Old foes Russia, US to clash

American skaters change outfits for better fortune

Old foes Russia, US to clash

Russia meets the United States in men's ice hockey at the Winter Olympics on Saturday in a clash redolent of rivalries past, while the American speed skating team are hoping a change of suits brings a change in fortunes.

The ice hockey qualifier at the futuristic Bolshoy Ice Dome by the shores of the Black Sea in Sochi will not determine any medals but it will play out before a capacity crowd of around 12,000, most of them roaring on the home team.

A relaxed Putin sipped red wine and chatted with the US Olympic team in Sochi on Friday, and heaped praise on US athletes, who are tied in fourth position with Norway in the medals table.

Back in the Olympic park, the biggest concern for the Americans was to turn around wretched form in the speed skating. After a string of flops, the skaters plan to ditch their high-tech outfits and go back to skin suits in the hope that different apparel will drag them back into contention.

The body governing the sport and the International Olympic Committee have yet to approve the switch, but have no issue with the change as long as it complies with the rules.

Speculation about the causes of the US athletes' poor start began after double Olympic champion Shani Davis, a favourite for gold after winning three of four World Cup races this season, finished eighth in Wednesday's 1,000m event.

Women's 1,000m World Cup leader Heather Richardson and world record holder Brittany Bowe also floundered over the distance in the women's event on Thursday, leaving the United States still searching for their first medal at the Sochi oval.

All eyes will be on Davis as he goes in the men's 1,500 metres on Saturday, but he faces tough opposition from Dutch Koen Verweij.

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