday's race, but it's impossible to predict their chances because of fickle nature of the event,” says SI’s alpine writer Tim Layden. “Ligety is hot; he won a World Cup combined in Wengen, Switzerland on Jan. 17 and finished second in Kitzbuehel nine days later. But prior to that he hadn't won a combined or super combined since his Olympic gold. Miller is past his slalom prime and has only finished three of 11 combined races since Vancouver. But he often delivers when least expected.”
Ligety and Miller will hold our attention on a day where medals will also be awarded in biathlon (women’s 15km), cross country (women’s 15km), figure skating (men’s free skate), freestyle skiing (women’s aerials), and skeleton (women’s).
What to watch (all times in Eastern Standard Time)
• MEN'S SKIING: Ligety is SI’s pick to take gold in the men’s super combined (the downhill starts at 2 a.m.; the slalom starts at 6:30 a.m.) after winning the 2013 world title. France’s Alexis Pinturault and Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal, a double world champion in super combined, will also be serious medal contenders. Svindal has won Olympic medals in downhill, Super-G and giant slalom, and if he wins today’s super combined, he will become the third man in Olympic history to win medals in four different alpine skiing disciplines after Norway’s Kjetil André Aamodt and Miller (combined and super combined considered as one event). Pinturault can become the first Frenchman to win an Olympic super combined medal since Henri Oreiller won gold in men's combined in 1948. Croatia’s Ivica Kostelic won silver in both 2006 and 2010 in this event and if he takes silver again, Kostelic will be the first skier in Olympic history to win three silver medals in a single alpine skiing discipline. Kostelic finished second to Ligety in the super combined world championship this year.
• MEN'S HOCKEY: The Czech Republic meets Latvia (3 a.m.) and Sweden plays Switzerland (6:30 a.m.) in the early games. The late games feature Canada-Austria at Bolshoy Arena and Finland-Norway at Shayba Arena. Both of those games are set for noon.
• MEN'S CROSS-COUNTRY: The 15km classical (5 a.m.) features the Czech Republic’s Lukas Bauer, who is looking to medal in the men's 15km in three successive Winter Games. (He won silver in Turin and bronze in Vancouver.) Switzerland’s Dario Cologna won the event in Vancouver and can become the second athlete to win the 15km event twice. (Cologna won the men’s skiathon on Sunday.) Kazakhstan’s Alexey Poltoranin, Sweden’s Johan Olsson, Germany’s Hannes Dotzler are also contenders.
• MEN'S SKELETON: Martins Dukurs is Latvia’s most popular athlete, a three-time sportsman of the year in that country, a silver medalist in Vancouver, and SI’s pick to win gold in men’s skeleton. Durkurs led the event after three heats in Vancouver but a bad final run earned him a silver. Latvia has never won an Olympic gold medal. Matthew Antoine, John Daly and Kyle Tress will compete for the U.S. The first two heats of the completion take place today starting at 7:30 a.m.
• WOMEN'S SKIING: The aerials gold medal will be awarded at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park (the competition takes place from 8:45 a.m.-1:25 p.m.) with China’s Zhang Xin, Li Nina, a silver medalist at the last two Games, and world champion Xu Mengtao battling defending Olympic champ Lydia Lassila of Australia. Lassila can become the first women to win two golds in freestyle skiing. (The Australian has a good primer on her here) Russia’s Veronika Korsunova is also a threat. The best American is Emily Cook, who will be 35 in July. Ashley Caldwell will also compete for the U.S. Zhang is SI’s pick for gold. Li won silver in this event in 2006 and 2010.
• WOMEN'S BIATHLON: Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic is SI’s pick to win the 15km individual race (9 a.m.). Norway’s Tora Berger, who won this event in Vancouver, and Darya Domracheva of Belarus will also be contenders. Domracheva won the 10k race on Tuesday, with Berger taking the silver. Susan Dunklee and Sara Studebaker will compete for the U.S.
• MEN'S FIGURE SKATING: Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu leads Canada's Patrick Chan and Spain’s Javier Fernandez after Thursday’s short program. The free skate program is set for 10 a.m. at the Iceberg Skating Palace. The U.S. is unlikely to medal, but Americans Jason Brown and Jeremy Abbott both advanced to the finals, with Brown placing sixth in the field. (Abbott is in 15th after a fall in the short program.) The other big news from the short program was the withdrawal of Russian skater Evgeni Plushenko, the two-time Olympic gold medalist. He injured himself in warmups while attempting a triple Axel. Russia will have no man skating Friday in the free skate.
• WOMEN'S SKELETON: The final two runs will be held at the Sanki Sliding Center in Sochi's Mountain Cluster, and the competition sets up as a duel between Great Britain (Elizabeth Yarnold) and the United States (Noelle Pikus-Pace). Pikus-Pace had a two-run time on Thursday of 1:57.33, 0.44 behind the leader Yarnold. American Katie Uhlaender is in fourth place at 1:57.58, 0.14 behind third-place Elena Nikitina of Russia, who has a time of 1:57.44. Pikus-Pace nearly lost her leg when she was struck by a bobsled in 2005. That accident knocked her out of the Turin Games, and she finished fourth in Vancouver. The third heat begins at 10:40 a.m., followed by the fourth and final heat at 11:51 a.m.
• CURLING: Round robin play continues in curling with the U.S. men facing Germany (midnight) and the U.S. women meeting Denmark (4 a.m.). The U.S. men will play a second match on Friday starting at 10 a.m.
• MEN'S SKI JUMPING: The men’s large hill qualifying begins (12:30 p.m.) with all eyes on the favorite: Poland’s Kamil Stoch won the normal hill event on Sunday but was injured in a crash on Wednesday. The AP reported he suffered a bloodied nose but walked off the hill after having a brace put onto his left arm. Slovenia’s Peter Prevc amd Anders Bardal of Norway will also contend for medals. Simon Amman of Switzerland is the defending champion from Vancouver.
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By the Numbers
10 -- Olympic gold medals won by teenagers in alpine skiing. American Mikaela Shiffrin can add to that list by winning the women’s slalom on Feb. 21.
5 -- Winter Olympic medals for Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk, surpassing ski jumper Adam Malysz as the Polish athlete with the most Winter Games medals.
3 -- Times the United States has swept the medals in a Winter Games event, including Thursday's men's ski slopestyle competition. The other two came in men's figure skating at the Cortina d' Ampezzo 1956 Winter Games and men's snowboard halfpipe at the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games.
1 -- Figure skater from Brazil, the first in the country’s history, to skate in Sochi. Isadora Williams, who was born in Marietta, Georgia, will compete in the Ladies Figure skating short program.
Around the Web
Here are five Olympic stories you’ll be talking about today:
Gilmore Junio for flagbearer? He was a winner today, too (By Bruce Arthur, National Post) -- Terrific piece about a Canadian speedskater who gave up his spot in Sochi for a teammate with a better chance to medal.
East Timor’s Unlikely Winter Olympian (By Will Davies, Wall Street Journal) -- Yohan Goutt Goncalves is the first person to represent East Timor — a small, snowless, tropical nation — at a Winter Olympics.
That One Time the FSB in Sochi Invited Me for a Chat (By Ivan Nechepurenko, Moscow Times) -- A conversation with Russia’s equivalent of the FBI.
Also Cheering at the Olympics: Russian Critics (By Andrew E. Kramer and Steven Lee Myers, New York Times) -- Reported the newspaper: “If anyone has a right to resent the Sochi Olympics, it is Andrei Martynov, whose house was seized by the Russian authorities and then demolished without compensation to clear land near the hockey arena.”
Olympic Food (By Ivan Nechepurenko, Moscow Times) -- Recommended: Sochi is famous for its khinkali — Georgian dumplings filled with spiced meat.