Young Polina Edmunds Will Be America's Breakout Star in Sochi

Kevin McRaeFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2014

Polina Edmunds was supposed to be the future of American ladies figure skating, but apparently, the future is now.
Polina Edmunds was supposed to be the future of American ladies figure skating, but apparently, the future is now.Steven Senne/Associated Press

It's amazing how three minutes can transform a young woman's life. 

Polina Edmunds, who is currently in her sophomore year of high school, entered the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with one junior national title already under her belt. Many observers considered her the potential future face of U.S. ladies figure skating, but not many expected the future to arrive quite so fast. 

A brilliant short program suddenly thrust the 15-year-old into the conversation for an Olympic berth, and she sealed the deal in the free skate, finishing second overall, behind eventual champion Gracie Gold, and booking her ticket to the Winter Games.

But she may have done more than that. Her youth and underdog story are exactly the type of characteristics that American viewers look for in selecting their traditional Olympic darling. This year, Edmunds is the logical choice to ascend to that lofty perch, and she'll ride that wave to become America's breakout star in Sochi.

And, it seems, that it's already starting:

It's impossible to look at Edmunds' career, and particularly her meteoric rise from future to current star, without drawing comparisons to Tara Lipinski.

Lipinski, like Edmunds, qualified for the Olympic Games when she was 15 years old.

She would end up capturing gold at the 1998 Nagano Games and, in the process, become the youngest athlete to win gold in an individual sport. That's a record she retains to this day, but one which Edmunds, should she strike gold in Sochi, would break.

Edmunds is not only fine with the comparisons, she relishes them, emphasizing that growing up in the sport, she idolized Lipinski for her performance and accomplishments. 

"She's been the biggest inspiration for me," Edmunds told Nancy Armour of USA Today shortly after learning that she'd been selected for the team. 

On her road to Nagano, and with her performances during the Games, Lipinski emerged as a breakout star and a darling of the American public. 

Edmunds has the potential to do just that, and if anything, for her, the bar won't even be set as high. She doesn't even need to capture gold, something Lipinski did when the 15-year-old was barely three months old. 

Lipinski entered Nagano as a known-commodity. She had already captured gold at both U.S. National and World Figure Skating Championships. She carried the weight of expectations with her to Nagano—having just unseated Michelle Kwan, who would win the next eight national crowns—and she not only met them, she exceeded them.

For Edmunds, an upstart who came out of nowhere, just getting to this point is a huge story. 

But that doesn't mean she's satisfied.

Quite the opposite. 

Edmunds isn't lacking in the confidence department, and she's heading to Sochi with one goal in mind—a gold medal.

As improbable as that may seem—Yuna Kim remains the heavy favorite to defend her gold medal from Vancouver with Mao Asada nipping at her heels—how can we put anything past her? 

After all, she wasn't even supposed to be here. 

But she is, and she told John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Gate, that she may have a trick or two up her sleeve:

I think for sure the technical difficulty in my program is really what helps me the most because I have two triple-triple combinations in my long program. What also helps me is my balletic skill. I've been taking ballet since I was 4 years old.

But she possesses a level of mental toughness and balance that goes well beyond her years. Americans can identify with her, how grounded she remains, and how, despite her getting the opportunity of a lifetime, she remains true to her values. 

And among her core values, even with the whirlwind surrounding her, is education. 

While in Boston earlier this year for nationals, with a shot at the Olympics on the line, Edmunds remained in constant contact with her teachers at her California high school—Archbishop Mitty, a traditional sports powerhouse that has produce fellow Olympians Kerri Walsh and Brandi Chastain—so that she wouldn't fall behind.

On her return, she handed in a power-point presentation on how common prescription drugs work, just like the rest of her class.

And even from thousands of miles away in Sochi, she will be keeping up with her schoolwork, having arranged to take classes remotely while preparing for and participating in the Winter Games.

You can't write a story better than that.

A responsible, young, underdog, there's a lot to like about Polina Edmunds.

And America will watch with a sense of tremendous anticipation every time she takes the ice.

They'll cheer for her, cry for her and by the end of the Games, they'll love her, if they don't already.

For all she's already accomplished, and what many hope she'll continue to achieve, Polina Edmonds will be America's darling in Sochi, and she'll be the Games' breakout star.