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5 things to watch at the Winter Games on Saturday

By Greg Botelho, CNN
updated 12:05 AM EST, Sat February 15, 2014
Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring Canada's second goal during the men's ice hockey gold medal match against Sweden on Sunday, February 23. Most of us know the Winter Olympics through the power of television, as a spectacle in constant motion. Seeing the Games through still photography is a different experience altogether. Here's a look at the most compelling images from the word's best photographers at Sochi 2014. | <i>More photos:</i> <i><a href='http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/08/worldsport/gallery/falling-down-in-sochi/index.html'>Falling down in Sochi </a></i> Sidney Crosby celebrates after scoring Canada's second goal during the men's ice hockey gold medal match against Sweden on Sunday, February 23. Most of us know the Winter Olympics through the power of television, as a spectacle in constant motion. Seeing the Games through still photography is a different experience altogether. Here's a look at the most compelling images from the word's best photographers at Sochi 2014. | More photos: Falling down in Sochi
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. and Russian men's hockey teams to face off in Sochi
  • Women's Super-G features many of world's best skiiers
  • U.S. speedskaters' skin suits are in the spotlight ahead of Saturday competition
  • Skeleton will crown its men's champ

(CNN) -- Seven gold medals will be at stake Saturday in Sochi, Russia, giving dozens of Olympic athletes another shot at history.

But the day's most highly anticipated event may be a preliminary round men's hockey game. The U.S.-Russia contest may have no bearing on the final standings, yet it's sure to generate a lot of passion and interest in those countries and beyond.

Russia vs. U.S. highlights men's hockey slate

It's been a long time since Lake Placid.

That New York community will forever be associated not just with the 1980 Winter Olympics, but its signature moment: The underdog American men's hockey team besting their Cold War rivals from the Soviet Union en route to a gold medal.

Sportscaster Al Michaels wasn't the only person who considered that win a miracle. That description probably wouldn't be apt if the 2014 incarnation of the American team beats the Russians (alas, the closest you can get to the Soviets nowadays) on Saturday in Sochi.

Still, it will be a big deal.

The U.S. team is fresh off a 7-1 trashing of Slovakia, a win that suggested that the Americans are a legitimate contender to win their first gold in this competition since Lake Placid. The Russians, paced by Alexander Ovechkin, beat Slovenia by a 5-2 score.

The continued icy relations between Russia and the United States ratchet up the tensions a bit, and history counts for something, too. Russia's coach Zinetula Bilyaletdinov was on the 1980 Soviet team, and that squad's goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, now heads the Russian Hockey Federation.

This isn't the only preliminary round match-up in men's hockey Saturday: Slovakia and Slovenia, Sweden and Latvia, Switzerland and the Czech Republic also face off on the men's side.

The women's bracket is already into the quarterfinal stage, with Finland-Sweden and Switzerland-Russia contests on tap.

Will fresh skin suits help America's speed skaters?

It's gotta be the shoes, Spike Lee -- playing Mars Blackmon -- once intoned in Nike commercials hawking Air Jordans.

So for the U.S. speedskating team, it's gotta be the skin suits, right?

That's one theory that's been floating around Sochi to blame for the Americans' relatively lackluster performances so far. To that point, U.S. Speedskating President Mike Plant announced Friday that his skaters would switch to "previously approved Under Armour skin suits" -- and away from those outfits worn earlier this Olympics that, some suspect, may have been a drag, as in slowing skaters with air resistance.

Probably the biggest name in U.S. speedskating, Shani Davis, will get a chance Saturday to prove whether this theory is correct.

The four-time medalist -- with golds in the 1000-meter race in both 2010 and 2006, to go along with silvers in the 1,500 meters at those two Games -- has had a tough time in Russia so far this February.

He was never in contention in the 5,000 meters, and placed eighth in the 1,000 meters despite being the clear favorite.

On Saturday, Davis will get his last chance for gold in the 1,500 meters. And he is anything but a shoe-in, even for a medal.

The Netherland's Mark Tuitert -- the winner in Vancouver -- leads the list of contenders, which also includes Norway's Havard Bokko and Russia's Ivan Skobrev.

World's best female skiers vie for Super-G title

The Super-G is a bit of a mish-mash -- a blend of the speedy downhill and more technical slalom events. That mix also tends to draw in the sport's best skiers, in whatever discipline, and makes for must-see TV.

Saturday shouldn't be any different.

No, there's no Lindsey Vonn, after an injury knocked the vaunted American out of this year's Games. But there is Julia Mancuso, who won the super combined downhill a few days ago much like she did the giant slalom at the 2006 Olympics.

Still, it's a long shot for Mancuso or her U.S. teammates to top the podium Saturday.

The 2010 gold medal winner, Austria's Andrea Fischbacher, isn't in contention. But Slovenia's Tina Maze (who finished second that year) and Switzerland's Dominique Gisin -- who shared the gold medal in downhill in Sochi -- will be.

Other women who could be jostling for first place include Switzerland's Lara Gut (third in the downhill) and Germany's Maria Hoefl-Reisch (who recently took gold in women's super combined).

Men's face-down skeleton course

Who will be the next Lizzy Yarnold?

There are 27 men's who would love nothing more than to do what the British woman did Friday: become an Olympic gold medalist in skeleton.

If you think they'd be crazy to do it, you might be right. Lying face-down on the slim sled known as a skeleton, racers plunge head-first down the twisty course at speeds of up to 90 mph. That means there's plenty of danger but little protection around them.

The sport has been tried out by many winter weather daredevils over the years, appearing in the 1928 and then 1948 Olympics before reemerging in 2002 at the Salt Lake Games.

So who will not just survive but thrive on the Sochi track?

Russia's Alexander Tretiakov is the host nation's favorite, and a definite contender to stand atop the podium. But in such a relatively new sport where anything can happen, there are a lot of possibilities.

Sports Illustrated, for one, predicts a family affair: Brothes Martins and Tomass Dukurs, of Latvia, will finish first and third, respectively, according to the magazine.

Ski jumpers set to soar

It's a bird, it's a plane.

Scratch that, it's a ski jumper.

People in Russia and, thanks to TV, will be able to take in such impressive sights in the crown jewel of ski jumping -- the men's large hill event.

Switzerland's Simon Ammann leads the pack, hoping to add a fifth Olympic gold (after getting two apiece in 2002 and 2010, including in the large hill events).

Then there is Poland's Kamil Stoch, who took home the top prize in the normal hill competition earlier this week.

Yet the sentimental favorite, for those of a certain age, may be Japan's Noriaki Kasai.

The 41-year-old made his Olympic debut way back in 1992 in Albertville, France. He's competed in every Olympics since then, posting reliably strong results.

Yet, while he won silver in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway, in a team event, Kasai hasn't medalled in an individual competition. He hopes that changes Saturday.

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