Winter Olympics 2018: Bold Predictions for the Games' Outcomes

Michelle Bruton@@michelle_nflFeatured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2018

Winter Olympics 2018: Bold Predictions for the Games' Outcomes

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    Amy Sancetta/Associated Press

    The beauty of the Olympics is that underdogs, whether they're athletes or countries, can triumph.

    But even if that's possible, it's not always probable. Each new Olympic Games opens with expected juggernauts in each sport and countries that are seemingly predetermined to carry lots of shiny hardware home. 

    Still, perhaps more than in past years, the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, which open on Friday, have an air of possibility about them. For one thing, Russia, which was expected to dominate at the podium, was banned from participating by the International Olympic Committee as a result of doping violations. 

    That opens the door for other countries in multiple sports to claim medals, even though individual Russian athletes who have proved they're clean can compete under the title Olympic Athlete from Russia.

    Whether it's a first-time athlete who could come out of nowhere to medal or a country that will perform beyond expectations, we'll break down five bold predictions across multiple Olympic sports.

Canada Will Take Home the Most Medals

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    Mike Groll/Associated Press

    The Prediction: Canada will win the most medals of any country.

            

    Why it will Happen:

    The country expected to benefit most from Russia's absence is Germany. Recently, Gracenote predicted in its Virtual Medal Table that the German Olympic team would have the most success in Pyeongchang, with 40 medals in all, including 14 golds. 

    However, it is Canada, not Germany, that could find itself carrying medals home by the armfuls by the time the ceremonies close on Feb. 25. 

    Gracenote predicts Canada will win a combined 33 medals: seven gold, 12 silver and 14 bronze. That's four fewer than Norway's projected 37 and seven fewer than Germany's 40. But Canada is dominant in two particular sports—curling and ice hockey—and should also have strong showings in snowboarding, freestyle skiing, figure skating and bobsled.

    Those disciplines will be Canada's key to overtaking Germany and collecting the most medals at the Games. 

    Snowboarder Max Parrot has a shot at earning a gold medal in slopestyle and especially in big air, a new discipline in 2018. Mikael Kingsbury won silver at the Sochi Olympics in freestyle skiing, and he could go for gold in Pyeongchang. 

    The Canadian men's ice hockey team is a favorite to win gold. In a year when no NHL players will compete in the Olympics, Team Canada players boast 5,544 games of combined NHL experience thanks to former NHLers and players who opted to sign with minor league teams in 2017-18.

            

    Why it's Bold: 

    To take home the most medals of any country in Pyeongchang, Canada would most likely have to earn between 38 and 40. That's a tall order when Germany and Norway are also expected to be medal powerhouses in 2018. The most medals Canada has won in any given Olympics is 26 in 2010. 

US Will Win Its 1st Olympic Medal in Biathlon

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    Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

    The Prediction: The U.S. will win its first Olympic medal in biathlon.

              

    Why it will Happen:

    After historic achievements in biathlon at the 2014 Sochi Games, where male biathlete Lowell Bailey had the best-ever individual performance for an American, both the women and men of Team USA will send experienced and first-time Olympians alike in their bid to bring home the country's first medal in the sport. 

    Bailey may have the best chance of accomplishing that feat. Pyeongchang will be his fourth Olympics, and he heads into them after becoming the first American to win gold at the 2017 Biathlon World Championships. 

    In his last Olympics, Lowell finished eighth in the men's 20-kilometer individual event, his best ever. 

    Tim Burke is also competing in his fourth Olympics. He is another of Team USA's best hopes to medal in biathlon. After the 2015-16 season, he ranked as the top American male in the world at No. 15. He heads into the 2018 Winter Olympics at No. 29. 

    For the women, Susan Dunklee, the No. 39 woman in the World Cup standings after her silver in the 12.5 kilometer event in IBU World Championships, has the best chance of medaling. 

                   

    Why it's Bold: This is uncharted territory for the United States, which has never won a medal in biathlon in any previous Winter Games. In fact, biathlon is the only sport in which the U.S. has never medaled.

    Though Burke and Dunklee have taken home some hardware recently, their world rankings have fallen to 29 and 39, respectively, and they'll have to beat out Germany's Laura Dahlmeier and Norway's Johannes Bo. Germany is expected to take 10 medals in biathlon alone, per Gracenote

Canadian Cassie Sharpe Will Win Gold in Women’s Freeskiing Halfpipe

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    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    The Prediction: Canadian Cassie Sharpe will win gold in women's freeskiing halfpipe.

                  

    Why it will Happen:

    Canadian freeskier Cassie Sharpe's star has been on the rise for a few years now, but she really burst on to the scene in 2017 when she became the first female skier to land a switch cork 720 in a contest run at the Freeski World Cup.

    The 25-year-old has been collecting metal for the last three years at other events, though she's never competed in the Olympics. In the 2015 FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboarding World Championships in Kreischberg, Austria, she took silver in the halfpipe, and won gold in halfpipe in the 2016 X Games in Oslo, Norway.

    Sharpe owes the hardware she's collected to date to her highly technical repertoire of tricks, some of which she was the first to pull off. After assuring her women's halfpipe gold at a World Cup contest in Colorado in January, she busted out the cork 1080 she's been working on for months. 

    If Sharpe can take those tricks into Pyeonchang, she has a real shot at winning gold, even as a first-timer. 

              

    Why it's Bold: 

    Not only is this Sharpe's first Olympics, but the three medalists from the Sochi GamesMaddie Bowman (U.S.), Marie Martinod (France) and Ayana Onozuka (Japan)—are all set to compete in Pyeongchang as well.

US Men's Ice Hockey Will Win Gold for 1st Time Since the Miracle on Ice

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The prediction: U.S. men's ice hockey will win gold for the first time since the Miracle on Ice.

         

    Why it will Happen:

    It's not like the U.S. men's ice hockey team hasn't gone to the Olympics before with a group of amateurs and come home with a gold medal. But the last and only time it happened was the Miracle on Ice in 1980. 

    The team won't have any NHL players this year, but it could still win gold. Here's how:

    For one thing, if the KHL decides to pull its athletes from Olympic competition following Russia's ban by the IOC, the United States will have an easier time getting through Group B.

    Sure, there are KHLers set to play for Team USA, but many other countries' teams would also lose key players as a result of that decision, including Canada, the other team that could give the U.S. trouble. So even though the move would weaken the U.S, it would arguably impact other teams more, while Team USA could fall back on its AHL players. 

    The U.S. team is also bolstered by former NHLers or players who elected not to sign with an NHL contract for the 2017-18 season in order to play for Team USA. Those players include former Buffalo Sabre Brian Gionta, who was the United States' top scorer in the 2006 Winter Olympics. 

                   

    Why it's bold:

    The men's team will head to Pyeongchang without the aid of any NHL players—no Patrick Kane, no Auston Matthews.

    No. 1 Canada is in Group A, and it will be tough for the United States to beat. Canada went undefeated in the men's tournament in the Sochi Games and also took home gold in Vancouver in 2010.

    Team USA will also have to grapple with the devastating shock of losing Jim Johannson, general manager of the team and assistant executive director of USA Hockey, who passed away in his sleep Sunday, per TeamUSA.org.

Team USA's Nathan Chen Will Win Gold in Figure Skating

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    The prediction: Team USA's Nathan Chen will win gold in figure skating.

            

    Why it will Happen:

    American Evan Lysacek won gold in the men's figure skating singles event at the Vancouver Games in 2010, but U.S. individual figure skaters were kept off the podium entirely in Sochi. 

    Heading into Pyeongchang, Chen is the United States' greatest hope at medaling. Period.

    If his trajectory continues, he won't just get onto the podium for his country, he'll stand on the highest level.

    The 18-year-old finished his season undefeated by placing first in every contest. He won his second-straight gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 6. At the 2017 national championships, he became the first man to land five quadruple jumps in one four-and-a-half-minute program. 

    His quad jumps could be his ticket to Olympic gold. Most Olympics skaters don't have multiple quads in their repertoire. Lysacek didn't perform a single one in his routine when he won gold in 2010. 

              

    Why it's Bold: 

    Chen's accomplishments speak for themselves, but he'll face stiff competition. Japan's Shoma Uno and Yuzuru Hanyu (who won gold in Sochi in 2014), Spain's Javier Fernandez and Canada's Patrick Chan (who won silver in Sochi) are all good enough to take gold, as well.

    So while Chen is widely expected to place, there's no guarantee he'll stand atop the podium. 

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