Although the summer sports stole much of the spotlight this year with the Olympic and Paralympic Games being held in London, Team USA’s winter sports athletes made several strong showings around the world, setting records and showing strength as they prepare for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014.
The Games in Sochi will begin Feb. 7, 2014, a little more than a year from now, and many of the top American athletes have already tested some of the venues that will be used for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
Here’s a look back at some of the top performances by American winter sports athletes this past year:
The two-time Olympic medalist captured her fourth overall World Cup title in 2012 and set a women’s record for the most World Cup points with 1,980. The previous record was set in 2006 by Janica Kostelic, who amassed 1,970 points. This season, despite battling a stomach illness that kept her sidelined from the slopes, she swept all three races in Lake Louise, Alberta (two downhill, one super G). Vonn currently has 57 World Cup victories, second only on the all-time women’s list to Austrian Annemarie Moser-Proell’s total of 62. She was denied a chance to race against the men this season, but she might try to break the skiing gender barrier in the future.
The Olympic gold medalist has been absolutely dominant in 2012. Holcomb teamed with Steve Langton to win the first two-man bobsled world championship title in U.S. history and just hours after winning that title, he teamed with Justin Olsen to help the United States earn the team competition title. Holcomb made history again with the USA-1 push crew of Olsen, Langton and Curt Tomasevicz by winning the four-man world title. Halfway through the current World Cup season, Holcomb is leading the two-man points standings and is second in the four-man. Holcomb was the pilot for the gold-medal winning four-man bobsled (the “Night Train”) in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
MERYL DAVIS AND CHARLIE WHITE
The 2010 Olympic ice dancers finished 2012 without a world title (placing second to Canadian training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir) but closed the year with their fourth consecutive ISU Grand Prix Final title, beating Virtue and Moir in the process and becoming the first ice dance team in history to earn four Grand Prix Final titles. Clearly the top U.S. team, Davis and White will compete at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships next month in Omaha with their sights set on winning their fifth consecutive national title.
This figure skater had a breakthrough year in 2012, beginning with a victory at the national championships and following it up with the title at the Four Continents Championships. She was the highest-placing American woman at worlds, finishing fourth, and then continued on that pattern of success by winning the 2012 Hilton HHonors Skate America and the Trophée Eric Bompard, making her the first U.S woman to win two Grand Prix events in a season since Sasha Cohen did so in 2003. She was runner-up at the ISU Grand Prix Final, which was held in Sochi, Russia, on the same ice Wagner hopes to be skating upon at the 2014 Winter Games.
An Olympic gold medalist in the combined event in 2006, Ligety has been on a tear in the 2012 World Cup season. He soared down the giant slalom track in Beaver Creek, Colo., at the Birds of Prey ski course in a combined time of 2 minutes 25.59 seconds. He beat defending overall World Cup champion Marcel Hirscher of Austria by 1.76 seconds, marking a course record for margin of victory. A few short weeks later, Ligety won the giant slalom in Alta Badia, Italy, this time beating Hirscher by a massive 2.40-second advantage in the first run. Ligety’s two-run combined time was 2 minutes, 37.27 seconds, 2.04 seconds ahead of Hirscher and 3.27 ahead of third-place finisher Thomas Fanara of France. Ligety’s latest victory marked his 14th win of Ligety's World Cup career, all in giant slalom.
You might not have expected this hurdler to be on a list for winter sports, but the summer Games Olympian has created quite an impression in the bobsled world this season. After placing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles in London, Jones switched gears to compete in bobsled. Named to the U.S. bobsled team (along with another track Olympian Tianna Madison-Bartoletta) in October, Jones teamed with driver Jazmine Fenlator to finish second in the World Cup season opener in Lake Placid, N.Y. Who knows? Maybe she will make the U.S. Olympic Winter Games team in Sochi.
A cross-country skier from Anchorage, Alaska, Randall is having a career year in 2012. She won the sprint overall World Cup title, the first World Cup title for a U.S. woman and the first since 1983 for the United States when Bill Koch won. At a World Cup in Quebec City in December, following the first U.S. team sprint victory by Randall and teammate Jessie Diggins, Randall went on to claim her sixth World Cup title in the individual sprint. A week later, she scored her career-best sixth place in a classic distance race at the FIS World Cup 10K in Canmore, Alberta. A three-time Olympian, Randall hopes to make a fourth trip in 2014, with the goal of earning Team USA’s first Olympic medal in the sport since Koch won silver in 1976.
The two-time Olympic skeleton competitor was crowned her sport’s world champion in February in Lake Placid, N.Y. She won the second World Cup event of this season in Park City, Utah, as well as the last World Cup event of 2012 in La Plagne, France, becoming the only women’s skeleton athlete to win two races so far this season.
A Nordic combined skier, Fletcher won the World Cup event in one of the most daunting places in the world, at Holmenkollen in Oslo. In the process, he defeated hometown favorite Mikko Kokslien by 2.4 seconds for his first career World Cup victory. Afterward, he met with Harald V, the king of Norway. He is only the fifth American to win a Nordic combined World Cup and he did it on land dominated by hometown competitors. How big was this victory? Ask TeamUSA.org writer Peggy Shinn who put it this way: “It is like a Norwegian football team winning the Super Bowl, or maybe more like a Norwegian baseball team beating the Boston Red Sox in Fenway Park.”
U.S. NATIONAL SLED HOCKEY TEAM
This squad won the gold medal at the 2012 International Paralympic Committee Sledge Hockey World Championship in Norway, becoming the first sled team to win back-to-back world titles. After opening preliminary-round play with a shootout win and a shootout loss, Team USA rattled off three consecutive wins en route to its second straight gold medal in the tournament. Forward Taylor Lipsett (right) tallied three goals and added an assist as Team USA defeated South Korea, 5-1, for the gold. Forward Alexi Salamone, defenseman Taylor Chace and goaltender Steve Cash were named to the all-around tournament team for their efforts.
U.S. WOMEN’S HOCKEY TEAM
The Americans won their fifth title at the Four Nations Cup and beat their top rival, Canada, 3-0, in the gold-medal game to boot. The tournament, which Team USA won in 1997, 2003, 2008, 2011 and now 2012, was held in Finland. Goaltender Jessie Vetter, a member of the 2010 U.S. silver-medal winning women’s team, made 26 saves against Canada. The U.S. women’s team earned the silver medal at the IIHF World Women’s Championships.
PARALYMPIC ALPINE SKIING
Team USA made the World Cup podium 39 times last season with the United States capturing the overall Nations Cup. Alana Nichols (right) led the Americans with 10 World Cup medals while Laurie Stephens and Danelle Umstead won nine medals each. Tyler Walker finished the season with four World Cup medals.