Sochi 2014 Olympic Predictions: 10 Athletes Who Will End USA Medal Droughts

Jake Curtis@jakecurtis53Featured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

Sochi 2014 Olympic Predictions: 10 Athletes Who Will End USA Medal Droughts

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    The Winter Olympics have not been as kind to American athletes as the Summer Games. In fact, the United States has had almost no success in some events of the Winter Games.

    However, that could change in some cases in Sochi, as several athletes could end a medal drought for the United States.

    We've listed 10 events in which an American athlete could end a drought. In a few cases we listed multiple American athletes in one event, either because one of several athletes could break through or because they are members of a group that could earn a team medal representing the United States.

Kikkan Randall

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    Discipline: Cross-country skiing

    Event: Women's individual sprint

    Drought: Never medaled

    Americans have been a virtual non-factor in cross-country skiing. There have been 423 medals awarded in cross-country Olympic events since it first became an Olympic sport in 1924, and the United States has not won a single one.

    Not only does the United States have a chance to break through in 2014, an American could earn a gold medal.

    Kikkan Randall is the reason. She is the favorite to win the women's individual sprint and is a contender in the team sprint.

    This is the fourth Olympics for the 31-year-old Randall, and her progress has been steady. She finished 44th in individual sprint in 2002, ninth in 2006 and eighth in 2010.

    Randall has continued to improve in the past four years. She finished first in the 2012 and 2013 World Cup sprint standings. Randall also was the 2013 World Cup team sprint champion with Jessie Diggins.

    Not only is Randall in a position to win America’s first Olympic medal in cross-country skiing, but she could win two. Both might be gold.

Steven Holcomb

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    Discipline: Bobsled

    Event: Two-man

    Drought: No gold medal since 1936

    Steven Holcomb ended a 62-year drought for the United States four years ago, when he piloted the American four-man bobsled to its first gold medal since 1948.

    This year, he has a chance to end a similar drought in the two-man bobsled event.

    Germans have dominated the bobsled competition in the Olympics, and they won the gold medal in the two-man bobsled in each of the past three Winter Games.

    The United States has not won a medal of any kind in the two-man event since 1952 and has not won a gold medal since 1936.

    However, Holcomb is piloting an American team in both the four-man and two-man bobsled events in these Winter Games, and he has had more success in the two-man event over the past year.

    He ranks first in the two-man World Cup standings, and he has won five of his last eight two-man World Cup races.

    Holcomb and teammate Curt Tomasevicz only finished seventh in the most recent two-man World Cup race in Konigssee, Germany, last month, but they still walked away with the 2013 two-man World Cup championship.

Kate Hansen, Erin Hamlin , Chris Mazdzer

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    Discipline: Luge

    Event: Women's, men's singles

    Drought: Never medaled

    Kate Hansen gives the United States hope for its first Olympic luge medal in singles. She was a surprise winner in the final stop of the women's World Cup season on Jan. 25, becoming the first American to win a singles race on the circuit since Nov. 22, 1997. Several of the top women's athletes did not compete in that event, however.

    Americans Erin Hamlin and Chris Mazdzer also have an outside shot to earn a medal in the women’s and men’s singles events, respectively.

    None of the three top Americans are favored to win a medal in the singles events, which have been dominated by Germany. Hansen currently ranks seventh in World Cup standings, Hamlin is sixth and Mazdzer is fifth. However, there's a chance that one of the three will break through to earn a medal.

    The Americans' best chance for a luge medal may be the team relay, which is an Olympic event for the first time this year.

    The United States' only Olympic medals in luge competition have come in the doubles event.

Ted Ligety

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    Discipline: Alpine skiing

    Event: Men's giant slalom

    Drought: Never won a gold medal

    Although Bode Miller of the United States won a gold medal in the Alpine combined four years ago, an American male has not finished first in one of the four individual Alpine skiing disciplines since Tommy Moe won the 1994 Olympic downhill.

    Furthermore, an American male has never won a gold medal in the giant slalom, which has been an Olympic event since 1952. In fact, Miller’s silver medal in 2002 represents the United States’ only medal in the event.

    Ted Ligety is a good bet to end that drought. He was a silver medalist in the combined event four years ago and looks like the favorite to win the giant slalom in Sochi.

    Ligety, a two-time world champion in the event, put together two nearly flawless runs on Feb. 2 in St. Moritz, Switzerland, to capture the final giant slalom competition before the Olympics.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White

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    Discipline: Figure skating

    Event: Ice dancing

    Drought: Never won a gold medal

    American couples have won silver medals in ice dancing the past two Olympics but have never won the gold in an event that has existed since the 1976 Winter Games in Innsbruck, Austria.

    Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the silver medal four years ago in Vancouver and look like they are ready to take that last, long step to the gold.

    They seem to be in the prime of their long career together. Davis and White won their sixth U.S. title in January, and they captured the World Championships in 2011 and 2013.

    They beat their top rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, in the latter’s home country in the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario, last March. 

    Davis and White have been virtually unbeatable over the past year, and they are the gold-medal favorites in Sochi.

Billy Demong, Todd Lodwick, Bryan Fletcher, Taylor Fletcher

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    Discipline: Nordic combined

    Event: Team

    Drought: Never won a gold medal

    Americans captured their first Olympic medals ever in Nordic combined at the 2010 Winter Games, and Bill Demong won a gold medal in the 10-kilometer individual large hill event four years ago.

    He was a member of the American team that captured a silver medal in the team event, and he is back to try to help the United States get its first team gold medal this time.

    Todd Lodwick is also returning from that second-place American team, which this time also includes bothers Taylor and Bryan Fletcher.

    The Americans are probably not the favorites to win the team gold medal, but they are certainly capable of finishing first.

    The Nordic combined team event consists of four skiers starting from the ski jump with one jump each. A time equivalent is assigned to their jumps, and they move on to a four-man, 5-kilometer, cross-country skiing relay race.

    The team aspect of Nordic combined has been an Olympic event since 1988, and the United States has never won a gold medal in the team competition.

J.R. Celski, Eddy Alvarez, Kyle Carr, Chris Creveling, Jordan Malone

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    Discipline: Short-track speedskating

    Event: Men’s 5,000-meter relay

    Drought: Never won a gold medal

    The United States no longer has that one short-track speedskating star it had with Apolo Ohno. However, it may have the depth to capture its first gold medal in the men’s 5,000-meter relay.

    J.R. Celski and Jordan Malone are back from the American team that captured bronze in that event at the 2010 Winter Games, but, of course, Ohno is not returning from that group. Instead Eddy Alvarez, Kyle Carr and Chris Creveling are the other members of that United States unit.

    The 5,000-meter relay has been an Olympic event since 1992, and a silver medal in the 1994 Winter Games was the United States’ best finish.

Noelle Pikus-Pace

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    Discipline: Skeleton

    Event: Women's

    Drought: No medals since 2002

    It has not been that long since the United States won a gold medal in the high-speed skeleton event, but the dominance the Americans once enjoyed disappeared over the past two Winter Games.

    Americans won gold medals in both the men's and women's skeleton when the event returned to the Winter Games in 2002 after a 66-year absence. In fact, American women placed first and second in 2002, when the event took place on United States soil in Salt Lake City.

    In the two Winter Games since then, however, the Americans failed to win a single medal in either the men's or women's skeleton.

    Noelle Pikus-Pace is likely to change that. She finished fourth in the 2010 Olympics but has improved since then. She is second in the world skeleton rankings at the moment, and she has won four of the past seven World Cup events. That includes a victory in the most recent World Cup race in Konigssee, Germany, in January.

    She has a good chance to become the first American since 1928 to win a skeleton gold medal in an Olympic Games held outside the United States.

Brittany Bowe

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    Discipline: Speedskating

    Event: Women's 1,500 meters

    Drought: No gold medal since 1972

    Although the United States has had success in speedskating, most of it has been at shorter distances. Furthermore, American women have had little Olympic success recently.

    An American woman has not won an Olympic medal in any speedskating event in 12 years and has not captured a gold medal at any distance longer than 1,000 meters since Dianne Holum won the 1,500 meters in Sapporo, Japan, in 1972.

    Brittany Bowe could end that American slump in the 1,500 meters this year. Bowe is a medal contender in two events (the 1,000 and the 1,500), and Bowe’s best event is probably the 1,000. 

    But American women have captured the gold medal in the 1,000 meters in three of the past six Olympics.  Another American, Heather Richardson, probably has a better chance than Bowe at winning the 1,000.

    However, Bowe is the top American hope in the 1,500 meters, with Richardson also having a shot in that event.

    One of the two should at least become the first American woman since 2002 to capture an Olympic speed-skating medal. Additionally, either could become the first American female in 42 years to capture a gold medal in an Olympic speedskating event longer than 1,000 meters.

Mikaela Shiffrin

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    Discipline: Alpine skiing

    Event: Women's slalom

    Drought: No medals since 1972

    Although female skiers from the United States have fared well in the downhill, giant slalom and super-G at the Olympics, they have not had much success in the most technical Alpine event: the slalom.

    Since Barbara Cochran of the United States won the gold medal in the 1972 slalom, 30 medals have been awarded in the event, but none to an American.

    Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States could medal in both the slalom and giant slalom, but the slalom is her best event.

    Just 18 years old, Shiffrin is the reigning World Cup and world champion in the slalom, and she won two World Cup slalom events in January.

    Perhaps the only concern is that Shiffrin finished a disappointing seventh in her final pre-Olympic slalom event on Feb. 2 in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

    Nonetheless, she is likely to become the first American woman in 42 years to capture an Olympic medal in the slalom and is the favorite to win the gold in that event.