Thursday, February 12, 2009
Rivalries brewing for 2010 Games
By Amy Rosewater Special to ESPN.com
Americans Chad Hedrick and Shani Davis could team up again in Vancouver.
Rivalries are what make the Olympics. Why, what would Dan have been without Dave? What would Nancy have been without Tonya? What would have been the appeal of Debi Thomas' "Carmen" had Katarina Witt decided not play the same role?
And, of course, what would Brian Boitano do without the other Brian?
The Olympics in Vancouver, which will be the first on Canadian soil since the famed Battle of the Brians and Battle of the Carmens in Calgary in 1988, will have their share of rivalries, too.
The most prominent one likely will feature Canadian hockey star and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and Russia/Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. The two have been duking it out for league scoring honors, and they most likely will be battling for gold in Vancouver.
Here are other rivalries to follow with six months to go before the Vancouver Games begin:
Mao Asada versus Yu-Na Kim
Asada, the best skater who didn't compete in Torino (she was too young), is considered one of the best bets to win the figure skating gold medal in Vancouver. But she will face stiff competition from Korea's Yu-Na Kim. At the Four Continents Championships last week on the Olympic ice, Kim skated brilliantly in the short program and earned a record 72.24 points, but Asada landed a triple axel to win the free skate. Kim's performance in the short program kept her in first place overall, and Asada (who was sixth in the short) moved up to third. In the skaters' home countries of South Korea and Japan, skating is as popular as it was in the United States during the Brian versus Brian era. Perhaps skating in front of a North American audience will help revive the sport on this side of the world.
Canada versus United States (women's hockey)
Canada's and the United States' women's hockey teams are the Yankees and Red Sox of their sport. Dating back to 1990, the two countries have faced each other in every world championship final. The Americans won the gold medal when the sport was added to the Olympics in 1998, and Canada took gold in 2002 and 2006. (Sweden sneaked into the standings in Torino with the silver, and the United States had to settle for bronze.) The United States is the 2008 world champion, but you can bet Canada wants to win on home ice.
Shani Davis versus Chad Hedrick
There was no love lost between these two speedskaters in Torino after Davis decided not to compete in the pursuit event. (To be clear, Davis had never indicated he would compete in the pursuit and wanted to focus on other events.) Hedrick had traveled to the 2006 Games with hopes of matching Eric Heiden's record of winning five gold medals in one Olympics, and with Davis out, Hedrick believed he had less of a shot in the pursuit. They had a very public war of words, and now the two are preparing for yet another Olympics. No doubt, 2006 will be revisited.
Perhaps time has healed some of those wounds. In November at a World Cup event in the Netherlands, the two joined forces with Trevor Marsicano and, together, they placed second in the 3,000-meter pursuit, marking the first World Cup podium finish in the event for the United States in nearly three years.
Afterward, Hedrick told reporters, "No one knows better than Shani and I how the media blew everything out of proportion in Torino, but regardless, that's yesterday's news. One thing that's exactly the same about Shani and me is that we're both going back to the Olympics for one reason -- to win medals. We made it clear today that a team medal is well within our grasp. We made some mistakes, but Shani and Trevor both skated great, and we very nearly grabbed gold. With a little bit of time together, I think we'll be the team to beat."
Can we get a good hug for the cameras in Vancouver?
Evan Lysacek versus Johnny Weir
For the past five years, the U.S. men's figure skating competition has come down to these two skaters. But the Evan and Johnny Show was pre-empted this past January in Cleveland when neither Lysacek nor Weir won. Lysacek, a two-time national champion, finished with the bronze, and Weir, a three-time U.S. champ, was knocked off the podium with a fifth-place finish. A 23-year-old named Jeremy Abbott is the new national champion.
Aside from being skaters, Lysacek and Weir aren't similar at all. Lysacek commands power on the ice and typically goes for broke with a quadruple jump, whereas Weir is the eccentric, yet elegant, skater. The two make for good copy, especially Weir -- the best quote in the sport -- but for a rivalry to work, both have to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Erin Hamlin versus Germany
Until this past week, Erin Hamlin lived in relative obscurity. Now, she has ticked off an entire country. In the sport of women's luge, there was one thing that could be counted on -- a German slider would win. Germany's international racing winning streak, dating back to 1997 and including Olympic, world championship and World Cup races, was at 99 races until Friday. That's when Hamlin, a luger from Remsen, N.Y., upended the Germans and snapped their seemingly unbreakable win streak in Lake Placid.
Hamlin joined Wendel Suckow as the only two U.S. athletes to win a luge world crown. Suckow also won in the pre-Olympics year in 1993. At the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, however, Suckow finished fifth. Don't think the Germans won't try to keep that American Olympic winless streak alive.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer based in Baltimore and frequent contributor to ESPN.com.