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Top rivalries to watch in Vancouver

2/10/2010
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Winter Olympics kick off Friday, and ESPN.com's Howard Bryant, Jim Caple and Bonnie D. Ford preview the top rivalries to watch once the flame is lit in Vancouver.

Shani Davis versus Chad Hedrick, Team USA and Colbert Nation

Just because you're teammates doesn't mean you get along -- especially in a sport as individual as speedskating. In 2006, Hedrick said he felt betrayed by Davis because the latter chose not to skate in the team pursuit, while Davis ended the same news conference by saying: "It would have been nice after the 1,000 [meter final] if Chad shook my hand," and then walked out of the room. Time hasn't healed all wounds -- Davis has so separated himself from Team USA, he had his bio pulled from the team Web site. He also called "Colbert Report" host and speedskating patron Stephen Colbert a jerk. -- Caple

Alex Ovechkin versus Sidney Crosby

One is the captain of the hottest team in the NHL (Washington Capitals), while the other is the captain of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Both are the faces of their sport, and thus it is only fitting that the two best players in the game represent the two best hockey teams at the Olympics -- Russia and Canada, respectively. -- Bryant

Yu-Na Kim versus Mao Asada

There are several Annie Oakleys in this shooting match, but the gold medal could come down to the same two skaters who have been dueling for supremacy ever since the last Olympics: South Korea's Yu-Na Kim and Japan's Mao Asada, who were born 20 days apart in September 1990. Reigning world and Grand Prix series champion Kim seldom stumbles and is peerless from an artistic standpoint. But former world and Grand Prix titlist Asada, who lives and dies by her spectacular jumps, could rack up huge point totals if she lands two triple Axels in her long program as she did recently at the Four Continents event. Their contrasting talents could put the much-maligned revamped scoring system to the test. -- Ford

Lindsey Vonn versus Maria Riesch

If you asked, "Who is the best female downhill skier in the world," both Vonn and Riesch don't hesitate to raise their hands. Vonn looked as if she was headed to Vancouver with an unbeaten World Cup downhill streak (she hadn't lost a race this season) before her run was broken by Riesch two weeks ago. They are rivals and maintain they are also the best of friends, which is good because there is room for only one at the top of the Olympic podium. -- Bryant

Johnny Weir versus Evan Lysacek

These two guys have been skating against each other for nearly a decade, and it's clear they don't care much for each other -- at last month's U.S. nationals, neither looked at the other during one news conference. While the flamboyant Weir (he has his own reality show) stresses his classical artistry, Lysacek places more emphasis on athleticism and "masculinity." To which Weir simply points out that his rival wears a costume designed by Vera Wang. Ouch. -- Caple

Canada versus the World

Canada didn't win a single gold medal when it hosted the 1976 Olympics in Montreal or the 1988 Games in Calgary. It could win a gold medal every day of these Olympics and the nation will still consider the 2010 Games a flop if it doesn't win gold in hockey. Canada didn't spend $6 billion to host the Olympics just to lose on home ice in its national pastime. -- Caple

United States versus Canada (women's hockey)

The sport's two powerhouses wouldn't meet unless both reach the gold-medal game, but it would take a major upset to prevent that collision. The U.S. has won the past two world championships over two-time defending Olympic champion Canada, while Canada has won the past five games between the two, outscoring the Americans 20-8, and seven of 10.

Goalies dictate the tone at the highest level of the women's game, putting pressure on the players most likely to start in net in crucial games. Jessie Vetter, who helped U.S. coach Mark Johnson win three NCAA titles at the University of Wisconsin, is the presumptive No. 1 on the depth chart (with Molly Schaus as backup), as is Canadian veteran Kim St. Pierre, although she has faced strong internal competition from Shannon Szabados and Charline Labonte. -- Ford

Jennifer Heil versus Hannah Kearney

It won't just be about the bumps and jumps on muddy Cypress Mountain on the first day of the Winter Games -- it'll be about who can best handle expectations, internal and external, in women's moguls. Heil, the defending Olympic gold medalist, won four World Cup events this season, but will have to contend with being the strong favorite in her home country. Kearney topped the 2008-09 World Cup standings, won two World Cups and the U.S. Olympic trials this season and badly wants to redeem her performance at the Torino Games, in which she didn't get out of qualifying. She's been pushed hard by talented U.S. teammates Heather McPhie, Shannon Bahrke and Michelle Roark. -- Ford

Steven Holcomb versus Andre Lange

Holcomb is the overall World Cup leader, Lange the two-time Olympic gold medalist. Germany is a bobsled powerhouse, but the U.S. has its best team in years with Holcomb as its breakout star. But in a classic showdown worthy of a Western, the old lion Lange, who won two gold medals at last month's World Cup, stands in the way of the Americans and a gold medal. To add to the drama, Holcomb's career is skyrocketing after an experimental eye surgery restored his vision, while Lange says he is retiring at the end of these Games. -- Bryant