Winter Olympics 2014: Young Americans Who Will Become Household Names in Sochi

Tim Keeney@@t_keenContributor IJanuary 29, 2014

Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch celebrates her fourth place in the finish area after completing an alpine ski, women's World Cup slalom in Flachau, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014. American teenager Mikaela Shiffrin held on to a comfortable first-run lead to win a women's World Cup night slalom on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Enrico Schiavi)
Enrico Schiavi/Associated Press

It happens during every Olympic Games. 

A young American, little-known outside of their respective sport, turns in a transcendent performance for their country, wins a medal, captivates an entire nation and becomes an unforgettable hero for the rest of their lives.

During the summer of 2012 in London, it was athletes like Missy Franklin and Gabby Douglas who became intertwined with United States Olympic history, and with 230 American athletes headed to Sochi, there are plenty of young stars to once again play that role. 

Let's take a look. 


Gracie Gold: Singles Figure Skating

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Figure skating is akin to gymnastics in its ability to capture the world's attention and often serve as the most popular sport of the Olympics. 

For the Americans, it will be even more important this year. 

From 1992 through 2006, the Red White and Blue dominated the sport, winning three golds and three silvers. Moreover, one of the two years they didn't take home the top medal was when Nancy Kerrigan infamously lost to Oksana Baiul just weeks after being attacked and injuring her knee. 

But last time around, that all changed. In Vancouver in 2010, no American took home a medal, marking the first such instance since 1968. 

The appropriately named Gracie Gold undoubtedly has the best chance to bring success back to the United States.

The 18-year-old took home gold at the U.S. Championships in Boston last month, and in 2012, she won silver at the World Junior Championships. She's already fairly popular, appearing on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno in mid-January, but a gold medal will make her a hero. 


Mikaela Shiffrin: Slalom, Giant Slalom

Enrico Schiavi/Associated Press

Mikaela Shiffrin is just 18 years old, but she's already the best slalom skier in the world. At the World Championships in Schladming, Austria last year, she beat out home-country favorite Michaela Kirchgasser and Sweden's Frida Hansdotter for gold in the slalom. 

She also finished sixth in the giant slalom. 

But don't think that kind of success has made her stop working, via The Washington Post's Barry Svrluga:

“She’s working toward mastery,” said Kirk Dwyer, the headmaster at Burke Mountain Academy where Shiffrin was once a star. “You recognize that perfection is never attainable. You could work toward that, but if you achieved it, you’d probably switch and do something else.

“I liken it to a musical instrument or an art. I think skiing is Mikaela’s art. There’s always a higher level that she can work toward, and she understands that.”

It's probably best to learn Shiffrin's name if you don't already know it. Although she's arguably already the face of American skiing, she has a chance to become a worldwide superstar in Sochi. 


Arielle Gold: Halfpipe

Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

With Gracie and now Arielle Gold—not related—both likely to have success at the Olympics, you should probably prepare yourself for lots of corny, pun-filled headlines. 

Arielle does her work on the snowboard, where she won gold (Halfpipe) at the 2013 World Championships and bronze (SuperPipe) at the 2013 X Games in Aspen. 

Gold, who is going to Sochi with her older brother, Taylor, recently received extremely high praise from U.S coach Mike Jankowski, via USA Today's Rachel Axon:

(She's) not only a contender to make the team, but is a contender to win a medal in Sochi. She's proven that with her results week in and week out, from last year winning a world championship in Stoneham, to this season landing runs under pressure.

After a stellar 2013, the 17-year-old is a strong bet to gain lots of fans—and jewelry—in Sochi.