Kicking ice: U.S. a favorite to supply thrills and chills during Winter Games |

Kicking ice: U.S. a favorite to supply thrills and chills during Winter Games

These are the wacky, Winter Games of Vancouver, where there is more rain than snow and where the U.S. Olympic team figures to kick serious butt – though not necessarily in the sports you want to watch.

While you were dozing these past four years, your fellow Americans somehow became proficient at biathlon, ice dancing, snowboarding, luge, Nordic combined, women’s bobsled and a lot of events that normally make you roll your eyes and dream about Opening Day. What China does at the Summer Games – collects the most obscure of precious medals – we are now ready to pull off on wet snow and slushy ice in Vancouver.

This is no longer your father’s or grandfather’s Olympic team. For one thing, there is a giant, unfamiliar hole in the lineup. The Americans likely will fail to medal in women’s figure skating for the first time in 46 years.

But at the same time, the U.S. will win a lot of medals in nutty, marginal sports. Sports you never knew were sports. Some, like the halfpipe, will be dangerous and X-Games-y. Others, like ice dancing and short-track speed skating, will no doubt prove controversial. Still others, like biathlon, will make you scratch your head and wonder what this has to do at all with the Olympic ideal.

And when the 16 days and nights are done, all this specialized, weird expertise by the Americans just might be enough to topple top dog Germany and the home team, Canada, in the gold medal count – which would be the first time since the 1932 Lake Placid Games that the U.S. has managed such a feat.

Four years ago, in Turin, the Americans were already close, finishing second behind only Germany in a tight, six-nation race with nine golds, nine silvers and seven bronzes. This time, the team may have the breadth and depth to take the last step up the podium – provided Lindsay Vonn is healthy enough to collect her quota. There are 87 returning Olympians on the team with 48 medals already dangling around their necks or stuffed into a drawer back home.

Unfortunately, U.S. Olympic officials and athletes won’t talk trash. They are not Chad Ochocinco. They will only put the world on notice that these may become America’s breakout Winter Games, when it comes to sports that once were broken.

“We’re not going to give a medal projection,” says Mike English, chief of sport performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “We expect the Canadians to be in strong position, with the home advantage. Germany certainly will have a strong contingency. But we haven’t exactly been sitting back, either. Our breakout sports will add a lot of opportunity.”

Posted on: February 12, 2010