5 things to watch at the Sochi Winter Olympics on Thursday

Story highlights

Home ice has not always been kind to female figure skaters

The same ol' women's hockey final is a revenge match for the U.S.

Canada tries to finish perfect curling run

Sarah Burke would have been proud to see halfpipe in the Olympics finally

CNN  — 

All eyes will be on the figure skating rink (and the judges panel), it’s Round 2 for Canada and the United States in this women’s hockey tournament and women’s halfpipe ski makes its debut without one of its pioneers.

Figure skating

With expectations nearly as high as the men’s hockey team, two Russian figure skaters are in position to medal Thursday.

But instead of Julia Lipnitskaya being the Russian in the top 3 after the short program, it was Adelina Sotnikova who was just behind Yuna Kim, the current queen of the ice.

A few U.S. journalists thought Sotnikova was the recipient of some generous scores from the judges, but she said she deserved the 74.64 total.

“I’m very happy the first (technical element score of 39.09) mark was so high,” she said. “I skated really well, and I got good levels on everything so I think they reflected my skate.”

Lipnitskaya fell on a triple flip but still sits in fifth position between Americans Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner.

“I don’t know what happened. My preparation was all fine. I wasn’t nervous. I didn’t feel too much pressure,” she said despite the immense hopes of her countrymen. “The marks weren’t as low as I expected. I can still fight for a medal tomorrow.”

Yuna Kim still looks the part of champion despite her absence from many recent competitions. She’ll be the final skater of the free skate, which she said will bring “extra pressure.”

Sotnikova, meanwhile, is the third skater of the final group. Third-place Carolina Kostner of Italy is just before the Russian.

Kim, who is trying to join Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt as the only back-to-back female gold medalists in the sport, claims she is not about being a part of history.

“Personally, It’s not my ambition to defend my gold medal. It’s meaningful, but not significant,” she said. “I did well today but nobody knows what will happen tomorrow.”

Other notable fact: Only four times has a female skater won the gold on her home ice. This will be the 24th version of the event.

Women’s ice hockey

It’s been a long wait. For some, since Vancouver. For others, since they were children.

After winning the first hockey tournament in 1998, the U.S. women have had to look up to the top of the Olympic podium to see another team get the gold medal. It’s been Canada every dang time.

In 2010, the Americans lost 2-0 in the final. About half of those U.S. players are back.

“There are 11 of us who have been training since Vancouver who came up short,” Monique Lamoureux said. “It’s something that’s motivated us for the last four years. It’s something that really sticks with us.”

Three Canadian players have won three gold medals, including Hayley Wickenheiser, perhaps the greatest women’s player of all-time.

“It’s where we wanted to be,” Wickenheiser, 35, told Canada.com on Monday. “We’re ready for this, and we had a great run-up to this game (a semifinal win over pesky Switzerland). But we know we’re going to have to bring our best game (against the States).”

Canada hasn’t lost an Olympic game since February 17, 1998. For the United States the Games have brought bronze, silver, then another silver at Vancouver. U.S. players still sting from that loss, but winning gold has been a long-time goal.

“It’s not just about Vancouver,” Meghan Duggan said. “Some of us have dreamed of this since we were little kids.”

Canada won 3-2 when the two teams met in group play. The two teams meet again at noon ET.

Women’s curling

The Olympic world officially was introduced to curling in 1998. That year, a magnificent skip from Canada led her team to a gold medal.

She was Sandra Schmirler – Schmirler the Curler – and for some of us, the first great curler we ever watched. And just two years later, she died of cancer, leaving us feeling robbed.

Canada hasn’t won women’s curling since Nagano, but that might change Thursday when the undefeated Canadians face Sweden – a team they beat 9-3 nine days ago – in the final.

“All I can ask is that we put it all on the ice, and we have a shot at the win,” Canada skip Jennifer Jones said after beating Great Britain in the semifinal.

Sweden has won the past two gold medals but has a different skip this time. Margaretha Sigfridsson has yet to win any big tournaments and has four second-place results from the world championships.

Women’s halfpipe ski

If it’s a new discipline with a history rooted at the X Games then the United States will have strong medal contenders, right?

In this case, it’s Maddie Bowman, Brita Sigourney, Angeli Vanlaanen and Annalisa Drew. Roz Groenewoud of Canada, who is dedicating her Games to the late Sarah Burke (a Canadian pipe star who died in 2012 during training), has responded well to knee surgeries.

She placed second at a recent X games event won by Bowman.

According to USA Today, Burke’s husband and her parents made the trip to Sochi to see the Olympic premiere of the event Sarah Burke campaigned so much for.

Groenewoud carries a piece of Burke’s jewelry with her.

“She was extremely competitive, extremely driven, but that never colored her ability to be compassionate and generous with compliments and stuff like that,” Groenewoud told USA Today of the four-time Winter X Games champion.

Who else to watch: Marie Martinod of France came out of retirement and earlier this year finished third at the X Games.

Men’s ski cross

Ok, let’s try to predict a sport in which six different people won seven World Cup races. One in which some “favorite” is going to be knocked out in an elimination race by another competitor.

Usually we tell you about the defending champion, but Michael Schmid of Switzerland has raced just six World Cup events since 2010 due to a bad knee.

So we’ll be watching Jean-Frederic Chapuis of France who, besides the really cool name, has a world title.

John Teller of the United States owns one of those World Cup wins. And according to his website, he works in the family garage when he is not skiing. Now there’s somebody America can get behind.

Who else to watch: It seems like any of the 32 racers in the eight heats has a podium chance.