One of the most anticipated events of the Winter Olympics is speedskating, and there are a few superstars getting set to dominate the field when the action kicks off in Sochi.
One day after the opening ceremony, on Feb. 8, the first race (men's 5,000 meters) took place at Adler Arena, with Dutch skaters sweeping the podium. 14 days later, on Feb. 22, the men's and women's team pursuits will close out the action, with 12 medal events in total throughout the two-week bonanza.
Athletes from all across the globe will compete in these Games, and the pressure to perform at their best will be intense.
“I definitely think there’s going to be pressure,” U.S. Olympian Heather Richardson said, as noted by the Associated Press, via The Columbus Dispatch. “I’ve just got to remember to take deep breaths and have fun. That’s when I skate my best.”
Here's a look at what to expect from the top speedskating stars at the 2014 Winter Games.
Shani Davis, USA
Shani Davis is the biggest star on a loaded U.S. team that could make some serious waves at Sochi. The 31-year-old Olympics veteran will be attempting to earn a three-peat in the men's 1,000-meter race after winning gold in 2006 and 2010.
He's also going to be competing in the 1,500-meter race—an event he's finished in second place the past two Winter Games.
Davis is still extremely driven to succeed, despite his past success.
"Anytime I step out on the ice and I put my hood on, I have something to prove," he said, as relayed by Paul Newberry of the Associated Press, via the Evanston Review. "It's not easy. These guys are getting stronger and stronger."
With younger skaters like Kjeld Nuis of the Netherlands and Zbigniew Brodka of Poland coming on strong in recent years, Davis will need to bring his A-game to Sochi if he wants to continue building his legacy as an all-time great.
Projections: Davis will once again claim gold in the 1,000-meter race, and he'll win bronze in the 1,500-meter race.
Martina Sablikova, Czech Republic
You know you're a star when people start calling you, "The queen of skating."
This is the moniker Czech superstar Martina Sablikova earned after winning double-gold in the women's 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter races during the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
She won the gold in the 5,000-meter race at the Sochi World Championships in 2013, which was her sixth straight world title in the event, as NBC's Amanda Doyle pointed out:
Czech skater Martina Sablikova wins her sixth straight world title in the 5k. The reigning Olympic champ looks strong in Sochi.— Amanda Doyle (@AmandaDoyleNBC) March 23, 2013
Sablikova also won a silver in the 3,000-meter race during those championships, and she'll be favored to finish on the podium in both races during the Winter Games.
At this point, it seems the only thing that could slow her down in her favored 5,000-meter race is her own health, which caused some problems in 2013, as detailed by Reuters, via NBCOlympics.com:
Last year her back caused her problems while a groin injury was to blame for her last placed finish in the 1500m World Cup event in Salt Lake City in November.
Sablikova says she feels 'good now', though, and results have confirmed that theory. She leads the 3,000m/5,000m World Cup standings after three wins in four events this year.
Projections: Sablikova will win gold again in the 5,000-meter race and silver in the 3,000-meter race.
Heather Richardson, USA
Heather Richardson of the United States is the biggest challenger to Canada's Christine Nesbitt, who has seen her status as the top women's star in the 1,000-meter race diminish in the past year or so.
In fact, Richardson's biggest competition could come from her own team, as Brittany Bowe will push her to the limit. The two American stars are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the World Cup standings for the 1,000-meter race, with Richardson holding down the top spot.
She spoke about the benefit of having a top competitor for a teammate recently, via The Columbus Dispatch:
We’re teammates, friends, competitors and roommates. It’s really special to have one of the fastest, if not the fastest, girl in the world on my team, working with me day in and day out. We’re really lucky to have each other.
Richardson will compete in three races—the 500-meter sprint, the 1,000-meter and the 1,500-meter races. She's the favorite to win the 1,000-meter and should finish on the podium in the 500-meter, but it will be surprising if she medals in the longer race.
Projections: Richardson will win bronze in the 500-meter sprint, gold in the 1,000 meters and will finish off the podium in the 1,500-meter race.
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