Winter Olympics 2014: American Athletes to Watch in Sochi Next Year

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2013

ASPEN, CO - JANUARY 27:  Shaun White of the USA addresses the media after winning the gold medal in the Men's Snowboard Superpipe Final at Winter X Games Aspen 2013 at Buttermilk Mountain on January 27, 2013 in Aspen, Colorado. It was the sixth consecutive Winter X Games Snowboard Superpipe gold medal for White.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Although the 2014 Olympics are technically a little less than a year away, it's never too early to start focusing on which American athletes have the best chance to bring home gold.

It doesn't feel like all that long ago that the world was focusing on London and the 2012 Summer Olympics. Now's it's Sochi, Russia, that's getting all the attention.

While the Winter Olympics have a slightly lesser grandeur than their summer counterpart, that doesn't mean there won't be plenty of excitement and drama that will provide captivating entertainment.

Here are three Americans who should definitely be on your radar as the winter games approach.

 

Shaun White, Snowboard Half-Pipe

There are few more dominant athletes in their respective sports than Shaun White. He's already the two-time reigning men's half-pipe champion.

White has also won eight gold medals in the event at the Winter X Games. He was without fault in 2012, when he managed to score a perfect 100.0.

In most cases, it might be a bore to watch an event where one person is so heavily favored. With White, though, he's able to bring the kind of flair and charisma that makes each event unique.

No matter what sport you follow, it's always a pleasure to watch an athlete demonstrate such a mastery of his or her sport. Any fan can get behind the greatness that White brings on his snowboard each and every competition.

 

Ashley Wagner, Figure Skating

Ashley Wagner is coming off a second consecutive gold medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Despite a major push from Gracie Gold during the competition, Wagner was the better overall skater.

She's far and away the best female figure skater the U.S. has to offer.

Wagner is also motivated by having just missed out on the team at the 2010 Olympics. She was a first alternate, and it was something that really shook her confidence. In a blog post on espnW.com, Wagner wrote:

When I just missed the team, it kind of made me re-evaluate whether I even wanted to keep skating at all, but I ultimately realized I wasn't done with the sport. I want to work as hard as I can so the next time I won't leave anything behind, and have no regrets.

Every four years, there's a female figure skater who captivates the entire country and has everybody rooting for her. In 2014, Wagner could be that skater.

 

Kelly Clark, Women's Half-Pipe

While White is the best men's half-pipe snowboarder, Kelly Clark has a lock on the women's side. Sochi will be her fourth Olympiad, having picked up a gold in 2002 and bronze in 2010.

She's ascended to the best American having won gold in women's superpipe at the last three Winter X Games.

The two who finished ahead of her in 2010—Torah Bright and Hannah Teter—have both fallen a bit out of the medal picture for 2014. Thus, the path is clear for Clark to get past her somewhat disappointing results in 2006 and 2010.

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