Sochi 2014: The Top 15 Teenagers to Watch for in the Winter Olympics

Lyle FitzsimmonsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 31, 2014

Sochi 2014: The Top 15 Teenagers to Watch for in the Winter Olympics

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    Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

    "Hey, you kids...get off my medal stand!"

    OK, so those won't be the exact words delivered by 20- and 30-something athletes to their teenage competition at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. But it wouldn't be too surprising if some of the older skiers, skaters and snowboarders muttered something close to that under their breaths.

    It'd be hard to blame them for the anxiety. After reviewing top contenders in each of the scheduled events at the Games, it's clear teenagers are well represented. 

    Medal forecasts across the board include youngsters at nearly every turn, with several individual competitions likely to be flat-out dominated by athletes born in 1994 or later. 

    We've assembled a list of 15 teens who seem destined to make an impact on the world's biggest stage in February. Click through to take a look at our picks, and feel free to drop a comment or two with your own selections.

15. Polina Edmunds

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    Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Age: 15

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Figure Skating

    Why She's Here: It may be too tough a task for 15-year-old Polina Edmunds to find her way to the medal stand in her Olympic debut in Sochi, but the breakout performance she had at the recent U.S. Championships certainly gives her momentum.

    She finished second behind Gracie Gold and set herself up nicely for a rivalry with her teammate both this year in Russia and for the next four years as the two steer their ships toward the 2018 Games in South Korea.

14. Jason Brown

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Figure Skating

    Why He's Here: Though veteran Jeremy Abbott won gold at the U.S. Championships in Boston, California-born teenager Jason Brown made the biggest impression on the crowd with two fan-friendly skates.

    That ability to connect with the audience comes in handy for a guy who's heavy on choreography and technique and lighter on the high-flying dynamics of others on the world stage. He seems primed to become the flagship of the American program in the future.  

13. Gracie Gold

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 18

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Figure Skating

    Why She's Here: The woman with the perfect Olympic name, Gracie Gold introduced herself with a second-place effort in the World Junior Championships two years ago, then stepped up to a sixth-place finish at the full-fledged world event a year later.

    Her win at the recent U.S. Championships positioned her as the latest in a series of American Cinderellas on ice. She's still young enough to have two real Olympic chances to become the next Tara Lipinski, Kristi Yamaguchi or Dorothy Hamill. 

12. Taku Hiraoka

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    MANU FERNANDEZ/Associated Press

    Age: 18

    Country: Japan 

    Sport: Snowboard (Halfpipe)

    Why He's Here: Taka Hiraoka won silver in halfpipe in the 2013 FIS World Championships, and he'll be looking to validate that accomplishment when competition begins in Sochi.

    Though he's still two years shy of 20, Hiraoka is a lifelong veteran of the slopes. He began skiing at age three, according to Sochi2014.com, and he spends a good deal of time training in New Zealand and the United States.

11. Yuzuru Hanyu

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    Michel Euler/Associated Press

    Age: 19

    Country: Japan 

    Sport: Figure Skating

    Why He's Here: A third-place finish in the 2012 World Championships was followed up last year by a fourth-place effort. That puts Yuzuru Hanyu within striking distance of the medal stand in his initial crack at the Olympics.

    According to Tatjana Flade of goldenskate.com, Hanyu was directly affected from an earthquake and tsunami in 2011. He said, "When the earthquake hit, I was on the ice at my home rink in Sendai. I spent three days at the evacuation center."

    Regardless of his Sochi fortunes, Hanyu's credibility as a survivor is cemented.

10. Tiril Sjastad Christiansen

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    Richard Bord/Getty Images

    Age: 18

    Country: Norway 

    Sport: Freestyle Skiing (Slopestyle)

    Why She's Here: Tiril Sjastad Christiansen was a slopestyle winner in the 2013 X Games, a year after finishing second in both the Youth Olympic Games (halfpipe) and the International Ski Federation's Junior World Championships (slopestyle).

    The X Games win in Aspen, Colo., made her the youngest female to ever take a gold medal at the event, when she was just 17. She also took sliver at Winter X Games Europe in slopestyle. 

9. Dara Howell

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    Hannah Johnston/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Country: Canada

    Sport: Freestyle Skiing (Slopestyle)

    Why She's Here: A native of the chilly environs of Hunstville, Ontario—about 130 miles north of Toronto—Dara Howell burst onto both the domestic and world scenes in 2013 when she placed third in the women's slopestyle competition at the X Games in Aspen, Colo.

    Her global reputation ticked up even further later in that year when she finished second in the International Ski Federation's world championship event in Voss, Norway.

8. Justine Dufour-Lapointe

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Country: Canada 

    Sport: Freestyle Skiing (Moguls)

    Why She's Here: Canadian teen Justine Dufour-Lapointe's first Olympics experience will hardly be her first time on the world stage.

    She became the youngest winner of an International Ski Federation World Cup moguls event during the 2010-11 season at age 16 and then took third at the organization's freestyle world championships in 2013.

    The Montreal native has a pair of older sisters, Chloe and Maxime, who also compete in moguls events.

7. Arielle Gold

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Age: 17

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Snowboarding (Halfpipe)

    Why She's Here: American youngster Arielle Gold is half of a brother-sister combination that's bound for Sochi. There, she'll join her 20-year-old sibling, Taylor.

    Gold had an eventful 2013 on the World Cup circuit, finishing second (twice), fourth, ninth and 11th in competitions, along with a win at the World Snowboard Championships in Canada. She qualified for the X Games in Aspen, Colo., as an alternate and captured a bronze medal.

6. Torin Yater-Wallace

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    Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Age: 18

    Country: United States

    Sport: Freestyle Skiing (Halfpipe)

    Why He's Here: Torin Yater-Wallace's prospects for making the Olympics didn't look so good several weeks ago after he sustained broken ribs in a training run crash. But the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association dismissed his lack of participation in Sochi qualifying events in making him one of a pair of discretionary picks for the Games.

    He earned a silver medal at the X Games in Aspen, Colo., in 2013, along with another silver at the International Ski Federation's world championship event.

5. Sarah Hendrickson

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Ski Jumping

    Why She's Here: Despite her standing as a 2013 world champion and a winner of 13 World Cup circuit events, it appeared for a while as if Sarah Hendrickson would join the ranks of athletes whose Olympic dreams were short-circuited by injury.

    She had surgery to reconstruct the ACL and repair both the MCL and the meniscus in her right knee after a training crash in August. Her rehabilitation progressed to the point where she's returned to the 90-meter hill, and she has undergone extensive therapy with U.S. team trainers.

4. Shim Suk-Hee

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    Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images

    Age: 17

    Country: South Korea

    Sport: Speedskating (Short Track)

    Why She's Here: South Korea's Shim Suk-Hee has shown no fear of her competitive elders through what's been a comparatively brief speedskating career, as evidenced by the 17-year-old's No. 1 ranking on the World Cup circuit in both the 1,000- and 1,500-meter events heading into Sochi.

    She's won three World Cup events at each length thus far this season and has helped her country to three more wins in the 3,000-meter relay event.

3. Nick Goepper

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Age: 19

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Freestyle Skiing (Slopestyle)

    Why He's Here: Indiana native Nick Goepper will travel to Sochi for his Olympic debut in the year following his high school graduation with a 3.7 grade-point average

    He'll arrive there as a hot commodity after gold medals at the 2013 and 2014 X Games in Aspen, Colo., and a third-place finish at the International Ski Federation's world championships. He ranked first among slopestyle competitors in 2013, according to the Association of Freeskiing Professionals.

2. Sara Takanashi

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    Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Age: 17

    Country: Japan

    Sport: Ski Jumping

    Why She's Here: Few older competitors will arrive in Sochi as bigger favorites in their respective events than Japanese teenager Sara Takanashi is in hers.

    The 17-year-old cleared her final pre-Olympic hurdle in January with her eighth World Cup victory of the season, which raised her career total to 17 victories. In the season leading up to the debut of women's ski jumping at the Games, Takanashi has won all but one of the events on the World Cup circuit.

1. Mikaela Shiffrin

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    Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Age: 18

    Country: United States 

    Sport: Alpine Skiing (Slalom, Giant Slalom)

    Why She's Here: Someone has to carry the U.S. ski team's flag in the absence of Lindsay Vonn's mainstream star power, so why not an 18-year-old who'll enter the Olympics as the world's reigning women's champion in the slalom event?

    Would-be golden girl Mikaela Shiffrin has been on skis since age three and has been competing since age eight. In three years on the World Cup circuit, she has seven slalom victories, and she finished fifth among World Cup competitors in 2013's overall standings.

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