Nothing motivates athletes quite like Olympic disappointment.
For several U.S. athletes who compete on ice, that was the theme this year. Olympians who either just missed out on a gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games or were far off the podium stormed back this year to claim medals at international events as if they were looting the coffers. By the end of the winter season, Team USA sliders and skaters won seven world titles and over 80 medals in world cup and other international competitions.
Although American men had their moments — Shani Davis winning his eighth world single distance title and luge’s Chris Mazdzer claiming four world cup medals, including his first gold — it was the Winter of Women on the ice. Of the 80-plus international medals won, nearly 60 were claimed by women. American women also claimed two overall world cup crowns and six world championship titles.
Here’s a look at each ice sport’s best moments this winter.
Long Track Speedskating
After disappointment at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson helped right US Speedskating’s ship this winter.
At the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in mid-February, Richardson, 26, won the 500-meter — the two-time Olympian’s first world single distance title. Then Bowe, 27, took the 1,000- and 1,500-meter races (with Richardson in second and third, respectively) for her first world titles (Bowe was the first American woman to win the 1,500 world title). Bowe also finished second to Richardson in the 500.
Two weeks later, at the world sprint championship, Bowe dominated all four races, again with Richardson in second, to win the world sprint title. It was the first time that two American women were 1-2 at sprint worlds since 1979, when Leah Poulos-Mueller and Beth Heiden claimed the top two podium steps.
In ISU World Cup racing, Richardson scored eight wins (15 podiums total) and the Grand World Cup overall title, while Bowe claimed the 1,000-meter overall title and finished third overall, thanks to her 14 world cup medals.
“A great season by @BrittanyBowe & @hlynnrichardson @USSpeedskating you both rocked,” tweeted Bonnie Blair, who won three overall world sprint titles in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
For the men, Shani Davis won the men’s 1,000-meter, his eighth world single distance gold medal.
Carrying the momentum of the 2014 Olympic year — and frustration from losing the gold medal in Sochi — Elana Meyers Taylor, 30, won everything there was to win in women’s bobsled, including six world cups, her first overall world cup title and the world championship gold medal — a first for the U.S. women. And she did it with a new brakewoman, Cherrelle Garrett. The former Cal Bear sprinter almost quit bobsledding last summer until Meyers Taylor, the consummate team player, convinced her to stay.
Meyers Taylor is also the first U.S. bobsled driver, male or female, in 56 years to win a world championship title outside of North America. It was also the tenth world championship medal won by the U.S. women since their debut at worlds in 2000 and their first gold. And it was Meyers Taylor’s fourth world championship medal. In addition to the gold medal, she has two silvers (2009 as push athlete for Shauna Rohbock and 2013 as a driver with Katie Eberling) and a bronze with Eberling in 2012. Meyers Taylor has also won two Olympic medals: bronze in 2010 as a push athlete for Erin Pac and silver as a driver in 2014.
The only trophy missing from Meyers Taylor’s collection: Olympic gold.
As she wrote in her TeamUSA.org blog: “This was year one of a four-year quad, and my goal is to be on top of the podium in 2018. So yes, we will celebrate this achievement, but keep focus on what lies ahead. The rest of the world will continue to get faster and we must as well. Farewell 2014-15 season; although you were great, there’s bigger things ahead. Training for the 2015-16 season starts now, time to go to work!”
Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Greubel Poser and Jazmine Fenlator often joined Meyers Taylor on the world cup podium — including the podium sweep at the Lake Placid World Cup. Greubel Poser had four the world cup podium finishes this season, and Fenlator claimed two world cup medals and seven top-six finishes, putting her into third overall in the world cup rankings.
Two-time Olympian Nick Cunningham earned his sole medal of this season at the Lake Placid World Cup when he and rookie Casey Wickline, who is also a South Carolina firefighter, teamed up for bronze.
Steven Holcomb aims to return to the world cup and world championship podium next season. The triple Olympic medalist never got his feet under him after missing early-season training while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon—an injury suffered at the Sochi Games. That and his team of rookie push athletes will have at least one season of experience by next year.
In all, USA Bobsled and Skeleton athletes won 16 world cup medals this season.
|Tucker West competes in the men's FIL Luge World Cup Koenigssee at Deutsche Post Eisarena on Jan. 4, 2015 in Koenigssee, Germany.
USA Luge had a record-breaking season, with the team collecting 13 world cup medals — tied with the single season high set in 1996-1997 — and finishing third in team relay standings after collecting three medals in that event (two silvers and a bronze).
Erin Hamlin, Chris Mazdzer and Tucker West all won individual medals. Emily Sweeney, and Jayson Terdiman and Matt Mortensen, in their first year teamed as doubles, were key in the relays, with Sweeney helping the U.S. to a silver medal in one of the six relays. And Sweeney, West and Summer Britcher had their best world cup seasons ever.
Hamlin met her goal of winning her first world cup this season with a gold-medal performance in the sprint world cup in Altenberg, Germany. She also claimed four other world cup medals — two in individual races and two in relays — and finished fifth overall in world cup standings. Near the end of the season, she was nominated for the Sullivan Award, which honors America’s top amateur athlete.
Mazdzer also finished fifth overall, with four individual medals, one of them gold in a world cup sprint. But at the end of the season, he struggled, crashing in one of the final world cups and missing the sprint. Had he not crashed, he would have gone into the final world cup in Sochi fighting for second place rather than fifth.
“This year I made some huge gains,” he remarked. “But I still have to work on consistency. I can be fast at times, but I’m struggling a little bit in the racing. I’m really close.”
West finished right behind Mazdzer in the rankings and brought home a gold of his own and two other individual medals to hang on his family’s backyard luge in Connecticut.
|Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete in the free dance at the 2015 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 24, 2015 in Greensboro, N.C.
Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates wasted no time stepping into the limelight left by Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who did not compete this season. Chock, 22, and Bates, 26, won both their grand prixs (Skate America and the Rostelecom Cup in Russia), then claimed silver at the Grand Prix Final. In January 2015, the duo won its first U.S. title, silver at the Four Continents Championships, and wrapped up the winter with silver at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.
“Our goal this season was to medal at worlds,” said Chock. “We’ve accomplished that. Now we will up our goals for next year and come back fighting.”
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani closely trailed Chock and Bates at several competitions, finishing runners-up to them at both Skate America and U.S. championships. The Shibutanis also finished third at Four Continents Championships, fourth at Grand Prix Final and fifth at worlds.
In women’s competition, Gracie Gold, 19, won her first grand prix gold medal at NHK Trophy in Japan, and also finished third at her other grand prix assignment, Skate America. At U.S. championships, she finished second and followed that up with a fourth at Four Continents Championships. At worlds, she moved from eighth to fourth after finishing second in the free skate — her best result at worlds to date.
Fellow 2014 Olympian Polina Edmunds struggled with her grand prix assignments but finished the season strong, winning the Four Continents Championships and finishing eighth at world championships.
Ashley Wagner set a national record en route to her third U.S. ladies title in January and became the first U.S. woman to win three consecutive national titles since Michelle Kwan began her streak of nine titles between 1996 and 2005. Wagner, 23, also finished third at the Grand Prix Final after earning silver and bronze medals at her grand prix assignments (Skate Canada and Trophee Bompard in France). At worlds, she moved from 11th to fifth after skating the third-best free skate.
“If anybody looks at my track record, this season has had a lot of ups and downs,” she said, also referring to herself as a late bloomer. “It’s safe to say that lots of lessons were learned within this season, and I learned a lot about competing. Last year, I got the technique and now I’m working on the mental side of it. It’s not a complete package yet but things are starting to work together.”
For the men, Jason Brown finished second at Skate America but just missed qualifying for the Grand Prix Final. The 20-year-old figure skater then won his first national title at U.S. championships in January and ended the season with a fourth at worlds.
“It’s crazy to be fourth in the world,” Brown said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more right now. I skated the best that I could in those moments, and it’s nice to walk away as fourth in the world.”
Better yet, he helped the U.S. men secure three spots for next year’s world championships in Boston.
Other podium finishers for the men: Joshua Farris took second at Four Continents Championships. Richard Dornbush and Max Aaron each scored a top-three finish in grand prixs, taking third at the Cup of China and Skate Canada, respectively. And Adam Rippon finished second at nationals, earning a spot at worlds, where he finished eighth.
The top pairs finish came from Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who earned silver at Skate America, which was the highest finish by a U.S. pairs team on the grand prix circuit since 2008 NHK Trophy.
Wagner, Gold, Aaron, Brown, Chock and Bates, and reigning U.S. pairs champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were selected to compete in the 2015 ISU World Team Trophy, which will be held in Tokyo on April 16-19. World Team Trophy features the six best figure skating teams of the 2014-15 season (Canada, China, France, Japan, Russia and the U.S). Since the event debuted in 2009 (held every two years), the U.S. has won twice and finished with the silver medal once. At the 2014 Sochi Games, the American team finished the team event with the bronze medal.
|Members of the U.S. women’s ice hockey team celebrates their win over Canada at the IIHF Women’s World Championships.
In early April, the U.S. women’s ice hockey team dominated competition at the IIHF Women’s World Championships, claiming its sixth world title in the last decade. In the gold-medal game, they beat Canada, 7-5 — the highest scoring gold-medal game in women’s world championship history.
During the event, Team USA won all its round robin games, then soundly defeated Russia 13-1 in the semifinal. In advancing to the gold-medal game, the U.S. women outscored their opponents 30-6. Hilary Knight, who led the tournament in goals with seven, was named the tournament’s most valuable player and received the Directorate Award for Best Forward. Forwards Brianna Decker and Knight, and Kacey Bellamy on defense all earned top players of the tournament honors.
The U.S. has played in the gold-medal game in all 16 of the previous women’s world championships, facing rival Canada each time.
Team USA also finished runner-up to Canada at the Four Nations Cup in November.
Short Track Speedskating
John-Henry Krueger had a breakout year in short track, winning his first world cup — the 500-meter at the World Cup Salt Lake City in November. The 20-year-old, who missed qualifying for the Sochi Games because he contracted swine flu, then added three other world cup podiums in the 500 and 1,500 to his resume this season. He also helped his U.S. teammates win a bronze in the men’s 5,000-meter relay in Salt Lake City. At the inaugural Apolo Ohno Invitational in late November, he won gold in the men’s 1,000.
Older brother Cole Krueger had a personal best this season, too, finishing fourth in the 3,000 at the Seoul World Cup in December.
For the women, Jessica Smith, 31, started the season off on the right skate. She broke the national record in the 500-meter (43.046 in the semifinals of the SLC World Cup; she ended up finishing the race in eighth). And she also won bronze in 1,000 at the inaugural Apolo Ohno Invitational in late November.
|Matt Antoine competes during the Viessmann FIBT Skeleton World Cup at Deutche Post Eisarena on Jan. 17, 2015 in Koenigssee, Germany.
Olympic bronze medalist Matt Antoine, 29, finished on the podium twice this season — third in Lake Placid and another third in Koenigssee, Germany. And he finished the season ranked fourth overall on the world cup tour.
At the 2015 World Men’s Championship in Halifax last week, three-time Olympian John Shuster looked sharp in the round robin. Skipping the team of Tyler George, Matt Hamilton, John Landsteiner and Craig Brown, Shuster tied with Finland for fourth. To make the semifinals, they had to beat Finland in a tiebreaker.
Shuster and company came up just short, finishing 6-5, with Finland scoring the decisive point in the final end. Shuster ultimately ended the tournament in fifth, marking the U.S. men's highest world championship finish since 2010.
The U.S women, skipped by Aileen Sormunen, finished 10th in the World Women’s Championship in Japan in mid-March.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered three Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.