Even though the U.S. Olympic speedskating squad is half the world away, this stacked team is expected to bring back a bunch of medals from Sochi.
As Paul Newberry of the Associated Press noted, the U.S. team's best speedskating Olympic success has come on American soil. But with a couple of bona fide superstars and strong supporting casts, top women's skater Heather Richardson thinks this year's team has the chance to match the program's all-time record of eight medals.
'Oh, I definitely think that's realistic,' said Heather Richardson, one of several top contenders on the U.S. squad.
The 2002 team won eight medals in Salt Lake City, a performance that still reverberates through the program, leading to improved training methods and the American team moving largely to the Utah Olympic Oval. The only other time the U.S. captured as many as eight medals was 1980, also on home ice at Lake Placid with Eric Heiden carrying the bulk of the load with five golds.
Looking at the men's and women's fields for the 2014 Winter Games, Netherlands is looking strong again after dominating the Olympic landscape historically. As for the U.S. team, this year's crop of long-track skaters is one of the best in recent Olympic memory while the short track depth isn't as notable.
|Men's U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team|
|Shani Davis||Long Track|
|Tucker Fredricks||Long Track|
|Jonathan Garcia||Long Track|
|Brian Hansen||Long Track|
|Jonathan Kuck||Long Track|
|Emery Lehman||Long Track|
|Joey Mantia||Long Track|
|Patrick Meek||Long Track|
|Mitchell Whitmore||Long Track|
|Eddy Alvarez||Short Track|
|Kyle Carr||Short Track|
|J.R. Celski||Short Track|
|Chris Creveling||Short Track|
|Jordan Malone||Short Track|
Top Men's Athlete: Shani Davis
Shani Davis has emerged as one of America's top Winter Games athletes primed to win a gold medal in Sochi following his performances in Turin and Vancouver. He won the gold medal in the 1,000 meters and a silver in the 1,500 meters at both Winter Games and will enter as the favorite to win both events in 2014.
The Chicago native has been an Olympic pioneer throughout his career, as he became the first African-American to win an individual gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Davis is 31 now, and his unique journey from the Windy City has been well documented.
Nancy Armour of USA Today detailed Davis' upbringing and how he became interested in speedskating:
Davis, 31, grew up on from Chicago's South Side, a gritty area where dreams are luxuries few can afford. In the heyday of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, most kids Davis knew gravitated toward basketball.
But his mother signed her 6-year-old son up for speed skating, instead.
'Where I grew up, no one had even heard of speed skating,' Davis said. 'Chicago had Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, the Super Bowl Shuffle with the Bears, the Blackhawks. You can see why lot of kids in that area wanted to do basketball and football and things like that.
'But I walked to a different beat of a drum,' he said. 'I loved skating from the first day I put the blades on.'
Even though many have assumed that Davis could ride off into the sunset with some gold from Sochi, the Olympian has already expressed an interest in competing in the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, per Patrick Johnston of Reuters.
Other top long track Americans include Tucker Fredricks and Mitch Whitmore in the 500-meter race, while short track star J.R. Celski will look to build on the two bronze medals he earned in 2010.
|2014 Women's U.S. Olympic Speedskating Team|
|Brittany Bowe||Long Track|
|Lauren Cholewinski||Long Track|
|Kelly Gunther||Long Track|
|Maria Lamb||Long Track|
|Anna Ringsred||Long Track|
|Heather Richardson||Long Track|
|Jilleanne Rookard||Long Track|
|Sugar Todd||Long Track|
|Alyson Dudek||Short Track|
|Emily Scott||Short Track|
|Jessica Smith||Short Track|
Top Women's Athlete: Heather Richardson
Heather Richardson established herself as the country's top speedskater during the U.S. Olympic Trials. The 24-year-old earned first-place finishes in the 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter events. She has the best chance of any American speed skating athlete to bring back a gold from Sochi.
But she'll have some stiff competition from a familiar face, as noted by Gary D'Amato of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
In the women's middle-distance races, roommates and rivals Heather Richardson and Brittany Bowe have pushed each other to the top of the World Cup standings.
Richardson is ranked No.1 and Bowe is No.2 in the 1,000, and Bowe holds the world record. In the 1,500, Bowe is ranked third and Richardson is fourth. Richardson also is ranked third in the 500 and won all three races at the U.S. Olympic trials.
'Brittany and Heather are far and away the best middle-distance skaters in the world,' [three-time Olympic medalist Joey] Cheek said.
It's been 12 years since the U.S. speedskating team put a medalist on the podium, but this powerful duo looks poised to break that trend in a big way at Sochi.
In the women's short track, Jessica Smith has separated herself as America's top competitor.