Beginning with the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games, and moving on to world championships and other major events, U.S. athletes starred on the world stage this year with memorable and historic performances. Here are 14 U.S. men or men’s teams who shined in 2014.
Richard Browne, a silver medalist at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, might just be the fastest Paralympian out there. Browne broke world records in both the 100- and 200-meter races in 2014. At a Diamond League meet in Brussels, Belgium, Browne broke his own record in the 200 in the T44 class, winning the race in 21.62 seconds and saying after the race he wants to break 21 seconds in 2015. He also holds the world record in the 4x100 T42-46 relay with Blake Leeper, Jerome Singleton and Jarryd Wallace. Browne is hoping his 2014 records lead the way for some good things at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympic Games. “Rio is the stage where we really want to show up,” Browne said.
Bob and Mike Bryan
The No. 1-ranked men’s doubles team in the world put on a winning performance again at the U.S. Open in September in New York. In winning the doubles championship, brothers Bob and Mike Bryan captured their 100th doubles title and won for the 16th time in a grand slam tournament. The Bryans are also known for their Olympic performances, having won two medals at the three Olympic Games they played in, including a gold medal in London in 2012. By the end of 2014, they had won their 103rd doubles title in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. They won 64 of 78 matches in 2014.
Leading up to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Joss Christensen was simply not in position to land a spot on the U.S. Olympic team as a freeskier, never mind win a medal. That all changed in Sochi. Qualifying for the team through a coaches’ discretionary spot, Christensen led a one-two-three American sweep with Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper in the Olympic Games’ first men’s slopestyle skiing event. He landed a switch triple 1260 Japan in his final run, a move he had learned only earlier that week. Christensen, who has never medaled at the Winter X Games, dedicated his gold medal win to his father, who had passed away in August 2013.
A four-time Olympic medalist, sprinter Justin Gatlin was unbeaten in the 100- and 200-meter in 2014. Among his wins were the 100 at the Prefontaine Classic with a personal-best record time of 9.76 seconds and Diamond League Shanghai with a time of 9.92 seconds. He won the 200 in Monaco with a time of 19.68 seconds, also a personal best. In Brussels in September, Gatlin won the 100 with a time of 9.77 seconds and the 200 in 19.71 seconds, times that established the quickest sprint double in one day in history. He is aiming to run in both the 100 and 200 at the 2015 World Championships, which would likely create a challenge with Olympic champion and world-record holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica.
Steven Holcomb and Steve Langton
A three-time Olympian who overcame a degenerative eye disease to become an elite bobsledder, Steven Holcomb combined with Steve Langton to break a 62-year American medal drought in the Olympic two-man bobsled. They combined to win a bronze medal in Sochi. Holcomb and Langton were able to medal despite Holcomb suffering a muscle strain during the first night of the two-day competition. In the third and fourth heats, Langton was left to do more work than usual at the start. “He’s the best pusher in the world, hands down,” said Holcomb of his brakeman. “He kept up with everybody when he had a driver who was limping.” The duo also teamed with Chris Fogt and Curt Tomasevicz for a bronze medal in the four-man bobsled, helping Holcomb become the first U.S. driver in 62 years to medal in both two- and four-man. Holcomb and his crews also did well in the world cup races leading up to the Sochi Olympic Games. They won four gold medals in the four-person sled and five gold medals in the two-man sled in the 2013-14 season. Holcomb began the 2014-15 with a pair of gold medals in the two-man sled in the North American Cup.
Tim Howard, the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. men’s soccer team, played every minute of the team’s games in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and had a World Cup-record 15 saves in the round-of-16 match against Belgium. He reached 104 international caps during the World Cup, playing a huge role in the United States advancing through the “Group of Death” and into the Round of 16 in Brazil. His 55 career wins are a national team record. Of those wins, 35 are shutouts. Howard was named U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year for his play in the World Cup and the friendlies leading up to that point. While he continues to play for Everton of the English Premier League, Howard was granted a leave of absence from the national team until fall 2015.
A three-time Olympian, Meb Keflezighi won the 2014 Boston Marathon, which was largely historic because the race followed the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon and he became the first American runner, male or female, to win the race since 1985. The last U.S. man to win the race was in 1983. Keflezighi won Boston with a personal-best time of 2:08.37. Then, at age 39, he finished fourth in the New York City Marathon, passing both 2012 Olympic champion Stephen Kiprotich and defending NYC champion Geoffrey Mutai late in the race. “The whole crowd was phenomenal,” Keflezighi told Runners World. “They were inspired by what I did in Boston and I saw so many Meb signs.” Parade Magazine named Keflezighi one of 2014’s most inspirational athletes. Playing a huge part in the Boston win was Olympic teammate Ryan Hall, who helped Keflezighi get into a key position during the race.
Sage Kotsenburg leaped into U.S. Olympic history when he won the first gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games in an event, slopestyle snowboarding, that was making its Olympic debut. He was the first U.S. athlete to win the first event of the Winter Games since Andrea Mea Lawrence won the giant slalom in 1952. On the first run of the finals, Kotsenburg landed a 1620 Holy Crail, a trick he had never done previously in competition. It led the way to a gold medal. The year began strongly for Kotsenburg, as we won a Sprint U.S. Grand Prix competition on Mammoth Mountain, paving his way to be named on the Olympic Team. He was named Best Male Olympian at the inaugural Best of U.S. awards show.
Ted Ligety, a three-time Olympian, blasted through the men’s giant slalom course at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games to put himself in the U.S. Olympic history books. In winning the gold medal, he became the first American man to win an Olympic giant slalom event. He also finished among the top 15 in the super-G and super combined. Ligety finished off his memorable season with his fifth world cup giant slalom championship. He has won the last two world cup championships and three of the last four. Wrist surgery early in the 2014-15 season slowed Ligety, but he still managed to win the giant slalom at the Audi Birds of Prey in Colorado just two weeks after his surgery.
One of the best adaptive snowboarders in the world, Mike Shea won the first International Paralympic Committee World Cup overall title in 2014, nearly won gold at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games and then began the 2014-15 season with a victory in the first-ever banked slalom world cup race in December in Netherlands. Shea won a silver medal in snowboard cross at the Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, part of an American sweep led by Evan Strong and completed with Keith Gabel’s third-place finish. “These guys are my best friends outside of competition,” Shea said, “so standing next to them on the podium means a lot to me.” Shea not only won the season-opening banked slalom world cup race in classification LL2, but he went one-two with Strong in the Europe Cup in Netherlands.
Longtime ice dancing partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White of Michigan won their sixth national title before claiming two Olympic medals at the Sochi Winter Games. White and Davis won Team USA’s first Olympic ice dance gold medal just days after helping the United States win a bronze medal in the first Olympic team figure skating competition. The 2014 season not only delivered Olympic gold for White and Davis, but they also combined to hit their highest career scores, including free program scores of 119.50 at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and their career-best international score of 116.63 at the Winter Games. White also finished fifth on the television competition “Dancing with the Stars,” and was engaged to longtime girlfriend and 2006 Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin.David Wise
David Wise captured the first Olympic gold medal in halfpipe skiing in Sochi, and his path to the Olympic Winter Games was clearly golden. He won two of the five U.S. Olympic qualification events to clinch his spot on the team, and he won his third straight Winter X Games gold medal for good measure. Wise put down strong runs in Sochi to win the gold medal, leading an American charge that included Maddie Bowman winning the gold medal in the inaugural Olympic women’s halfpipe skiing competition. Wise’s wife, Alexandra, gave birth to their second child, son Malachi, in September.
U.S. Men’s Basketball Team
Just the third nation in FIBA World Cup history to capture consecutive men’s championships, the U.S. men’s basketball team won all nine games in the 2014 world championship in Spain and dominated the tournament while scoring 104.6 points per game. Kyrie Irving of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers was named tournament MVP. James Harden of the Houston Rockets led the team with 14.2 points per game. Team USA led the tournament in scoring margin (33.0), field goal percentage (.524), rebounding (44.8 rebounds per game), rebounding margin (9.0), defensive rebounds (29.9 per game), assists (20.4 per game), steals (12.1 per game) and turnover margin (8.4). “We talked about selflessness on this team when we first got together in Las Vegas, and I think this team epitomized that,” said Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball men’s national team managing director. “Different people stepped up on different nights to lead the charge and it was just a great experience.” Members of the team: Irving, Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, Andre Drummond, Kenneth Faried, Rudy Gay, Mason Plumlee, Derrick Rose and Klay Thompson.
U.S. Paralympic Sled Hockey Team
Gold was the medal of choice for the U.S. sled hockey team again in Sochi, and the United States defeated the host squad to win its second consecutive Paralympic gold medal. Josh Sweeney scored the game-winning goal as Team USA defeated Russia 1-0 in the championship game and became the first team to win back-to-back Paralympic gold medals in sled hockey. Goaltender Steve Cash made six saves to get the shutout. Declan Farmer, a 16-year-old from Tampa, Florida, scored a goal and had an assist in his Paralympic debut against Italy and wound up tying for the tournament lead in both goals (3) and points (5). Members of the team: Sweeney, Cash, Farmer, Tyler Carron, Taylor Chace, Nikko Landeros, Jen Lee, Taylor Lipsett, Dan McCoy, Kevin McKee, Adam Page, Josh Pauls, Rico Roman, Brody Roybal, Greg Shaw, Paul Schaus and Andy Yohe.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.