Winter Olympics 2018: Best Bets for Gold in Pyeongchang
Next up as host city of the Winter Olympics in 2018: Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Why Pyeongchang? Well, after two failed bids to host the Winter Games, the city located in the mountains of the Gangwon province east of Seoul obviously impressed the International Olympic Committee with its persistence and its planning.
According to The Associated Press via The Washington Post, the Pyeongchang organizing committee proved its worth to the IOC by pointing out that many of its event venues in the ski resort area of the mountains were already built. They also told the IOC that the cost for staging the Games would be around $2 billion, plus another $7 billion for improved infrastructure (more than half of which is expected to pay for a high-speed rail line that supposedly will significantly reduce the commute from the capital city of Seoul to Pyeongchang).
That may seem like a pretty penny, but it pales in comparison to the estimated $51 billion it cost Russia to put on the Sochi Games.
South Korean officials also told the AP, via the Toronto Star, that they hope hosting the Olympics will promote peace with North Korea and that North Korean athletes, absent from Sochi, will participate.
So let's get down to the business of which athletes are the best bets today to earn gold medals in Pyeongchang four years from now.
Mikaela Shiffrin, United States
Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin was supposed to become the darling of the Sochi Olympics for the United States, and she did not disappoint.
At 18, she became the youngest Olympic slalom champion. She is also the first American to win the event in 42 years and in the process became a household name all across the good ol' USA.
She has been called "the Mozart of ski racing" and "the next Lindsey Vonn," according to The New York Times. And she's just getting started on a career that should ultimately include multiple Olympic gold medals in this Alpine skiing discipline and even others, including giant slalom, downhill, super-G and combined.
Natalie Geisenberger, Germany
Germany's Natalie Geisenberger took gold in women's luge singles and in the team relay at Sochi.
She just turned 26 on Feb. 6, and she will have plenty left in her luge tank (lugers remain viable Olympians well into their 30s) to turn her talent into gold again in four years. She also won a bronze medal in luge singles in 2010 at Vancouver but didn't really hit her stride until winning the Luge World Cup title in 2012-13 after finishing second for four consecutive years.
Geisenberger has just reached the mountaintop in her sport. There's no way she'll want to vacate it until adding at least one more gold medal to her career total in 2018.
Chloe Kim, United States
American eighth-grader Chloe Kim was the silver medalist in the women's snowboard superpipe at the X Games in Aspen last month.
But because she's so young, only 13 years old, she was not permitted to compete in the Sochi Olympics. She was the youngest athlete ever to medal in the X Games, per Troy Hooper of The Guardian.
Kim will still be a relative youngster by the time 2018 rolls around, but by then she'll be a true veteran of international competition with even more tricks up her snowsuit sleeves.
Sage Kotsenburg, United States
American Sage Kotsenburg has already made history.
Kotsenburg won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in men's snowboard slopestyle in Sochi, and there is no reason to think he cannot successfully defend the gold in Pyoengchang. Kostenburg is only 20, with his snowboarding future laying wide open right in front of him.
Kotsenburg's genius lies in his spontaneity, which fuels his ability to invent new tricks on the fly and then execute them flawlessly. As long as he never loses that fresh approach, he's as good as gold come the next Olympics.
Canada, curling and gold just seem to go together.
Great Britain thought it had something for the Canadians in Sochi. The Brits didn't. Oh, the men reached the final to face the defending Olympic champions, but then the rout was on as Canada won easily.
The Canadian women were undefeated at 9-0 in Sochi, and the men were near perfect as well at 7-2. If you can come up with a reason why either team will not win gold in 2018, do tell.
Charlie White and Meryl Davis, United States
Quite literally, there was no one better on ice in Sochi than the American ice dancing duo of Charlie White and Meryl Davis.
The skaters, who have danced together since elementary school, set records in three of their four performances across the team and individual competitions and were the only multi-medal Americans, bringing home bronze and gold.
White and Davis have been unbeatable in domestic and international competition for the last two years. Should they delay retirement, they will win gold in 2018, especially with their Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir unlacing their skates for the last time in Russia.
Canada, Women's Hockey
Yes, they were pushed to the brink by the United States women in Sochi. Yes, they were less than a minute from losing to the Americans.
But Canada's women's hockey team scored a tying goal with 54.6 seconds remaining in the gold-medal game against Team USA and then won in overtime, proving again that the Canadians just seem to have their rival's number in big games.
It was the fourth consecutive romp to the gold in the Olympics for Canada, and the United States pretty much is its only international competition. That adds up to another likely gold-medal run in Pyeongchang.
Gracie Gold, United States
With a last name like hers, the puns and high expectations never seem to stop for American women's figure skater Gracie Gold.
She failed to medal in Sochi, finishing fourth and just off the medals podium. But she's only 18 and wasn't necessarily expected to medal; she certainly wasn't expected to contend for gold.
The reigning national champion in the United States should only continue to get better over the next four years, just in time to arrive in Pyeongchang at her peak. Plus, she is well aware that fourth-place finishers in one Olympics often morph into medal winners by the next one (see Evan Lysacek, who went from fourth in Turin in 2006 to gold in Vancouver in 2010 and Sasha Cohen, who went from fourth in 2002 in Salt Lake City to silver in 2006).
"There are tons of great names who have gotten fourth at their first Olympics," Gold told The New York Times. "And they just kept with it for the next quad. ... I'm among good company."
Julia Lipnitskaia, Russia
Yes, she fell short after just plain falling during her short program in Sochi.
But Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia is only 15, and she'll be a much more mature and mentally tough athlete by the time 2018 rolls around.
In South Korea, she also should benefit from being out from under the harsh glare of the spotlight in her home country, which seemed to place enormous pressure on her to succeed in Sochi. At 19, maybe she could have handled it; at 15, she could not.
That won't matter in Pyoengchang, where she will be stronger mentally and physically and not under as much pressure. That's why she'll be in great position to challenge America's Gold for the gold.
Maddie Bowman, United States
American Maddie Bowman (pictured above), shredded the competition and the course in the women's freestyle skiing halfpipe at Sochi.
Bowman, who is only 20, quit the more traditional style of ski racing because she thought it was too regimented, and she needed a more creative athletic outlet. She found it in the freestyle skiing halfpipe.
She has plenty of time to think up more tricks before arriving in South Korea for the 2018 Games, where she'll be a good bet to successfully repeat her trip to the center of the medal podium in this event.
Darya Domracheva, Belarus
Darya Domracheva (pictured above) dominated the women's biathlon at Sochi.
The Belarusian won an unprecedented three golds, becoming the first athlete in Olympic history to do so in a single Winter Games. Domracheva claimed gold in the women's 10-kilometer pursuit, the 15-kilometer individual and the 12.5-kilometer mass start in Sochi after winning only a single bronze medal in Vancouver in the 2010 Winter Games.
At 27, it can be argued that she already has reached her prime. But as long as she continues to compete, she will be a threat to win at least one more gold in South Korea.
Jorrit Bergsma, Netherlands
Speedskater Jorrit Bergsma of the Netherlands may not be as well known as some of his Dutch teammates.
But you can count on him being the favorite to defend the gold medal he won in the 10,000 meters at Sochi, mainly because he finally asserted himself over teammate Sven Kramer in the event. Plus, the marathon is a specialty event where experience and years of training mean more than youthful legs that can produce bursts of speed.
Bergsma is 28, but 32 is not considered old for the longest of speedskating events. In fact, over the next four years it's highly likely that Bergsma will make winning this event again in South Korea his singular focus, which should serve him well when the time comes.
Arielle Gold, United States
That's right. There is another athlete with the magical last name who should cash in at Pyeongchang.
American women's snowboarder Arielle Gold was considered a medal contender in the halfpipe at Sochi but was unable to compete in qualification for the finals of the event after suffering a dislocated shoulder during a practice run moments before the competition.
As heartbreaking as that was for Gold, the good news is that she's only 17, and it should only serve as strong motivation for her to get it done in South Korea. Her shoulder will heal, and so will her psyche.
Then she can really go for the hardware that is her namesake.
Lee Sang-Hwa, South Korea
How fast is South Korea's Lee Sang-hwa on the ice?
Russia's Olga Fatkulina took the silver while Sang-hwa won gold in the women's 500-meter speedskating in Sochi, prompting Fatkulina to say of Sang-hwa (via ESPN.com): "Right now, she is almost Usain Bolt."
Now 24, she will compete in her home country as two-time defending champion in the 500 meters in 2018. There's no way she lets the gold slip from her grasp in that scenario.
South Korea, Women's Short-Track Speedskating Relays
South Korea's women's short-track speedskating relay teams competing on home ice, in front of crowds urging them on?
Forget about it. Or at least that's what the rest of the women's short-track relay teams might need to do when it comes to chasing gold in 2018.
They take their speedskating very seriously in South Korea, and the rest of the world will soon understand why and what that means for them. They'll all be skating for second in these team relay events.