One year can pass by very quickly, especially when it’s the 365 days leading up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Just ask three-time Paralympic sled hockey player Steve Cash, who will look to make his fourth Winter Games trip in a row in just over a year in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“It can feel like it’s gone in the blink of an eye,” said Cash, who backstopped Team USA to the previous two Paralympic gold medals. “We just have to take it day by day knowing the next year is going to fly by.”
The United States Olympic Committee began the one-year countdown to 2018 on Monday with a number of special activities, promotions and events. Over the next week, U.S. athletes will appear on NBC’s “TODAY” show, visit with students in New York City schools and take part in other activities around the city and also participate in outreach activities in PyeongChang itself. TeamUSA.org also launched its one-year-out takeover with special content and social media revolving around PyeongChang and the athletes who will seek gold in the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in 2018.
Alan Ashley, the chief of sport performance for the USOC, just returned from PyeongChang on Saturday and said on a Monday media teleconference that preparations there are in “full swing.”
“We were able to tour the venues, look at the villages and really get an in-depth debriefing from the organizing committee,” said Ashley, who described the area as reminiscent of New England with cold temperatures and great snow. “Things look good, and the venues in particular are in great shape.”
Ashley said he’s anticipating Team USA to have about 245 athletes in the Olympic Games and an additional 65-75 at the Paralympic Games. The United States won 28 medals in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, second behind host Russia with 33.
One athlete from whom big things are expected in PyeongChang is alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who became the youngest athlete to win a slalom gold medal when she did so in 2014 at the age of 18. Shiffrin will be competing in the world championships next week in Switzerland, where she hopes to win gold in both slalom and giant slalom, and hasn’t ruled out adding events in 2018.
“For sure it’s getting me thinking more and more about the Olympics and big events in general and what my goals will be going into Korea next year,” she said.
Generally speaking, Shiffrin said, although things can change in a year, it’s still possible to gauge one year out where she stacks up and what the competition might look like in PyeongChang.
“The girls I’ve been competing against that have been really strong the past few years will continue to be strong, but then there could be a couple girls, some outliers, that we don’t necessarily expect,” she said.
Shiffrin’s discussion of potentially competing in three, four or even five events got bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor thinking yet again about how great it would be to have the option to race in a four-woman sled in the Winter Games, in addition to the two-woman, which is all that’s on the Olympic slate for now.
“I’m a strong proponent of getting the four-woman added in,” said Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic medalist who has competed in four-person bobsled on the world cup circuit.
“Right now we only have one opportunity to win a medal (in the Winter Games). Every four years we have less than four minutes to perform and try to win a medal for our country. Add the four-woman, and we’d have another opportunity to do what we love best.”
While that won’t be possible in 2018, four new events will make their debuts in PyeongChang. The International Olympic Committee announced in 2015 that it was adding a big air competition in snowboarding, a mass start in long track speedskating, a tean event in alpine skiing and mixed doubles in curling; meanwhile, men’s and women’s parallel slalom snowboarding was dropped from the program.
Speedskating is one of several winter sports Ashley said are hugely popular in South Korea.
“The culture is deeply rooted in winter sports, and speedskating and figure skating are massive sports,” he said. “Our figure skaters are excited to go there because they say they get off the plane and it feels like the Beatles have arrived. There are a lot of passionate fans.”
One question that still remains unanswered is whether or not NHL players will be participating in 2018. The NHL has paused its season to allow players to participate in each of the past five Olympic Winter Games, but league representatives say that the team owners are leaning toward not allowing that to happen next year.
Like everyone else, Ashley said, the USOC is waiting for the situation to be sorted out.
“We have a plan ‘A’ and a plan ‘B,’ and we’ll be ready, whatever the outcome is, to make sure our (men’s) hockey team is ready to go,” he said.
Ashley indicated that both the USOC and USA Hockey have already thought about how to make the transition should the NHL not allow its players to participate, and some of the adjustments might include greater preparation in training camps.
“We’re really confident that USA Hockey is focused on this and they have a good idea where they want to go,” said Ashley. “One thing I will say is that our women’s team is as strong as ever. They’re pretty fantastic.”