VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- On Thursday, women's figure skating and ice hockey take the stage, as medals will be awarded in both contests. But those aren't the only sports you should check out. Here are our picks for the top events to watch:
Nordic Combined: Men's Individual Long Hill/Individual 10km
The U.S. won its first-ever Nordic combined medal on Valentine's Day, when Johnny Spillane took silver in the men's individual normal hill. The Americans followed with a second silver in the team competition Tuesday. Spillane will be in action again Thursday for the long hill individual event, along with relay teammates Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick. Other medal contenders will be Frenchman Jason Lamy Chappuis, who has a sizable lead in the current World Cup standings, Austrian Felix Gottwald and German Eric Frenzel.
Thursday will be a big day for Canadian curling. Skip Kevin Martin enters the semifinals having gone a perfect 9-0 in round-robin play, and his team is in first place. The Canadians will face Sweden, which beat Great Britain in a tiebreaker, and Norway will play Switzerland. Cheryl Bernard and the Canadian women's team also finished first after the round-robin, and they will face off against Switzerland. In the other semifinal, the defending gold medalists from Sweden will take on the reigning world champs from China.
Figure Skating: Women's Free Program
Regardless of what happens with the hockey tournament, the story of these games should be Joannie Rochette's performance in the face of overwhelming tragedy; her mother Therese, 55, passed away unexpectedly Sunday morning after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter skate. And skate she did. Rochette turned in a performance that was as courageous as it was flawless in the short program Tuesday night, then burst into tears at its conclusion. Heading into the free skate, she sits in third place behind Korea's Kim Yu-Na and Japan's Mao Asada. Americans Rachael Flatt, 17, and Mirai Nagasu, 16, are fifth and sixth.
Freestyle Skiing: Men's Aerials
Defending Olympic champion Han Xiaopeng of China and top-ranked Anton Kushnir of Belarus, who has graced the podium in every World Cup event this season, both failed to qualify for the final in the men's aerials competition, making it anybody's ballgame. China's Jia Zongyang qualified first, followed closely by American Ryan St. Onge. American Jeret "Speedy" Peterson is fifth. If conditions hold, look for Peterson's trademark "Hurricane" in the final. With three flips and five twists, it's the most difficult trick an aerial skier can perform. Canadians Steve Omischl, Warren Shouldice and Kyle Nissen also reached the final, which should ensure a pretty high decibel level at Cypress Mountain on Thursday night.
Ice Hockey: Women's Gold (Canada vs. USA) and Bronze (Sweden vs. Finland) Medal Games
It was inevitable that Team USA and Team Canada would clash for gold in these Olympic Games, after neither was tested in any of the teams' early games or in the semifinals. Now, Team USA faces a tough challenge. It must beat the Canadians, who won the past four of their pre-Olympic meetings, on their home soil in front of a Hockey Canada Place crowd that will undoubtedly be bursting with red. Can the U.S. pull off the upset? The men's team did it Sunday, so why not?