As the calendar turns to January 2017, the hearts of Team USA’s winter athletes are beating just a bit quicker as visions of the PyeongChang Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games dance in their heads. Jan. 5 will mark 400 days until the Olympics begin, meaning each competition takes on even more urgency as the battle to qualify for Olympic spots heats up. Here are eight winter (and summer) storylines that will make this January exciting:
1) Shiffrin Seeks To Surpass Streaks By Schneider, Kostelic
To say Mikaela Shiffrin has been dominant in women’s slalom of late is like saying the New York Yankees have won a World Series or two. Since returning to racing last February after a knee injury forced her to the sidelines for 10 weeks she’s won seven consecutive races.
When the reigning Olympic champion takes to the slopes of Zagreb, Croatia, Jan. 3, she’ll attempt to equal the record of eight consecutive victories shared by legends Vreni Schneider and Janica Kostelic. With a victory there, she could make the record her own five days later with another race in Maribor, Slovenia.
2) Will Success Follow Team USA’s Bobsledders To Europe?
With a pair of top-four finishes in four-person and a win in two-man, Steven Holcomb is flashing the form that earned him an Olympic gold and two bronzes. But those results came in Whistler, British Columbia, and Lake Placid, New York, both tracks where Holcomb has experienced some of his greatest success. With the world cup circuit shifting to Europe, can he maintain the momentum?
The same question holds true for 2014 Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Greubel Poser, whose shares the women’s bobsled lead with Canada’s Kaillie Humphries at 425 points apiece. Brittany Reinbolt is 65 points back in fifth place, only 26 points shy of third. Two-time Olympic medalist Elena Meyers Taylor must find a way to generate more points after being disqualified from the season opener in Whistler and earning silver in Lake Placid.
January features four straight weekends of bobsled action, beginning Jan. 6-7 in Altenberg, Germany, followed by a stop Jan. 13-14, in Winterberg, Germany. St. Moritz, Switzerland, will host competition Jan. 20-21, with the month wrapping up Jan. 27-28 in Koenigssee, Germany.
3) Daly, Uhlaender Getting Back On Track
With two podiums in as many races thus far this season, reigning Olympic bronze medalist Matt Antoine has been the bright light for Team USA in skeleton, but he’s about to get some support with the return of John Daly and Katie Uhlaender to competition.
A two-time Olympian, Daly, 31, returns to the team after over two years of retirement and will be spending January working his way back onto the world cup circuit, competing on lower circuits like the North American Cup and European Cup to meet international federation requirements of five races on three tracks. His return is slated for Jan. 7 in Park City, Utah.
The world cup race Jan. 6-7 in Altenberg, Germany, marks Uhlaender’s return to world cup competition for the first time since before the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, completing a long journey that included two major surgeries since she missed a podium finish in Sochi by 0.04 seconds. A three-time Olympian and 2012 world champion who has two world cup overall titles to her credit, Uhlaender kicks off her comeback on a track where she won world cup silver four years ago.
4) Just How Good Is Women’s Halfpipe Phenom Chloe Kim?
After the 2016 Chloe Kim experienced, it’s hard to fathom that she could push the envelope any further. The year included six consecutive wins, among them two gold medals at the Lillehammer 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games, Winter X Games golds in Aspen and Oslo, and rewriting history by becoming the first woman to land back-to-back 1080s in competition. Making the achievements even more mind-boggling is the fact that she won’t turn 17 until April.
Dubbed one of Time magazine’s “30 Most Influential Teens of 2016,” Kim will open the new year Jan. 16-21 in Laax, Switzerland. A win there would set up a triumphant Feb. 2-4 return to her home course at Mammoth Mountain, California, where she earned her first world cup podium last January.
5) Serena Williams Aims For Her Grand Slam History
Four-time Olympic champion Serena Williams will open her 2017 schedule on a mission to claim her seventh Australian Open title and surpass Steffi Graf’s Open Era record of 22 Grand Slam singles titles. The tournament will be held Jan. 16-29 in Melbourne, Australia.
The four-time Olympian, who recently announced her engagement to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, fell to Angelique Kerber in last year’s Australian Open final, but exacted a measure of revenge against the German at last year’s Wimbledon, defeating her in straight sets to tie Graf and pull within two of Margaret Court’s all-time standard of 24 titles.
6) Home Snow Could Solidify Early Snowboardcross Advantage For Kearney, Jacobellis
Hagen Kearney’s first snowboardcross world cup victory made history. Due to a gate malfunction in the Dec. 16 final in Montafon, Austria, officials decided to take the unprecedented step of re-running the last race. It resulted in Kearney’s first podium and sixth top-10 since he made his world cup debut in 2011. A three-time Winter X Games participant, he heads into the Jan. 19-21 competition in Solitude, Utah, sporting the yellow bib that denotes his position atop the world cup standings.
Lindsey Jacobellis picked up her 44th world cup podium in Montafon and comes into the Solitude race third in the world cup standings. A three-time Olympian and silver medalist at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Jacobellis has finished among the top three in world cup standings six times, including season titles in 2007 and 2009, and also has an unprecedented 10 X Games titles.
7) Olympians Highlight X Games Aspen Field
The X Games return to Buttermilk Mountain in Aspen, Colorado, Jan. 26-29, featuring competition in 18 different events, including the domestic debut of women’s big air skiing. Women’s big air snowboarding returns to the program for the first time in 15 years.
Among the invited men’s athletes are reigning Olympic champion and three-time X Games Aspen superpipe gold medalist David Wise and snowboard legend and two-time Olympic halfpipe champion Shaun White. Men’s slopestyle skiing is stacked as all three members of Team USA’s 2014 Olympic podium sweep – Joss Christensen (gold), Gus Kenworthy (silver) and Nick Goepper (bronze) – are slated to compete.
In the women’s snowboarding events, 16-year-old Chloe Kim eyes a three-peat in women’s superpipe after winning the past two years in Aspen. She will face a packed field that includes two-time Olympic medalist Hannah Teter and three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark. After three straight slopestyle silvers in Aspen, 2014 gold medalist Jamie Anderson has her sights set on a return to the podium’s top step; she will also compete in big air. Devin Logan, the current slopestyle skiing Olympic silver medalist, hopes to add to her lone X Games silver medal, won in 2012 in Aspen.
8) Lugers Sharpening Focus For World Championships
Tucker West, Erin Hamlin and Emily Sweeney will look to build on their December success in January as they try to break an eight-year U.S. medals drought at the world championships, set for Jan. 27-29 in Igls, Austria.
With back-to-back gold medals in Lake Placid and Whistler, West is among the top six in the world cup standings and could become the first American men’s luger to earn a worlds medal since Wendel Suckow won gold in 1993. Hamlin and Sweeney scored gold and silver, respectively, in Park City Dec. 17, then repeated the finish less than two hours later in the sprint competition. A three-time Olympian who earned bronze in 2014, Hamlin currently stands third in the world cup standings, with Sweeney in sixth and teammate Summer Britcher seventh.
The last time Team USA reached a worlds podium was 2009 in Lake Placid, where Hamlin earned her world title and Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin closed out a string of six doubles bronze medals in 11 years.
The world championships have proven to be a good predictor of Olympic success in singles luge: Since 1998, the men’s world champion has always become Olympic champion the following year, while three of the last four women’s Olympic champions won worlds gold the prior year.