Jan 03 13 Olympic And Paralympic Stories to Watch in ’13

By Amy Rosewater | Jan. 03, 2013, 4:26 p.m. (ET)
Ryan Lochte in TurkeyRyan Lochte competes in the men's 200m backstroke of the FINA Short Course World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.

Now that the calendar year has changed, so has our focus. Sure, 2012 was a great year for Team USA, especially in London where Olympians and Paralympians won a combined 202 medals. Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian with 22 career Olympic medals (18 gold), Gabrielle Douglas became the first black gymnast to win the gymnastics all-around title and swimmer Jessica Long captured eight medals (five gold) in her third trip to the Paralympic Games.

But now, as 2013 rolls to a start, it’s time to look forward. The year-out countdown to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games begins in just over a month – yes, folks, that’s on Feb. 7, 2013! And soon after that the summer sports get back in swing, with a handful of high-profile world championships highlighting the summer.

Check out these 13 stories to follow as we kick off 2013:

Lindsey Vonn1) Will Lindsey Vonn return this year as her dominating self after taking another break to recover from a lingering stomach ailment? The Olympic gold medalist and four-time World Cup overall champion was fourth in the FIS points standings when she decided to take a break and return to the United States. In her absence, Tina Maze, of Slovenia, has been able to widen her points lead. But Vonn, one of the toughest competitors in the business (recall she overcame a shin injury shortly before competing in the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games only to strike gold in the downhill?), can never be counted out. It won’t be easy, but if she comes back soon enough, she could remain a force in the circuit. The World Championships, by the way, are set for Feb. 4-17 in Austria.

2) Will Mikaela Shiffrin be able to continue her strong showings on the slopes? The 17-year-old started this season making quite a stir in the alpine skiing world and enters her first event of 2013 World Cup Friday in Zagreb, Croatia, 10th in the points standings. This season is just her second in the World Cup. (She’s also in her senior year at Burke Mountain Academy.) In 2011, she was the youngest skier to win a U.S. alpine championship and in 2012, she became the third youngest American to win a World Cup race behind Kiki Cutter (16 years, 7 months) and Judy Nagel (17 years, 5 months).

3) Where in the world will the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games be held? We will find out in September when the International Olympic Committee makes its decision. Cities vying to be the host of the 2020 Games are Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo. That will not be the only big decision the IOC will make in September as the IOC will determine if it will add any sports to the Olympic program. There is a push for baseball and softball to return (they were both eliminated following the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games), and this time they are hoping to do it together. Leaders from both sports created the World Baseball Softball Confederation to lobby the IOC to be put their sports back into the Games. Other sports seeking inclusion for 2020: karate, roller sports, sport climbing, squash, wakeboarding and wushu (also known as Kung Fu).

4) Who will be the next president of the IOC? Ever since 2001, Jacques Rogge has been the leader of the Olympic Movement. But his term ends in September. Under Rogge’s leadership, strides have been made for the Olympic Games to be more inclusive of women: women’s boxing was added to the Olympic program in 2012 and ski jumping will be included for the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi in 2014. In London, every national committee had at least one woman on its Olympic roster. In addition, Rogge made a huge push toward the youth athletes as the first Youth Olympic Games and Winter Youth Olympic Games were held under his leadership.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White in Sochi Grand Prix Finals5) Can Meryl Davis and Charlie White reclaim their world title from 2011? The 2010 Olympic silver medalist ice dancers are hoping to sit on top of the world again after losing their crown in 2012. They were the first American duo to win a world title in ice dancing. Davis and White are coming off their fourth consecutive gold medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final, which features the top six teams in the world, and they beat 2010 Olympic champions and training mates, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, in the process. Davis and White are preparing for the 2013 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships Jan. 20-27 in Omaha, Neb., where they are the heavy favorites to win what would be their fifth U.S. title. They will square off against Virtue and Moir on Canadian soil at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, set for March 11-17 in London, Ont.

Ashley Wagner skates at Trophée Eric Bompard 6) Will Ashley Wagner become the first U.S. woman to win a world title in seven years? For years, it seemed the American women did nothing but win the world title. Michelle Kwan racked up five world crowns in her career (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003), Tara Lipinski grabbed one in 1997 and before that, it was a sport in which the United States seemingly regularly had a woman on the top of the podium. But now the U.S. women find themselves in a drought. Kimmie Meissner, who represented the United States at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, was the last U.S. women’s world champion back in 2006. The previous longest dry spell for the United States women was after Peggy Fleming claimed the world crown in 1968. It took until 1976 for an American woman to reach the top of the world podium as Dorothy Hamill became the world champion that year in Sweden. Wagner, the reigning U.S. champion, has been the top American woman this past year winning the 2012 Four Continents Championships and then claiming two Grand Prix victories and placing second at the ISU Grand Prix Final. She was fourth at worlds in 2012.

7) Will Ryan Lochte emerge from Michael Phelps’ long shadow when he competes at the 15th FINA World Championships in Barcelona July 19-Aug. 4? The world championships will mark the first time Phelps will not swim at a (long course) world championships since 1998. Lochte, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, is coming off a dominant performance at the short course world championships held in Istanbul where he won six gold medals.

Allyson Felix with America flag in London8) What will be Allyson Felix’s race lineup for the 14th IAAF World Championships in Athletics Aug. 10-18 in Moscow? Based on her recent tweet in which she said, “We may not know what the year holds but thankful to know who holds it,” the only thing certain is she is not about to reveal any firm plans anytime soon. The 200, which she won in London after earning two silvers in two previous trips to the Olympic Games, remains her favorite event. And Felix's speed workouts training for the 100 helped her bring home the gold in the 200. But she could not produce a double as she finished fifth in the 100. A year earlier, when she paired the 200 with the 400, at the 2011 worlds in Daegu, South Korea, she earned the bronze (a disappointment by her standards) in the 200 and took home the silver in the 400.

9) Who will win the USA Gymnastics women’s all-around crown this year? No one is quite sure whether Gabby Douglas, the Olympic all-around champion, Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross or McKayla Maroney — the U.S. women who captured the team gold medal in London — will return to the mat this season.  With the future of the Fierce Five in flux, who would be the next gymnast up? Watch out for Elizabeth Price, an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Team in London and a two-time 2012 World Cup all-around champion.

10) Can Sloane Stephens be the next big thing for U.S. women’s tennis? Just 19, Stephens was ranked 38th in the WTA standings in 2012. She put on quite a show at the French Open, winning the first three rounds without dropping a set before losing in the fourth round, and then made it to the third round at Wimbledon. She lost in the third round at the U.S. Open as well. This week, she is at the Brisbane International where she will face childhood hero and reigning Olympic singles champion Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. Stephens, the daughter of a NFL running back and top collegiate swimmer, is the highest ranked teenager on the women’s tour. One of her biggest supporters is none other than Serena Williams, who told Australian reporters this week, “I watch her a lot because I'm actually a Sloane Stephens fan. She's a good player, serves well, runs really well, and she doesn't miss. I think it will be up in the air with who would win.”

Shaun White11) What will fans see from Shaun White other than a new hairdo? The two-time Olympic snowboarding champion in the halfpipe is hoping to make it to the Olympic podium in the halfpipe and in slopestyle when the Winter Games are held in Sochi a little more than a year from now. Slopestyle will make its Olympic debut at the 2014 Winter Games in Russia. White made big news this past year when he cut his famous red hair (hence the nickname, the Flying Tomato) and donated his locks to the charity, Locks Of Love. He hopes to make noise for his athleticism at the X Games Jan. 24-27 in Aspen, Colo.

12) Who will be the story of the 2013 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte? In 2012, one of the biggest stories from these Games, which showcase wounded service members from all branches of the U.S. military, was Navy Lt. Bradley Snyder, who was blinded by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan in 2011. At the Warrior Games, he captured medals in both swimming and track and field. Snyder went on to be one of the top Paralympic athletes in London, where he won two golds and a silver in swimming. (He earned one gold medal on the one-year anniversary of his injury.) This year, which marks the fourth year of the event, the Warrior Games will be held May 11-17 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

13) Will the U.S. men’s soccer team qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil? The U.S. men did not qualify to compete in the London 2012 Olympic Games but hope to make it to the World Cup, which will be held in Brazil (where the 2016 Olympic Games will also take place). The men’s team is set to play Canada Jan. 29 in Houston, and that will be its only game prior to the start of the final round of qualifying for the World Cup, which kicks off for the United States Feb. 6 against Honduras in San Pedro Sula. The United States will play its first home qualifier, against Costa Rica, March 22. The United States is joined by Costa Rica, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico and Panama as the final six teams to compete in the 10-game round-robin format — known as the hexagonal — from Feb. 6-Oct. 15. The top three teams automatically qualify to the World Cup, while the fourth-place finisher will compete in a two-game playoff against the winner of the Oceania region. U.S. Soccer is celebrating its Centennial this year and hopes to rejoice with a World Cup berth.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance contributor for TeamUSA.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.

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