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Spotlight on Sochi: the opening ceremony and who to watch when

Canada's Manuel Osborne-Paradis makes a jump during a men's downhill training run for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia

Associated Press

The pomp and pageantry of the opening ceremony Friday marks the official start of 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Seventeen days of thrills, spills and emotional athletic endeavours that will captivate millions worldwide.

Friday's extravaganza will officially welcome some 3,500 athletes representing 87 nations. The ceremony begins at 11 a.m. (EST), and you but better put your feet up if you are intending to watch live coverage. Upwards of 3,000 artistic performers are slated to take part, performing on three stages in a spectacle sure to last more than four hours.

Here is a day-by-day Olympic highlight guide from a Canadian perspective, to you make sure you don't miss any of the important action (check local listings for start times):

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Feb. 8

Regina snowboarder Mark McMorris has insisted the rib he broke Jan. 25 at the Winter X Games should not detract from his status as the gold-medal favourite in the men's Olympic slopestyle. We'll find out in the semi-finals and final. Canada will be well represented, with Maxence Parrot of Bromont, Que., and Sebastien Toutant of L'Assomption, Que., also medal threats.

The freestyle skiing gold medal in women's moguls will also be handed out, and the event will feature the Dufour-Lapointe sisters from Montreal – Justine, Chloé and Maxime – who are all considered medal contenders.

The women's hockey competition gets rolling with two games, including Canada's opener against Switzerland.

Feb. 9

Erik Guay is the most decorated Canadian World Cup ski racer in history, but the Mont-Tremblant, Que., athlete has never been able to reach the podium in two previous Olympic appearances. Guay hopes to rectify that in the men's downhill.

Spencer O'Brien of Courtenay, B.C., is considered a legitimate podium threat in women's snowboard slopestyle competition.

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The team event in figure skating is making its Olympic debut and Canada figures to do well. Canada has qualified an Olympic-high 17 skaters for Sochi and is the top qualifying country for the team event.

Feb. 10

Speed skating's Charles Hamelin of Levis, Que., a triple-medal threat in Sochi, will begin his Olympic journey in the men's short-track 1,500 metres.

Canadian medal hopefuls will be all over the bumps in the freestyle skiing men's moguls event, with podium favourites Mikaël Kingsbury, the 2013 World Cup champion from Deux-Montagnes, Que., and Alexandre Bilodeau, the defending Olympic champion from Montreal, set to take centre stage.

Canada's women's hockey team will play Finland.

Feb. 11

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Montreal's Kaya Turski, the 2013 world champion and gold medalist at the Winter X Games, is prepared to show she has fully recovered from knee surgery last August in the women's freestyle ski slopestyle event. She will be pushed by 19-year-old Dara Howell of Huntsville, Ont.

The sliders also get going, with Calgary's Alex Gough hoping to give the heavily favoured German contingent a run for their money in women's luge.

The Olympic curling competition is still in its early stages, but there is an interesting meeting featuring Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and Sweden's Nicklas Edin. Canada will be looking to avenge a loss to Sweden in the gold-medal game at the world championship last April.

Feb. 12

Canada's figure-skating contingent gets to flex its muscles in the pairs free skate, with Meagan Duhamel, of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford, of Balmerton, Ont., two-time national champions, taking the ice. Canada has qualified a total of three teams for the event.

Canada and the United States will resume their fierce rivalry in women's hockey, with a preliminary round contest.

Feb. 13

Canada's men's hockey team, led by captain Sidney Crosby, will make its much-anticipated Olympic debut on the big ice with its opening preliminary round game against Norway.

Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., will get the chance to defend her Olympic title in the women's long-track speed skating 1,000 metres.

The luge mixed-team relay will be presented as a new Olympic sport, and the Canadian team of Gough, Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith – all of Calgary – is expected to medal.

Feb. 14

Canada has a glorious international skating reputation, but not so much at the Olympics, where it has never been able to win a men's gold. Patrick Chan of Toronto, the three-time world champion and seven-time Canadian champ, will be looking to rewrite the record book in Sochi. Kevin Reynolds of North Vancouver (runner-up to Chan at the Canadian championship) will be making his Olympic debut.

The mighty Austrians will provide the opposition for Canada's men's hockey team in its second game.

Feb. 15

The quarter-finals in women's hockey are on tap and, barring a major upset, both Canada and the United States are expected to be playing.

Short-track speed skating will be front and centre, with a couple of Canadians drawing attention, including Hamelin, who, with three first-place finishes in four World Cup events this season, is the overwhelming favourite to earn gold in the men's 1,000 metres. Valérie Maltais of La Baie, Que., will be vying for a medal in the women's 1,500 metres.

Feb. 16

A busy day on the schedule for Canadians, starting with women's snowboard cross, as Dominique Maltais of Petite-Rivière-St-François, Que., leads an impressive one-two charge for the gold medal. Maltais will be pushed for the spot at the top of the podium by Maëlle Ricker of North Vancouver, who is the defending Olympic champion.

In women's speed skating, Nesbitt, the bronze medalist at the 2013 world championships, will lead the way for Canada in the women's 1,500 metres, where she is favoured to finish with a medal.

In men's hockey, Canada has its first big test against Finland, which has arguably the best goaltending of the competition. To overlook the Finns, who have won three Olympic medals dating to Nagano in 1998, would be a mistake.

Feb. 17

The ice dance free skate competition will draw plenty of attention as 2010 gold medalists Tessa Virtue of London and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., will battle world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. for supremacy. Canada will also be represented at the event by U.S.-born Kaitlyn Weaver and Andew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., and Alexandra Paul of Toronto and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont.

Canada's chances in freestyle ski men's aerials will rest with Travis Gerrits, a 22-year-old high flier from Milton, Ont., who is a projected bronze medalist.

Women's hockey reaches the semi-final stage.

Feb. 18

Veteran freestyle skiing competitor Mike Riddle, currently No. 3 in the World Cup standings, will lay it all on the line in the men's halfpipe, as the Edmonton native heads in as a gold-medal favourite. Canada will be well represented in the event with Vernon, B.C.'s Justin Dorey, currently No. 1 in World Cup standings, projected as a bronze medalist.

Canada won silver in the women's 3,000-metre short-track speed-skating relay in Vancouver four years ago, and the foursome is intent on landing on the podium once again.

The medal qualification round in men's hockey gets under way.

Feb. 19

Jasey-Jay Anderson, Canada's most decorated snowboarder, will try to add to his treasure chest in the men's parallel giant slalom. Anderson, of Mont-Tremblant, Que., will be making his fifth Olympic appearance and is the defending gold medalist in this event.

Kaillie Humphries is about as close to a sure thing as you can get in sports these days, and the Calgary native heads into women's bobsleigh as the overwhelming gold-medal favourite. With brakeman Heather Moyse of Summerside, Humphries has dominated the World Cup circuit this past year. They are the defending Olympic champions.

Quarter-final play in men's hockey begins – and if Canada is not represented, you can expect calls for a board of inquiry.

Feb. 20

Almost two months after having arthroscopic surgery on both her knees, freestyle skier Rosalind Groenewoud of Calgary heads into the women's halfpipe as a gold-medal favourite.

The women's curling competition winds up and will be considered an upset if the Canadian foursome, skipped by Winnipeg's Jennifer Jones, is not in the medal mix.

Freestyle skier Christopher Del Bosco of Montreal will be looking to improve on a disappointing fourth-place finish in Vancouver four years ago, when he crashed out in the final of the men's ski cross.

The women's hockey finalists will hit the ice, with arch-rivals Canada and the U.S. expected to battle it out once again.

Feb. 21

The men's curling completion draws to a close and it is anticipated Canada will be shooting for gold.

Bolstered once again by the participation of the Hamelin brothers, Charles and François, Canada is considered a gold-medal favourite in the short-track men's 5,000-metre relay. Canada is the defending Olympic champion in the event.

Charles Hamelin of Levis, Que., will also be skating for a podium spot in the men's 500 metres, an event in which he struck gold four years earlier in Vancouver.

Freestyle skier Marielle Thompson has not finished lower than fifth this season, a trend she hopes to carry into the women's ski cross, where the Whistler, B.C., competitor is favoured to win a medal.

Feb. 22

In long-track speed skating, Canada is expected to challenge for the silver medal in the women's team pursuit.

Feb. 23

The final day of competition in Sochi, and the finale will be celebrated by the gold-medal game in men's hockey. It was the highlight of the Olympics for many Canadians four years ago, when Canada edged the United States in overtime. Take note: Canada has not won a medal in men's hockey at a European-based Winter Games since the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics (silver).

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