Sochi Olympics 2014: Highlighting Top American Competitors in Each Event
Four years ago at the Vancouver Olympics, the United States led the overall medal count with 37, though it trailed Canada and Germany in gold. This year, the United States is sending an equally strong team over to Sochi, Russia.
Veteran snowboarder Shaun White and speedskater Shani Davis are both trying to make history by winning three straight gold medals in their events, Kikkan Randall is trying to win the first cross-country Olympic gold for the U.S., and the women's ice hockey team is favored to finally get revenge on Canada.
Those are just a few of the great stories from 2014's Team USA. Here are the Americans to keep an eye on over the Sochi fortnight.
Despite the noticeable absence of Lindsey Vonn, the United States is sending a very strong Alpine skiing team to Sochi.
For the men, the ageless Bode Miller, in his fifth Olympics, has a great chance at winning a sixth Olympic medal.
For the women, Julia Mancuso is now the biggest American hope with Vonn off of the team. The often overshadowed Mancuso is trying to win her fourth Olympic medal.
Stacey Cook, a three-time Olympian who is currently No. 11 in the downhill world rankings, is also in contention.
No Americans are favorites in this event, but both Miller and Ted Ligety, who has had the most successful season of any American Alpine skier, have a chance to make the podium for the men.
Mancuso, who won bronze in this event in the 2013 World Championships, is a potential medalist for the women.
Ligety, who is trying to win three medals at these Olympics, is in the mix for the gold, and Miller could sneak onto the podium as well.
Mancuso is the only serious contender for the women.
The 29-year-old Ligety is the favorite for the gold in this event, and Miller also has podium potential.
In the women's event, 18-year-old prodigy Mikaela Shiffrin is expected to make the medal stand.
There are no American men expected to medal, but Shiffrin, the reigning world champion, is the outright favorite for the gold in the women's event.
The biathlon is an often misunderstood winter sport that combines the endurance and speed of cross-country skiing with the precision and patience of target shooting. The event is historically dominated by Europeans, and the medal stand in Sochi shouldn't be an exception.
However, Tim Burke is trying to become the first American to win an Olympic biathlon medal, and after he became just the second American to win a world-championship biathlon medal last year, he has a shot in the individual competitions.
It's also worth keeping an eye on Lanny Barnes for the women, who is on the team because her twin sister gave up her spot.
Thanks primarily to Lolo Jones, bobsled has become one of the most talked-about sports headed into the Games, but the athletes certainly have the talent to live up to the hype.
The women's bobsled team has been mired in headlines and controversy with Summer Olympians Jones and Lauryn Williams joining the fray, but it's driver Elana Meyers who is expected to contend for the gold medal.
The entire team has had success on the wold stage in the past year, so the other two sleds driven by Jamie Greubel and Jazmine Fenlator could end up on the podium as well.
Breakout Vancouver star Steve Holcomb is a favorite to drive his sled to gold and become the first American in 78 years to be the two-man bobsled champion.
Holcomb is the reigning Olympic champion in this event and is expected to at least get back onto the podium, if not defend his gold.
The most taxing and traditional sport of the Winter Olympics, cross-country skiing is dominated by the Europeans much like biathlon. In fact, Americans have only won one Olympic medal in the sport, and that was a silver back in 1976.
But this year, Kikkan Randall, the reigning world champion, is the favorite for the gold medal in the individual sprint. If she wins, she would be the first American to ever win a cross-country skiing Olympic gold.
The cult-favorite sport is back in the Olympic spotlight in Sochi, and while both the men's and women's U.S. curling teams qualified for the Games, neither are expected to medal.
Still, the women, led by skip Erika Brown, who works a day job as a healthcare assistant, and the men, led by skip John Shuster, who won the bronze in Torino, will be trying to sweep their way to an upset and onto the podium.
The figure skating team isn't as star-studded as past Olympic squads, but there are plenty of chances for the talented athletes to shine, especially in the team event and ice dancing.
In the inaugural team-trophy event, which starts the day before the opening ceremony, Team USA is in the conversation for the gold.
Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown are the only two American men competing in Sochi, and neither are expected to medal. Four-time national champion Abbott, 28, who finished ninth in Vancouver, will be skating in his final Olympics, while 19-year-old Brown will surely dazzle fans with his charisma in his Olympic debut.
Ashley Wagner, 22, and Gracie Gold, 18, are both looking to sneak onto the medal stand after their fifth- and sixth-place finishes, respectively, in the world championships last year. Polina Edmunds, 15, is a wild card, as she will be competing in her first international seniors competition.
Talented duos Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, along with Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay, will be representing Team USA, but neither is expected to medal in the European-heavy event.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White—the Vancouver silver medalists, six-time national champions and two-time world champions—are the favorites for gold. Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and U.S. Championships silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates are both in contention for the up-for-grabs bronze.
The freestyle skiing team for America is incredibly deep. While there aren't any big medal contenders in aerials or ski cross, the rest of the events should see an American on the podium.
For the men, Patrick Deneen, the 26-year-old who was a favorite in Vancouver before he crashed and finished 19th, is a medal favorite.
On the women's side, defending Olympic champion Hannah Kearney is expected to run away with the title, while 21-year-old Heidi Kloser had a chance to medal before her dreams were shattered when she injured her knee in a practice run on Thursday.
David Wise, the 23-year-old husband, father and youth-group leader, is the favorite for the men. Aaron Blunck, 17, and Torin Yater-Wallace, the 18-year-old who is recovering quickly after suffering a collapsed lung two months ago, could join Wise on the podium.
For the women, 20-year-old Maddie Bowman is in contention for the gold medal after winning a gold at the recent X Games.
Many talented Americans, including Angeli VanLaanen, the 28-year-old recovering from Lyme disease, and Brita Sigourney, a former water polo player, and Devin Logan, the 20-year-old dual specialist, have medaling potential.
Nick Goepper is set to cement his burgeoning celebrity status—he was on the Late Show with David Letterman last month—with a gold medal in Sochi. A host of other Americans, such as Gus Kenworthy, Bobby Brown and Joss Christensen, could medal as well in the event's inaugural Games.
In the women's event, keep an eye on 15-year-old Maggie Voisin, the youngest Winter Olympian on Team USA in 42 years, as well as Devin Logan and Keri Herman.
The men's hockey team was painfully close to winning the gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics, just falling to Canada in overtime of the gold-medal game. This year, many have predicted that it will be the odd one out, with Canada, Russia and Sweden taking home hardware.
Led by captain Zach Parise, a forward with the Minnesota Wild, and chock-full of NHL superstars, Team USA is still aiming for the top of the podium.
Like the men, the women felt crushing defeat in Vancouver and the previous two Olympics, coming up short on the podium each time while Canada skated away with gold. Unlike the men, this U.S. team is better than ever and is the favorite for the gold medal.
With stars such as 22-year-old Amanda Kessel and veteran Julie Chu on the roster, nothing less than gold will do.
The luge is another event that is dominated by European countries. Though a long shot, Chris Mazdzer, who finished 13th in Vancouver, is the best bet in the individual race for the men.
Erin Hamlin, currently sixth in the world standings for the ladies, is the closest thing to a medal hope the American women have.
The luge is featuring a new event this year, a mixed-team relay that involves both genders, and Team USA has the potential to medal in that.
The U.S. Nordic combined team shocked the world when it won four medals in the Vancouver Olympics—the first four Nordic combined medals in Team USA's history.
But this year, that is unlikely to be duplicated. No Americans are expected to medal in the individual Nordic combined events, however, teammates Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong and Bryan and Taylor Fletcher have a shot at making the podium in the team event.
With Apolo Ohno retired, J.R. Celski is now the star of the short-track team. In fact, he has the spotlight solely to himself—he's the only short-track skater, male or female, who is in contention for a medal.
The short-track team has been mired in controversy since 2010, so Celski making the podium in the 1,500 meters would be a rare bright spot for the American contingent of the sport.
Team USA's men could also earn a medal in the 5,000-meter relay.
The biggest American hope in skeleton this year is Noelle Pikus-Pace, the 31-year-old mother of two who has come back from tragedy and out of retirement to dominate the sport and is now the favorite for gold in Sochi.
Also, look out for her teammate, Katie Uhlaender, and male skeleton rider Matt Antoine, who both have outside chances to get a medal.
It's the first year for women's ski jumping since the men's event was introduced 90 years ago, and the persistence of the American jumpers is a big reason for the addition to the Games.
Sarah Hendrickson, the 19-year-who won the 2013 World Championships before tearing her MCL and ACL and sitting out most of the season, is the only American woman who is expected to reach the medal stand.
There are no strong favorites to medal on the men's ski jumping team, so for Team USA fans, the women's ski jumping team will be the focus.
Led by Shaun White and Kelly Clark, the snowboard team is expected to score big in Sochi. There are no American contenders in the parallel giant slalom and parallel slalom, but the other events should be good to the U.S.
White is, of course, the overwhelming favorite in this event as he tries to make history with an Olympic three-peat. Team USA's Danny Davis, four years removed from the ATV crash that led to him missing Vancouver, could medal, too.
For the women, this event is all about Clark, who has been nearly unbeatable the last four years. She's the favorite, but she could also be joined by teammate Arielle Gold.
With White withdrawing from the men's competition on Wednesday, Jamie Anderson is the American to watch when the ladies take the hill. The 23-year-old, who has been the face of the sport over the past few years, is slated to pull out a 900-degree spin for Sochi.
There are no huge favorites for the men, but pay close attention to Nate Holland and Nate Baumgartner, both of whom could be pleasant surprises.
The athlete to watch in this event, though, is Lindsey Jacobellis, the 28-year-old who is finally trying to capture the gold medal that has eluded her at the last two Olympics.
The American long-track speedskating team is strong this year and expected to add to Team USA's medal haul.
Now in his fourth Olympics, Shani Davis is officially the star of this team. The 31-year-old from Chicago is the favorite to win gold in the 1,000 meters for a record third straight Olympics. He has won silver in the 1,500 meters the last two Olympics as well, and he will try to upgrade that silver to a gold in Sochi.
"My first and top-most priority is to perform," Davis said, according to USA Today's Nancy Armour. "If I so happen to be the face of Olympics, great. But I want to win medals."
Brian Hansen, the 23-year-old who won a silver medal in team pursuit in Vancouver, also has a great shot at medaling in the 1,000 meters.
Additionally, the men have a chance to secure a medal in the team pursuit, especially if Davis decides to race in the relay this year—he declined in 2006 and 2010.
Friends and roommates Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe make up the strongest U.S. women's speedskating team in quite some time.
Richardson, the 24-year-old from North Carolina, dominated the U.S. trials and is expected to win gold in the 1,000-meter race and medal in the 500 meters. Bowe could join her on the 1,000-meter podium and finish in the top three in the 1,500 meters as well.