5 things to watch at the Winter Games on Friday

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SOCHI, Russia — Minus Evgeni Plushenko, the men go for figure skating glory, Bode Miller and Ted Ligety carry U.S. hopes in the super combined, and Russia and the U.S. meet to cast stones.

Men’s Figure Skating

The men’s figure skating gold is a two-man affair.

Patrick Chan chasing Yuzuru Hanyu.

World champion versus teenage prodigy.

Canadian versus Canadian-coached.

Hanyu, 19, scored a dazzling 101.45 in the short program, putting pressure on Chan, who skated just two spots later. But Chan earned a 97.52 from the judges and feels good about his position.

“I like being in second. I like the chase. I can enjoy the Olympics during the free skate while Hanyu has a target on his back. At the Olympics, that target is bigger,” he said.

In the free program, Hanyu will skate third in the final group of six. Chan goes fourth so he’ll know when he skates onto ice for his performance precisely what he has to do to nab gold.

Who else to watch: The other skaters in the final group (in order of appearance) Friday will be Javier Fernandez of Spain, who is third; Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, who is fourth; Peter Liebers of Germany, who is fifth; and Jason Brown of the Unites States, who is sixth. They are all within one point of each other, but more than 10 behind Chan.

Men’s Super Combined

Alpine skiers competing in Friday’s super combined better remember to set their alarm clocks one hour earlier.

Officials moved up the start time for the downhill run for the men’s super combined because the effects the weather can have on the course.

That should help skiers like Bode Miller, who will start 24th. Miller needs to build a big advantage in the downhill, and he was concerned conditions would deteriorate more quickly in warm temperatures.

“A good downhill will really help because whether you’re starting first or 30th in the slalom can make a difference of a few seconds,” he said.

In an interesting twist, the slalom course was set up by the father of one of the men in the race. Ante Kostelic, father of Ivica Kostelic, was selected through a coaches’ lottery to position the gates, as is custom at world cup races.

Ivica Kostelic, a Croatian, is a three-time silver medalist at the Olympics. One of those came in the slalom at Vancouver. One guess as to who set that course.

“Ante always sets difficult courses. It is what it is. I don’t know if Ante normally sets for Ivica or not. He just normally sets on his own kind of whim,” Ted Ligety, one of the favorites in the event, said. “Slalom is always difficult no matter what.”

Who else to watch: Alexis Pinturault of France, winner of one of the two super combineds this season; Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, who was fourth in the downhill earlier this week.

Freestyle Skiing Aerials

It’s like gymnastics on snow, like one 50-foot high twisting series of flips at the end of a tumbling run (in this case, after skiing down a hill toward a launching ramp).

And, in the past, China has dominated.

China has four great skiers led by Li Nina, who has three world titles but no Olympic gold. She is a former acrobat who decided to give skiing a try a decade ago. She’ll be challenged by Xu Mengtao, a former national champion in the floor exercise and vault.

We’re sensing a theme here.

Australia’s Lydia Lassila is back to defend her Olympic title but she has been hit-and-miss this season. She won a World Cup contest in Canada last month and finished second in another but didn’t even crack the top 15 in other events.

Who else to watch: The other two Chinese stars are Cheng Shuang, the 2011 world champion, and Zhang Xin, who won three times this season.


As if luging isn’t crazy enough, there’s also skeletoning (is that a word?), which if you haven’t seen it, is like luging face first.

Apparently sliding down ice at 90 mph is even more … Thrilling? Exhilarating? Terrifying? … if it’s right in front of your eyes. Literally, right in front of your eyes.

Americans have won the most skeleton gold medals and two U.S. women have a chance to add to that total Friday.

Noelle Pikus-Pace and Katie Uhlaender are second and fourth after Thursday’s first two runs.

They are within .69 seconds of Elizabeth Yarnold of Great Britain.

Pikus-Pace is competing with three herniated discs in her back but pain is nothing new for her. In 2005 she was hit by a bobsled at a track in Calgary. She had a rod put in her leg. Seven weeks later she went back to work, with the rod still there. It’s since been removed.

Who else to watch: Elena Nikitina was third after two heats and has the home crowd behind her. Her teammates Olga Potylitsina and Maria Orlova are right behind Uhlaender.

Men’s Curling

Hey, any time the Russia and the United States face off it’s a must watch. The two men’s teams will battle in the second session Friday.

Sure the two teams have combined for just two wins, but c’mon. It’s U-S-A versus the Russians!

Ok, there is still a mathematical chance to make the top four and advance to the semifinals, but it’s becoming a long shot halfway through the round robin.

You’ll also want to watch the unbeaten Chinese men take on the world champion Swedes. They typically play close matches, including a 5-4 Chinese win at worlds in the round-robin qualifications.

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