Team USA will tout a fearsome speedskating roster at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, despite the absence of a big name like Apolo Ohno.
While Ohno will be missed, the 25 talented names on the roster all bring something to the table and have a shot at continuing the country's strong tradition that happens to be its strongest event at the Winter Games.
As the games get closer, there are three major storylines that surround three big names that fans need to be aware of by the time the skaters hit the ice.
Will Shani Davis Three-Peat?
Shani Davis is the most recognizable name left on Team USA, and he just so happens to be one of the world's best long-track speedskaters.
Davis holds world records in both the 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter events. He has back-to-back gold medals in the former with back-to-back silver medals in the latter.
Davis has a shot at history to become the first American male to win three straight long-track Olympic gold medals, according to the Los Angeles Times' Philip Hersh. Davis says his focus is on those two events, via Gary D’Amato of the Barrington Courier-Review:
Those are my babies. I would love to win gold in both but if it’s not meant for me, it’s just not meant for me. But I’ll do everything in my power to be ready to take advantage of those opportunities.
But do not forget that Davis will compete in the 500-meter race, too—which he should be considered a favorite in as well. Davis has a chance to three-peat in the same event and grab three gold medals.
Will Heather Richardson Take Gold With Experience Under Her Belt?
Heather Richardson is certainly not a household name—yet.
But Richardson is on the cusp of being one of the most recognizable faces of Team USA thanks to her prowess in the long-track speedskating events.
A participant at the 2010 Winter Olympics at the age of 20, Richardson finished no higher than sixth in the 500-, 1,000- and 1,500-meter events.
A lot has changed since then.
As the High Point Enterprise illustrates, Richardson is much better this time around and swept the field in all events at trials:
But this time, what was just a long-shot dream then, is surely within reach for this 24-year-old champ who finished first in her three qualifying events at the U.S. Olympic Speedskating Trials a few weeks ago in Kearns.
During the trials, Richardson won races at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters, with her friend, rival, roommate and teammate Brittany Bowe finishing second. U.S. speedskating observers peg the two as gold medal contenders in Sochi, with one writer for The Associated Press saying it may come down to the pair racing each other to the finish for gold.
Richardson appears to be much more experienced this time around and has the look of a favorite in each of her three events.
Will J.R. Celski Take the Torch and See Trial Success Translate?
Like Richardson, J.R. Celski was simply young and inexperienced when he took to the ice in Vancouver at the age of 19.
Unlike Richardson, Celski had to overcome a scary gash in his leg caused by his own skate at the trials. He still managed to land two bronze medals after a quick recovery.
Now, Celski is tasked with being the one to take over in Ohno's place as the face of the sport for the country. Surely a daunting task for any athlete, but Celski does have the experience of his last Winter Games to build upon.
Celski has his eyes set on the top prize this time around, as captured by The Associated Press (via NBCOlympics.com):
My goal was just to get to Vancouver. I did that and the medals were just a bonus. This time, I'm going to Sochi healthy and I'm looking forward to doing some damage. I am very happy to be in the position I am now. I looked up to that guy for a long time. This time is completely different for me mentally, physically, I'm healthy. I'm going to ride that momentum.
Expectations are high for Celski, and he sounds ready to improve on his last performance. With the torch now fully in his hands after Ohno's departure, the time is now for Celski to step up as the face of Team USA.