With the 2014 Winter Olympics entering the fourth day of competition, several standout athletes have already left an indelible mark in Sochi.
The worldwide forum for stars across the globe will fade away and will not resurface for four years, so these short-lasting events represent a lifetime of grueling work and dedication.
Some participants will inevitably experience the burn of disappointment, watching their dreams dissipate into the cold winter air. They'll stew over a split second where it all went awry, hoping to get a chance at redemption years down the line.
For these select Olympians, however, it's all smiles after a scorching start to the Sochi Games. Two of these top performers have already locked up gold while standing in line to collect more. The other is a team that has opened some eyes through the early stages of a tournament.
These are several men and women who have shined in Sochi. For now, let's highlight a select few veering down the road to greatness.
Julia Lipnitskaya, Russia, Figure Skating
What were you doing when you were 15 years old? If the answer isn't "winning an Olympic gold medal," then allow figure skating prodigy Julia Lipnitskaya to make you feel horrible about yourself.
In her Olympic debut, Lipnitskaya quickly stole the show during the figure skating team competition. Her efforts in the short program and free dance earned a standing ovation from an amazed crowd that just witnessed a star being born.
Her 214.41 score from Sunday's free skate is the second highest mark in an event behind South Korea's Kim Yuna, who earned 228.56 points in 2010. She became the youngest Russian to win gold at any Winter Olympics event, and she's not done yet.
After excelling in the newly added team competition, which was dominated by the hosting nation that formed it, Lipnitskaya will turn her attention to the singles events. While topping her last performance seems like a lofty goal, she still sees room for improvement. Here's what she told reporters after her free skate, via RT.com.
For me, this skate was not the best. We will work on mistakes so that on the individual championship there are no flaws. It was annoying that I failed with the last rotation. And, yes, I could strengthen jumps. In the individual tournament, I set the highest goals.
If she has better displays in store, the world is in for something special. She can further cement Russia's return to the top with strong showings in individual play.
U.S. Women's Hockey Team
I'm jumping ahead on this one, as the U.S. women's hockey team has more work to do before earning a medal.
The U.S. cruised through its opening two games of Group A play, scoring a dozen goals while surrendering a stray one. Nine of those goals came against a mismatched Switzerland squad that could not stop the Americans.
In less than a minute, Team USA configured a trio of goals to continue the onslaught and set an Olympic record.
Amanda Kessel netted two of those goals, constantly missing a hat trick by a hair. The leader of this juggernaut is quickly becoming the hockey star from her family, which is saying something since her brother, Phil, is an NHL player and fellow Olympian.
This now sets up a match between the bracket's two powerhouses: the U.S. and Canada. Since both squads are undefeated and posed to advance as Group A's two representatives, this figures to be a preview of the gold-medal bout.
After only mustering five goals against Switzerland, Canada tallied three against Finland in two shutout victories. The Canadians are certainly capable of limiting the U.S. to silver, but that doesn't take away from a hockey team scoring more points than the Denver Broncos during the Super Bowl.
Charles Hamelin, Canada, Speedskating
Short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin wasted no time securing his third Olympic gold medal, and there's good reason to believe he'll increase that tally before leaving Sochi.
The 29-year-old won the 1,500 meters in his first event of the 2014 Winter Olympics, edging out a field of exclusively younger competitors. Staying at or near the top for the duration of the 14-lap race, he showed no signs of old age.
Hamelin's coach Derrick Campbell told the Toronto Sun's Rob Longley that the Olympian has made major strides since 2010, when he won two gold medals in the Vancouver Games.
Compared to Vancouver, he's just a machine. In the past, Charles could get rattled. But (Monday) he stayed really calm really composed. He's in great shape, he's mentally sharp. Charles is really, really tough.
Topping two gold medals is a tall order, but the 1,500 meters is not even Hamelin's strongest event. He captured gold in the 500 meters in 2010 while partaking in the 5,000-meter team relay.
The Canadian star can still defend his title in both events while also testing his luck in the 1,000 meters. He could feasibly sweep all the events to cement a truly historic run.
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