Sochi 2014: America's 20 Best Shots for Gold in the Winter Olympics

Lindsay Gibbs@linzsports Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2014

Sochi 2014: America's 20 Best Shots for Gold in the Winter Olympics

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Nothing brings out patriotism like the Olympics.

    Team USA's Sochi contingent is the largest group of Americans to ever compete in the Winter Olympics, as there are 230 athletes on the team (105 women and 125 men). It's a talented bunch, too—the United States is predicted to lead the medal count at the end of the two weeks in Sochi.

    Using the Infostrada Sports Virtual Medal Table, the Associated Press predictions and independent research, we take a look at the Americans who have the best shot at bringing gold back to the United States.

20. Sarah Hendrickson, Ski Jumping

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Event Time: Ski Jumping—Feb. 11, 12:30 p.m. ET (Round 1); 1:20 p.m. ET (Final) 

    Sarah Hendrickson is about to jump into stardom.

    Just five months after a surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL, 19-year-old Hendrickson is leading the U.S. women’s ski jumping team in the event’s inaugural Olympics.

    Hendrickson is going to have to jump far to beat Japan's Sara Takanashi, the 17-year-old who has won eight of nine World Cups this season, but she’s in contention for the top spot.

19. Elana Meyers, Bobsled

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Event Time: Bobsled—Feb. 19, 11:15 a.m. ET (Heat 3); 12:23 p.m. ET (Heat 4)

    With Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams taking all of the attention as the pushers for the bobsled team, the U.S. pilots have been overlooked.

    But no more. Driver Elana Meyers has been on the U.S. bobsled team since 2007, and she won the bronze medal in Vancouver as a pusher.

    Now in the pilot's seat, Meyers finished second in the World Cup standings this season, with two golds along the way. She is the medal favorite headed into Sochi, where she'll act as the leader for the strong U.S. team.

18. Heather Richardson, Speedskating: 1,000 Meters

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    Event Time: 1,000 meters—Feb. 13, 9 a.m. ET 

    Heather Richardson will be the fastest American woman in Sochi. 

    After sweeping the U.S. Olympic trials last December, the 24-year-old is headed to her second Olympics as the marginal favorite for gold in the 1,000 meters.

    The North Carolinian will be busy this month; she's competing in four events at the Games and is also expected to make the podium in the 500 meters.

17. Noelle Pikus-Pace, Skeleton

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Event Time: Skeleton—Feb. 14, 10:40 a.m. ET (Heat 3); 11:51 a.m. ET (Heat 4)

    This time she means it: Sochi will be Noelle Pikus-Pace's final Olympic Games.

    She's trying to finally get her happy ending. In 2005, prior to the Turin Olympics where she was favored, a four-man bobsled ran into her in practice and broke her leg. In Vancouver, she came in fourth, then retired from the sport.

    But after a devastating miscarriage in 2012, the mother of two came back to the sport, and it has been smooth sledding ever since. After winning four of the eight World Cup races this season, she's now a gold-medal favorite.

16. Figure Skating Team

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    Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

    Event Times: Men Short/Pairs Short—Feb. 6, 10:30 a.m. ET; Ice Dance Short/Ladies Short/Pairs Free—Feb. 8, 9:30 a.m. ET; Men Free/Ladies Free/Ice Dance Free—Feb. 9, 10 a.m.

    This is the first year for the figure skating team trophy competition in the Olympics.

    Though the U.S. squad isn’t as dominant as years past, the deep team is a perfect event in which all disciplines matter and substitutions are encouraged.

    With ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White leading the way, Team USA is looking good to add a medal to the mix.

15. David Wise, Freestyle Skiing: Halfpipe

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    Event Time: Halfpipe—Feb. 18, 12:30 p.m. ET (Finals)

    The freestyle skiing halfpipe event is making its Olympic debut in Sochi, and 23-year-old David Wise is looking to walk away as the maiden champion.

    The 2013 world champion and three-time reigning Winter X Games champion, Wise is the face of the sport that is about to be subjected to a much larger audience.

    As the favorite, the husband, father and youth-group leader is ready for the spotlight.

14. Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding: Slopestyle

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    Event Time: Slopestyle—Feb. 9, 4:15 a.m. ET

    The fearless Jamie Anderson has won more competitions than any slopestyle rider in the history of the sport.

    The 23-year-old, who has seven siblings, has won four X Games medals and is excited for slopestyle to finally make its Olympic debut.

    Coming off a disappointing silver medal at the X Games this year, Anderson will be more motivated than ever to finish on the top of the podium in Sochi.

13. Maddie Bowman, Freestyle Skiing: Halfpipe

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    Event Time: Halfpipe—Feb. 20, 12:30 p.m. ET

    Just 20 years old, Maddie Bowman is already prepared to lead the freestyle skiing team in Sochi.

    With back-to-back X Games wins and first-place finishes in three of the last five Olympic qualifiers, Bowman is one of the favorites headed into the Games.

    Bowman claims it’s all about relaxing and having fun, but don't let that fool you; she’s already talking about adding difficulty to her halfpipe run.

12. Kikkan Randall, Cross-Country Skiing: Sprint Freestyle

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Event Time: Sprint Freestyle—Feb. 11, 8:22 a.m. ET (Finals)

    Kikkan Randall is coming into her own in her fourth Olympic Games.

    With her pink highlights and punk style, the 31-year-old from Alaska is trying to become the first American to win a gold medal in cross-country skiing.

    Still looking for her first Olympic medal, the 2013 world champion in the sprint freestyle is the favorite for the gold in Sochi.

11. Nick Goepper, Freestyle Skiing: Slopestyle

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    Event Time: Slopestyle—Feb. 13, 4:30 a.m. ET

    The 19-year-old freeskier is the two-time reigning X Games champion in slopestyle, and he’s looking to take his success to Sochi.

    Goepper began his career in rural Indiana by raising money himself via odd jobs and candy selling to earn money for goggles and skis.

    Now the favorite in the inaugural Olympic year for the sport, Goepper is poised for sponsors to take over where the fundraisers left off. 

10. Steven Holcomb, 2-Man Bobsled

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Event Time: Two-Man Bobsled—Feb. 17, 9:30 a.m. ET (Heat 3); 11:05 a.m. ET (Heat 4)

    In Vancouver, Steven Holcomb became the first American in 62 years to win gold in the four-man bobsled, and now he’s favored to become the first to win gold in the two-man bobsled since 1936.

    Holcomb, who won the World Cup title in the two-man bobsled this season, won five of the eight two-man races over the last year.

    He’s also expected to get Team USA back onto the podium in four-man, though a gold medal is a long shot.

9. Hannah Kearney, Freestyle Skiing: Moguls

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Event Time: Moguls—Feb. 8, 1 p.m. ET

    Hannah Kearney, 27, is the face of her sport, and since she's already stated that Sochi is her final Olympics, she's looking to go out on top.

    The Vermont native had a disastrous Olympic debut back in 2006, but she rebounded to take gold in 2010. 

    Kearney, the 2013 World Cup titleholder and 40-time World Cup moguls medalist, is looking for Sochi to mirror Vancouver, not Torino.

8. Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing: Slalom

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    Event Time: Slalom—Feb. 21, 7:45 a.m. ET (Run 1); 11:15 a.m. ET (Run 2) 

    With Lindsey Vonn sitting out this Olympics, Mikaela Shiffrin is about to become a household name.

    The 18-year-old prodigy is the reigning world champion and World Cup titleholder in slalom. She also has a chance at getting onto the podium in giant slalom.

    She will feel the full effect of the spotlight in her maiden Olympics, and if she gets her gold, she is destined to be the breakout star.

7. Lindsey Jacobellis, Snowboarding: Snowboard Cross

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Event Time: Snowboard Cross—Feb. 16, 4:40 a.m. ET (Finals)

    Lindsey Jacobellis has dominated the snowboard cross world for nearly a decade, but the seven-time X Games gold medalist has always fallen short of Olympic glory.

    A heavy favorite at the time, Jacobellis was devastated by her silver-medal finish in Torino, and even more disappointed by her disqualification in the Vancouver Olympics.

    The 28-year-old, who spent nearly two years away from the slopes recovering from ACL surgery, won the gold at the X Games this year. She is the favorite headed into Sochi once again. 

6. Women's Hockey Team

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    Event Time: Gold-Medal Game—Feb. 20, 12 p.m. ET 

    Team USA’s women’s hockey team is ready to get the gold that eluded it at every Olympic Games since 1998. 

    Canada won gold the past three Olympics, but Team USA won the world championships four of the last five years and comes into Sochi as the favorite.

    With 11 veterans on the team that recall the devastation of coming in second in Vancouver, this team is out for revenge in Sochi.

5. Ted Ligety, Alpine Skiing: Super Combined and Giant Slalom

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    Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Event Times: Super Combined—Feb. 14, 2 a.m. ET (Run 1, Downhill); 6:30 a.m. ET (Run 2, Slalom); Giant Slalom—Feb. 9, 2 a.m. ET (Run 1); 5:30 a.m. (Run 2)

    Ted Ligety, 29, is the leader of the men's Alpine skiing team for the United States.

    Back in the 2006 Olympics, Ligety surprised everyone and stole the gold medal away from teammate Bode Miller despite having the flu. But he came up empty in Vancouver in 2010, making him more motivated than ever.

    The past four years, Ligety has been dominating on the world stage, and now he is a heavy favorite in the giant slalom and a contender for the gold in the super combined. He's set for a historic Games.

4. Kelly Clark, Snowboarding: Halfpipe

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    Event Time: Halfpipe—Feb. 12, 12:30 p.m ET (Finals)

    Sochi is Kelly Clark’s fourth trip to the Olympics, and the snowboarding pioneer is looking to cement her status at the top of the sport.

    Clark, now 30, won gold in her Olympic debut in Salt Lake City when she was only 18.

    But after finishing off the podium in Torino and winning bronze in Vancouver, Clark has rededicated herself to snowboarding. She won 16 competitions in a row from 2011-2012 and won gold in superpipe at the X Games for the past four years.

    She's now the heavy favorite in Sochi.

3. Shani Davis, Speedskating: 1,000 Meters and 1,500 Meters

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    Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

    Event Times: 1,000 meters—Feb. 12, 9 a.m. ET; 1,500 meters—Feb. 15, 8:30 a.m. ET  

    In his fourth straight Winter Olympics, Shani Davis is ready to shine. 

    The 31-year-old from Chicago, who became the first black athlete to win an individual Winter Olympics gold at the 2006 Games, is the favorite to win his third straight gold in the 1,000 meters.

    Davis has also won the silver medal in the last two Olympics in the 1,500 meters. As the world-record holder in the event, Davis will be trying to skate those silvers into gold in Sochi.

2. Shaun White, Snowboarding: Halfpipe

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Event Time: Halfpipe—Feb. 11, 12:30 p.m. ET (Finals)

    The most famous Winter Olympian—or at least the most followed on Twitter—was looking to add two medals to his halfpipe golds from the 2006 and 2010 Games.

    But White withdrew from the slopestyle competition just one day before it began, and he is now focusing on winning a third straight Olympic gold in halfpipe. 

    White and his shorter hairdo are the overwhelming favorite in this event, where he won six straight golds in the X Games from 2009-2013 (he skipped the 2014 competition to rest up for Sochi).

    With the extra push of having just one event to compete in, and the motivation of becoming the first American athlete to win a gold in the same event in three straight Olympicshe gets his shot to earn the honor one day before Shani Davis doesit's hard not to see White riding his way to the top of the podium again.

1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, Ice Dance

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Event Times: Team Event—Feb. 8, 11:30 a.m. ET (Short Dance); Feb. 9, 12:10 p.m. ET (Free Dance); Individual Event—Feb. 16, 10 a.m. ET (Short Dance); Feb. 17, 10 a.m. ET (Free Dance)

    This year, the biggest stars on the U.S. Olympic figure skating team come from the often-overlooked ice dancing competition.

    Meryl Davis and Charlie White are a dynamic duo who have been skating together since they were kids. The six-time national champions and defending world champions with charisma to spare are coming into Sochi looking to improve upon their silver from Vancouver.

    Other U.S. athletes such as Shani Davis and Shaun White are likely to leave the Games with gold, but ice-dancers Davis and White haven't won anything but gold in a competition in nearly two years, making them the closest thing Team USA has to a sure thing.