2014 Winter Olympics: American Athletes Poised to Become Household Names

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2014 Winter Olympics: American Athletes Poised to Become Household Names
Harry How/Getty Images

Heading into the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, U.S. athletes like Shaun White (snowboard), Lolo Jones (bobsled) and Patrick Kane (hockey) already have major profiles and are well-known around the country.

As for most of the other 230 athletes who will make up America's record Olympic contingent, this will represent their first time bursting into the national consciousness. The action gets started with competitions on Feb. 6, a day before the opening ceremony.

Even though most athletes might just get their 15 minutes of fame, many can have major staying power. Look at speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno, who is still making Subway commercials and living off his successes in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games.

So which U.S. Olympians are poised to become familiar faces in 2014? Here's a look at a trio of candidates who have a good shot to make it happen.

 

Sarah Hendrickson, Women's Ski Jump

Earlier this week, Sarah Hendrickson was named to the U.S. women's ski jump team, the latest accomplishment in her fight back from a serious knee injury she suffered just five months ago in Germany while training.

As Hendrickson told Nick Zaccardi of NBC Olympic Talk, she had doubts of ever reaching the sport's biggest stage.

“When I crashed back in August, I laid at the bottom of the hill and thought everything was over,” Hendrickson said. “My dreams of being an Olympian were over.”

Hendrickson underwent surgery on Aug. 29, 2013 to repair her ACL and MCL, but has made a remarkable recovery. Once she heard the news she was heading to Sochi, Hendrickson relayed her excitement via Twitter:

Crazy to think, but the 19-year-old was walking by October and has spent the past two weeks back on the slopes training and doing jumps. Before her injury, Hendrickson dominated the 2012 World Cup circuit en route being named World Champion.

If the Park City, Utah, native can stay healthy, her main competition figures to be 17-year-old Japanese star Sara Takanashi, who won eight of nine World Cup events in 2013.

 

Tucker West, Men's Luge

Talk about a good ol' American story about playing out back with dad.

In 2002, Tucker West was just six years old when he watched the Winter Games in Salt Lake City (feel old?). The luge inspired him so much, he and his father, Brett, built a top-notch track in their Connecticut backyard, as detailed by Rachel Schwartz of NBCOlympics.com:

This is no amateur structure. The wooden track runs 750 feet and is the only luge track, along with Sochi’s, to include an uphill section. It features a PA system, weather station, electric timing, an automatic icing spray system and lights for nighttime runs. It’s even fully certified by the state of Connecticut.

The track took about a year to complete after a lot of hard work and endless trips to Home Depot.

“I lost my mind. I got so fixated. Literally tens of thousands of screws. For every 15 screws I got in, he [Tucker] put one in,” said Brett.

All it took was one ride down the track and West was hooked. Looks like all the practice paid off.

West, 18, is still just a freshman at Union College in New York and the youngest-ever member of the U.S. men's luge team. He was also part of the quartet which brought America a silver medal in the 2013 World Cup at Winterberg, Germany.

While he faces an uphill battle to claim an individual medal at the Sochi Games, his unique story and early success make him primed for a big Olympic debut.

 

Phil and Amanda Kessel, Hockey

Harry How/Getty Images

Everyone enjoys a good sibling rivalry.

For Phil Kessel and his sister, Amanda, the Olympics will represent perhaps the biggest stage for them to play for bragging rights of who is the best player in the family.

Phil Kessel has a made a name for himself the past few years as a prolific goal scorer for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL. But even he can't keep up with the blistering pace of his sister, who scored 101 points (46 goals, 55 assists) for the University of Minnesota during the 2012-13 season. For her efforts, Amanda Kessel was named named the winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award, women's college hockey's equivalent of the Heisman.

Following the Winter Classic in Michigan earlier this year, the Madison, Wisc., natives were named to their respective U.S. national team rosters. As Minnesota women's coach Brad Frost told the International Business Times, the two Kessels have similar playing styles:

I think they’re similar in the way they skate. They can both absolutely fly and it doesn’t look like they’re putting tons of effort into their stride, even though they are because of how fast they’re moving. You can tell they’re definitely related by the way they play and skate.

The 22-year-old Amanda will be making her Olympic debut, while the 26-year-old Phil will be representing the U.S. for the second time in the Winter Games following 2010 in Vancouver.

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