Team USA took a huge hit on Tuesday morning when Lindsey Vonn announced that she won't be able to compete in the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month.
But have no fear, not all is lost. There are still many phenomenal athletes to root for and plenty of chances for the United States to get on the podium in Sochi.
First of all, let's take a look at Vonn's Alpine skiing team. Last spring, Chicago Tribune columnist Philip Hersh predicted that Vonn could take home a gold in downhill and medal in Super-G if she came back well from her surgery.
The best chance for Team USA to make up those two particular medals will be with veteran Julia Mancuso.
Mancuso, 29, oddly enough might be best known for being jealous of all the attention that Vonn got during the Vancouver Olympics. However, Mancuso has had great success in all of the Alpine events in the past, winning a gold in the giant slalom at the 2006 Olympics and winning silver in both downhill and combined in Vanvouver in 2010.
Mancuso hasn't had her best World Cup season leading up to the Olympics, but with Vonn absent, she'll be the American with the best shot at a medal in both downhill and super-G. She should enjoy the Team USA spotlight being solely on her in those events.
But the biggest Alpine star to watch will undoubtedly be Mikaela Shiffrin, who is poised to be the breakout star of these games, especially now that Vonn is out. Shiffrin is only 18 years old, but has already built an impressive resume on the international circuit over the last couple of years, including winning the 2013 World Cup Season in slalom at only 17.
People continue to describe Shiffrin as the "next Vonn," but they have very different strengths—Vonn excels at the fast, downhill races, while Shiffrin's strength is in the technical races like slalom and giant slalom.
Shiffrin should help out Team USA's medal count too—the teenager is favored for gold in the slalom, and should also be looked at as a medal contender in giant slalom as well.
There are a couple of notable men on the Alpine team to keep your eyes on as well. The infamous Bode Miller is back again at 35, and after taking more than a year off to repair his knee, he is leaner than ever and ready to ski with a purpose. His five medals make him the most decorated American skier in the history of the Olympics, and while he's a bit of a long-shot to medal this year, keep an eye out for him in the speed events.
Ted Ligety, 29, is the 2006 Olympic combined champion and a favorite to medal in the slalom this year. He's also a brand ambassador for Coca-Cola, so he's got some star wattage behind him too!
However, as we all know, the Olympics are not at all about Alpine, and Team USA is much deeper than just one event. While Vonn's celebrity will be missed, there are plenty of star athletes elsewhere to help carry the torch.
Although the Figure Skating National Championships haven't been held yet, Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner seem like locks to make Team USA. Neither are overwhelming favorites to be on the medal stand in Sochi, but both are great competitors and watching them skate their hearts out to fight for a medal will be compelling theater.
But the most exciting part of the figure skating competition for Americans this year might be watching Team USA ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis, the favorites for the gold medal, turn the ice rink into their ballroom. The two have a devoted following and are looking to become the first Americans to ever win gold in ice dancing.
Meanwhile, fan favorite J.R. Celski is back to try and out-do his double-bronze performance in Vancouver on the speed-skating track, and superstar Shaun White will be taking some time away from his 1.2 million Twitter followers to try and add to his medal count in snowboarding.
And, if you're looking for more female skiing heroes, look no farther than Jessica Jerome and the rest of Team USA's women's ski jumpers, who have a good chance at medaling in the inaugural year for their event—prior to 2014, only men's ski jumping was an Olympic event.
We'll all miss the chance to see Vonn complete her comeback and fight for a medal (or two) in Sochi. It's terrible to see an athlete with that much talent and dedication sit on the sidelines. Her shoes can't be filled—nobody is quite as good at the Super-G or quite as well-known by TMZ as she is.
But Team USA is about far more than just one person, and the only positive about losing a big star like Vonn is that now NBC and journalists will have some spare broadcast time and ink to devote to some of the other outstanding Olympic stories out there.
And the outlook for Team USA is still shiny. Even without Vonn, many predict that the United States will still leave Sochi with the highest number of medals.
So go ahead and keep cheering on Team USA from the sidelines. After all, that's what Vonn will be doing.
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