Can Shaun White three-peat at the halfpipe?
With Super Bowl Sunday in the books, the 2014 Winter Olympics will occupy the sports media's attention for much of the month. After finishing atop the medal table at Vancouver in 2010, the USA Olympic team enters the Sochi Games as a fairly prohibitive favorite.
The Olympics presents an opportunity for athletes from lesser-heralded sports to shine in the international spotlight and turn into national heroes. With that in mind, here are a few names you'll be hearing about over the upcoming Winter Olympic fortnight.
Charlie White and Meryl Davis
The Americans' longest-tenured ice-skating duo, White and Davis have been together since 1998 and enter as the favorites to take home gold in ice dancing. The two recently won their sixth consecutive U.S. ice dance title, and will look to become the first Americans to bring home gold in the event.
White and Davis won world titles in 2011 and 2013, turning one of the USA's worst disciplines into one of its most likely possibilities for gold. As White tells Jerry Sullivan of The Buffalo News, it's gold medal or bust for the pair:
Having our sixth title and being able to go to these Olympic Games next to our friends and training mates, we really are blessed. Obviously, we're going into these Games with very high expectations. We've had a lot of great momentum over the last four years since the 2010 Olympics, and we think we've put ourselves in a great position to bring home a gold medal.
Davis and White will receive a stiff challenge from Canadian pair Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, who took home gold in 2010 and share a coach with the American duo. Figure skating is a weak point for the U.S. this year, and White and Davis may be the country's only medal in the event.
The two-time defending gold medalist in the halfpipe will be back to try for a three-peat this year. White injured his ankle during qualifying for the Olympics, but according to his coach, the "Flying Tomato" is ripe for competition in Sochi.
White faces an additional challenge in 2014, as he also plans on competing in the new slopestyle event. It's a considerable change from the halfpipe, as the slopestyle will require snowboarders to perform tricks while navigating an obstacle course, with scores based on variety and difficulty.
The 27-year-old X Games legend should still remain the favorite to take home halfpipe gold, however, especially if he can execute a new addition to his routine. The snowboarding world has been buzzing about an extra half-revolution White added onto his famous Double McTwist 1260 he performed in 2010.
White has only performed the move in a low-pressure environment in Australia, but a successful execution likely gives him a third gold medal.
Many U.S. Olympic fans groaned when Lindsey Vonn had to withdraw, but the veteran gold medalist may not have even been the best American skier. That distinction now belongs to the 18-year-old Shiffrin, who is the reigning world slalom champion and has won three of five races this season.
The teen sensation is not arriving in Sochi with the most momentum, however, after a near-crash at the World Cup slalom event caused her to finish in seventh. Nevertheless, per The Washington Post's Barry Svrluga, Shiffrin's meteoric rise has stemmed from an indefatigable work ethic, something that bodes well for a bounceback at Sochi:
You want to build somebody who’s actually a student of the sport, and a student of learning — being able to learn and be able to enjoy that part of it. Because that’s the most painful process: actually understanding what I’m supposed to be doing. Sometimes it’s so frustrating, but it’s become the best part for me, and that’s why I’m here right now: Because I actually enjoy the part that most people hate.
Shiffrin is a favorite at the slalom event and also stands a chance to reach the podium at the giant slalom. Sochi will be Shiffrin's first appearance on the Olympic stage, and the teenager should vault her way firmly into the American mainstream's consciousness.