Rivalry week, Olympics style

There is almost always something exciting about every Olympic competition. Because it's the Olympics. But over the next few days, few Olympic competitions will match the intensity of these rivalries.

USA vs. Canada, hockey (Tuesday-Sunday). This rivalry began at least as far back as 1960, and the modern version was ratcheted up in 2002 when Canada won gold after beating the Americans on their home soil. This time around Canada is under extreme pressure to win hockey gold, and Team USA is the sudden underdog favorite. Incidentally, Canada and USA may not even play each other again in Vancouver, but after Sunday's thrilling game it hardly matters. No matter what side of the bracket they're on, each team (and their fans) are keeping an eye out for the other.

Norway vs. Italy, men's 4x10KM Cross-Country Skiing relay (Wednesday). In 3 of the last 4 Olympics, Norway and Italy have needed a photo finish to sort out the gold medal. Typically, upwards of half the population of Norway watches this race live. That's Super Bowl-type numbers. This year, Italy looks as strong as usual, while Norway is taking heat back home for underperforming. But Norway snatched gold in yesterday's sprint relay. Do they have something to prove? You bet.

And they've also got more to worry about than usual. Sweden-Norway's Scandinavian arch-rival-skied very strongly in Saturday's pursuit race and the team looks capable of stealing gold, which would amount to a national tragedy in Norway. And, as if all that wasn't enough reason to watch, Canada-yes, that Canada-has four athletes who all seem to be peaking at the right time. A medal for Canada is realistic and would represent a major breakthrough.

Apolo Ohno vs. South Korea, short track (Wednesday & Friday). Technically, I'm referring to Ohno vs. the short track athletes from South Korea. But really, it's gotten much bigger than that. You don't have to look any farther than the highlight reel of all the crashes and elbow jabs that Ohno has racked up over three Olympic Games. Usually they involve two or three Koreans.

In the press, Ohno-in his charismatic way-has all but accused the Koreans of working together, which is not allowed in the sport. And the Korean press has accused Ohno of being too physical on the ice. Next up: the 500-meter individual race, an all-out sprint with high potential for spills, and the always-thrilling 5,000-meter relay.

This is far from a comprehensive list of rivalries playing out this week (for example, I've left out the rivalry between Bode Miller and Julia Mancuso, which will determine who is the most decorated skier in US Olympic history). If you are following a rivalry that I've missed here, post it in the comments section below.

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