With 100 days to go until the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, Team USA athletes are skating, skiing, sliding, sweeping, snowboarding, ski jumping, shooting and scoring on the road to South Korea.
An estimated 234 athletes will wear the Stars and Stripes in February.
Some have already carved their names into Olympic lore by winning medals, while others will be making their debut at the Games. There will be a record 102 events in seven sports (15 disciplines), including six new events: men’s and women’s snowboard big air, men’s and women’s mass start speedskating, mixed doubles curling and an alpine team competition. Alas, the men’s and women’s snowboard parallel slalom events were dropped from the program after only one appearance.
Here are 100 storylines to follow as Team USA prepares for PyeongChang:
Can Team USA surpass 30 medals for only the third time in Olympic Winter Games history? After winning a record 37 medals at the 2010 Olympics to surpass the 34 from Salt Lake City, the United States won 28 medals at the Sochi Games – second-highest among competing nations. However, Team USA ranked fourth in the medal table according to gold medals (nine, the same as in 2010 and 2006). Will Team USA win double-digit gold medals for the first time since 2002 when “The Star-Spangled Banner” played 10 times?
How will the U.S. men’s bobsled team fare without pilot Steven Holcomb, whose sudden death in May stunned the Olympic world? Holcomb and the “Night Train” won the gold medal in four-man bobsled in Vancouver for the first U.S. Olympic victory since 1948. In Sochi, he added a bronze in four-man and his bronze with brakeman Steven Langton in two-man was the first for the U.S. since 1952, breaking yet another 62-year drought. This season marks the first time in 19 years that Holcomb will not be a member of the national team as either a push athlete or driver.
Lindsey Vonn is back, but will she make it to the starting gate in PyeongChang? Vonn is the winningest female ski racer in world cup history and the most recognizable face of the U.S. alpine team – if not the entire United States winter contingent. At the 2010 “Vonn-couver Olympics,” she became the only American woman to win Olympic downhill gold and added a bronze in super-G. Poised to defend her title in 2014, Vonn injured her right knee in a catastrophic crash in February 2013, then hurt the same knee the following November and December. Vonn withdrew from Sochi in January 2014, a month before the Games began. Last season, she fractured the humerus bone in her right arm. Now 33 years old, Vonn made her season debut in Soelden, Austria, and is hungry for more world cup wins and more Olympic gold this season.
The puck stops here. The NHL has declined to participate in men’s ice hockey after appearing in five Winter Games since 1998, so what will that mean for the PyeongChang tournament? While Team USA won’t be stacked with elite professional players, neither will Canada (which won in 2002, 2010 and 2014) or Sweden (which won the gold in 2006). The players will come from European leagues, the U.S. minor leagues and the college ranks. Yet as Scott Blackmun, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee pointed out, “one of the most exciting games in history was 1980,” when a team of collegians defeated the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice.”
Is this the year the U.S. women’s ice hockey team dethrones Canada and captures Olympic gold? Team USA has not stood on the top step of the podium since women’s ice hockey made its Olympic debut in 1998. That team included Cammi Granato, sister of 2018 men’s coach Tony, and International Olympic Committee member Angela Ruggiero. Canada won the next four golds, with Team USA winning silver in 2002, 2010 and 2014 and bronze in 2006. Team USA’s Olympic history is even more frustrating considering that the Americans have won eight of the last 10 IIHF world championships dating back to 2005, including the last four in a row – an unprecedented streak for the U.S.
Will Team USA regain its footing in long track speedskating? At the Sochi Games, the United States was shut out of the medals for the first time since 1984. The only other time that happened was 1956. No individual U.S. athlete placed higher than seventh (the best finish was women’s team pursuit in sixth) as controversy raged over new high-tech suits and the altitude at the team’s pre-Games training camp location. With two defending world champions – Heather Bergsma and Joey Mantia – likely to make the team, as well as several world cup medalists, things are looking up for 2018.
The ice was also slippery for the Team USA singles figure skaters in 2014. The U.S. did not win a medal in singles for the first time since 1936. Gracie Gold came closest, posting a fourth-place finish in Sochi. However, Gold, Ashley Wagner, Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown did take home bronze medals from the inaugural Olympic figure skating team event. Two of the top U.S. singles prospects in 2018 are named Chen, although Nathan and Karen, who both won U.S. titles in 2017, are not related.
Could Katie Uhlaender be awarded two Olympic medals in the same year in the same event? The skeleton racer is seeking her fourth straight Olympic berth and hopes to win her first medal in PyeongChang. Uhlaender placed fourth in Sochi by .04 seconds, which she said is “quicker than you can blink.” However, bronze medalist Elena Nikitina was briefly suspended as part of the Russian doping scandal and Uhlaender wonders if Nikitina will someday be stripped of her medal. She’s not dwelling in the past, though. Winning a medal at the Alpensia Sliding Center would still be the only chance for the 33-year-old Uhlaender to stand on an Olympic podium.
Can a crafty cobbler beat speedskaters young enough to be his sons? KC Boutiette is certainly pulling out all the stops to become the first American to skate at five Olympic Games. The now-47-year-old came out of retirement for the 2015 season in hopes of competing in mass start, a new Olympic event for 2018. Last season he won a silver medal in the event to become the oldest speedskater to earn a world cup podium. Boutiette, a father of two, would be the oldest U.S. speedskating Olympic competitor ever if he makes the team. (Curler Scott Baird was the oldest American winter Olympian at age 54 in 2006 and earned a bronze medal as an alternate). Boutiette, who previously competed in 1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006, would also be the oldest Olympic speedskater since 1924. Although he was not named to the most recent U.S. world cup squad – with world champ Joey Mantia considered the top American in mass start – Boutiette is still in the mix. He can punch his ticket at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Long Track Speedskating in early January.
And just what is mass start? Two’s company in every other individual long track event, but mass start is a crowd. All of the competitors are on the ice at the same time. The final will feature 16 athletes who race each other instead of the clock. The same format was used in every speedskating event at the Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1932. Because mass start is similar to inline pack skating, the strategy is familiar to the likes of former inline stars KC Boutiette, Joey Mantia, Heather Bergsma and Brittany Bowe.
Will this be the breakout Games for the U.S. biathlon team? If 2017 is any indication, Team USA will shoot onto the podium for the first time in its history. Biathlon is the only winter Olympic sport in which Team USA has never won a medal. Going into the 2017 world championships, the U.S. men had won only two individual biathlon medals – silvers in 1987 and 2013. Then Lowell Bailey’s victory in the 20-kilometer individual race gave Team USA its first world championships gold medal. Bailey had four top-six finishes at worlds. He also qualified for his fourth Olympic team. Susan Dunklee added the silver in the 12.5K mass start for the first individual medal by an American woman at worlds. Dunklee also earned a spot on her second Olympic team. With 2013 world medalist Tim Burke vying to make his fourth Olympic team, the United States could field its strongest squad in PyeongChang.
Among the 102 gold medals up for grabs in Sochi, 10 of the medal events are in snowboarding. And Team USA could ride to the podium in all of them. Since snowboarding joined the Olympic program in 1998, no team has dominated like the United States. Team USA has won 24 medals, with 2018 contenders Shaun White, Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark combining for seven of those.
How can you get in on the action? The Team USA WinterFest presented by HERSHEY’S touches down in New York City’s Times Square today for the 100 Day Countdown to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018. More than 40 athletes will sign autographs, including snowboarders Jamie Anderson, Kelly Clark and Chloe Kim; ice hockey player Hilary Knight; bobsledders Jamie Greubel Poser and Elana Meyers Taylor; and figure skaters Maia and Alex Shibutani, Ashley Wagner, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Fan sport experiences, interactive elements, Team USA giveaways, sponsor engagement and performances by singers Darius Rucker and Grace VanderWaal are also part of the festivities.
Wait, there’s more! Other stops on the 13-city cross-country interactive festival tour are Omaha, Nebraska; Dallas; Cincinnati, Nashville, Tennessee; San Jose, California; Squaw Valley, California; Bentonville, Arkansas; St. Paul, Minnesota; Park City, Utah (for the opening weekend of the PyeongChang Olympics); Seoul, South Korea (for a Military Appreciation Celebration); Hershey, Pennsylvania; and Lake Placid, New York (for the closing weekend of the Games). For the full schedule, visit TeamUSA.org/WinterFest.
Mikaela Shiffrin has a lot on her plate this season. She is vying to not only defend her Olympic slalom title, but also to become the first American skier to win three medals at the same Games. In addition to slalom, Shiffrin is a medal threat in giant slalom and combined and she could even compete in the first Olympic alpine team event. At the Sochi Games, Shiffrin was just 18 years old when she was the youngest athlete in history – male or female – to win an Olympic slalom title. Shiffrin has won 31 career world cup titles across three disciplines, second only to Lindsey Vonn (77) among U.S. female skiers.
Can “Mr. GS” bounce back from his first season-ending knee injury and back surgery in January 2017? Ted Ligety, the first American man to win two Olympic gold medals in alpine skiing (combined in Torino in 2006 and giant slalom in 2014) earned two world cup podium finishes before a mid-season crash finished his season. Ligety, nicknamed “Shred” when he was young, and his competitors have another challenge: adjusting to new equipment regulations for giant slalom skis that go into effect this world cup season.
Don’t count out Julia Mancuso. She has four Olympic medals spanning three Winter Games – and each one has come as a surprise to onlookers, if not to Mancuso herself. The 33-year-old has twice as many medals as any other U.S. female skier. She won gold in the giant slalom in Torino, silver medals in downhill (overshadowed by Lindsey Vonn’s gold) and combined in 2010 and a shocking bronze in Sochi in the combined. However, Mancuso has been hobbled by her second surgery on her right hip, which caused her to miss last season. She is diligently working to become pain-free and strong. “The most deceiving part of the injury is skiing is a lot easier and better than walking,” Mancuso said, “so don’t be fooled by my swagger.”
Breezy Johnson, who owns one of the greatest names ever for an alpine skier, leads a contingent of promising young athletes that also includes Bryce Bennett, Jared Goldberg, Jacqueline Wiles and AJ Ginnis. And yes, Breezy is her real name. “‘Breezy’ seems like such a fitting name for a ski racer, right?” she wrote. “At the time I don’t think my parents were totally aware of what I would become, but it has worked out pretty well so far.” Johnson is also known for doing the splits and somersaulting in the World Cup Finals downhill in Aspen, Colorado, last March, suffering a tibial plateau fracture in her left leg.
Can Steven Nyman claim his first Olympic medal in his fourth Games? He placed third in the downhill test event at Jeongseon Alpine Center where his skills matched up well with the big jumps and robust terrain. The 6-foot-4 Nyman just missed the podium in downhill at the 2015 world championships, and that fourth-place is his best finish in Olympic or world competition. He is coming off a left knee injury in January 2017.
Or will Travis Ganong be the top U.S. ski racer? Ganong, who grew up minutes away from Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Games, placed fifth in downhill – highest among U.S. men – in his Olympic debut in Sochi. He then won silver at the 2015 world championships and claimed a world cup win in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany in January 2017 to become the first American to win there.
Can Andrew Weibrecht make lightning strike a third time? Similar to Julia Mancuso, Weibrecht struggles on the world cup stage but always shows up at the Olympics. The Lake Placid native won the super-G bronze in 2010, then moved up to silver in 2014 in what the Los Angeles Times called “a super-giant upset.” He is coming off his most successful world cup season, so if he continues at this pace, another medal would not be a surprise.
How will Laurenne Ross fare in the aftermath of her knee surgery on March 31? Ross plans to return “that much stronger, that much hungrier and that much more driven, and hopefully make me a better skier in the end,” she said. Ross was the 2017 super-G national champ and had a fourth-place finish on the Jeongseon course at the Olympic test event. However, the 2014 Olympian sustained the right knee injury at the U.S. nationals in March, to bring her momentum to a screeching halt.
Can downhill racer Jacqueline Wiles continue to go up in the rankings? Wiles accumulated enough world cup points during her rookie season to make the U.S. team for Sochi. She then earned her first top-10 finish in super-G in 2016 and stood atop her first podium in 2017 with a third place in downhill in Austria. And Wiles already loves kimchi, a definite plus for anyone going to PyeongChang.
How happy is Lowell Bailey that he didn’t retire before last season? Bailey worried about leaving his wife Erika home with their baby daughter, so he took them on the road. He was changing 8-month-old Ophelia’s diaper in the parking lot before his historic win in the 20-kilometer race at the 2017 IBU World Championships, the first gold for Team USA. He was the first athlete to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team and will have a full year to prepare by the time he gets to the start line in February.
Can Susan Dunklee be the first in her family to win an Olympic medal? Her father, Stan Dunklee, competed in the 1976 and 1980 Winter Games in cross-country skiing. Susan began skiing with her family at age 2, but did not start shooting for another two decades. She moved to Lake Placid to join the U.S. biathlon development program and made her first Olympic team in 2014. Dunklee was the first American female to qualify for PyeongChang and her silver in the 12.5-kilometer mass start was the first individual medal for Team USA in women’s biathlon in world championships history.
And speaking of second-generation Olympians, will Joanne Reid join that rare club? She is the daughter of 1980 Olympic speedskating bronze medalist Beth Heiden and the niece of Eric Heiden, who swept all five men’s speedskating golds in Lake Placid. Beth Heiden was also an NCAA champion cross-country skier and world road champ in cycling. But while one of Reid’s hobbies is rollerblading, the 25-year-old is making her mark in a different sport: she’s a biathlete.
Can bobsled pilot Elana Meyers Taylor add the elusive gold medal to the silver and bronze she already has in her collection? Meyers Taylor won the bronze in 2010 as a brakeman, then drove her sled to silver in 2014. She has since won gold at two of the past three world championships. Despite several injuries since Sochi, Meyers Taylor will be hoping to score gold with a new partner, since her 2014 brakeman, track and field star Lauryn Williams, retired after a brief bobsled career.
Jamie Greubel Poser, who piloted her Team USA sled to the Olympic bronze medal in 2014, has a deeply personal reason for wanting to make her second Olympic team. She has an adopted sister who was born in South Korea. Greubel Poser said that when PyeongChang was announced as the host city, she “knew it was meant to be.” Greubel Poser, who also won bronze at the 2017 world championships, is looking forward to her family reconnecting with her sister’s culture.
Being a Team USA female brakeman is all about keeping up with the Joneses. While your last name doesn’t have to be Jones to qualify for the national team, it certainly helps. Briauna Jones, Kehri Jones and Lolo Jones will battle Aja Evans, the 2014 bronze medalist with Greubel Poser, Maureen Ajoku and Lauren Gibbs for the three Olympic brakeman spots. Ajoku is making her world cup debut this season while the other five brakemen were on previous world cup teams.
Lolo Jones says her favorite quote is one of her own: “I’m inspired by failure. The process of defeat – picking yourself back up again is the hardest thing in the world.” Could this be the Olympic Games in which she succeeds? Jones is a three-time Olympian – twice in the summer and once in the winter. Jones placed seventh in the 100-meter hurdles at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 – losing her lead after clipping the penultimate hurdle – then finished fourth in London four years later. Jones was then recruited to compete in bobsled. In the musical chairs that is Olympic bobsled, she wound up in USA-3 in Sochi with Jazmine Fenlator. Unfortunately, they were the only American women’s sled that did not medal, placing 11th. Jones teamed with Meyers Taylor at the test event in PyeongChang, where they placed second behind Greubel Poser and Evans. Jones knows she probably needs to get in one of the top two sleds to make her Olympic medal wish come true.
With Meyers Taylor and Greubel Poser earning byes onto the national team based on their world championships medals, Brittany Reinbolt swept both national team trials races in Lake Placid to take the third U.S. pilot spot on the world cup circuit. However, Meyers Taylor teamed with three different brakemen at the trials to unofficially break the track’s start record each time. She went 5.41 with Maureen Ajoku, then 5.37 with Kehri Jones (her brakeman for 2017 world gold) and 5.35 with Aja Evans.
No competitor at the recent USA Bobsled National Team Trials had ever seen anyone except Steve Holcomb steer USA-1 for the men’s team. After Holcomb’s untimely death in May, that seat will be filled by Codie Bascue, a 2012 Youth Olympian who won the two-man race trials and was second in the four-man race.
After missing last year’s world cup team, pilot Nick Cunningham wasn’t about to be left out again. He won the four-man event at the trials and will drive USA-3 this winter. A sergeant in the U.S. Army, Cunningham was a push athlete in Vancouver in 2010, finishing 12th in two-man and 13th in four-man, then switched to pilot, where he again placed in the top 15 in both events in 2014.
Justin Olsen is another push athlete who felt the urge to move to the front of the sled. He won a gold medal in 2010 on Holcomb’s “Night Train,” then pushed for Nick Cunningham in Sochi. Olsen made his driving debut in 2015 and joined the world cup circuit in the 2016-17 season. At his first world championships, he was 11th in both four-man and two-man events. Olsen will pilot USA-2 after placing second in the two-man trials. He missed the four-man race because he was en route to South Korea to train on the Olympic track.
Steve Holcomb considered Steve Langton the “best push athlete in the world.” They teamed up to win two bronze medals in 2014. As the brakeman in the two-man sled, Langton was the best man to help Holcomb end a 62-year medal drought. Langton retired for two years, then came out of retirement to reclaim his title as U.S. men’s national push champion.
Ryan Bailey’s Twitter handle is @RBailey_sprints, but he could temporarily change that to @RBailey_pushes. That’s because Bailey is the latest track superstar to switch to bobsled. And maybe Bailey can get a medal to replace the one he had to give back. Bailey won silver at the Olympic Games London 2012, anchoring the U.S. 4x100-meter team and going head-to-head against Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. The United States was eventually stripped of that medal as a result of Tyson Gay’s doping case. Bailey also finished fourth in the individual 100-meter, just 0.09 seconds off the podium. He was a favorite to make the 2016 Olympic team, but a recurring left hamstring injury flared up in the heats and he was sixth. Recruited by the bobsled federation, Bailey won the men’s push championship in 2016 and was recently named one of 12 push athletes on his first national team this season.
Will we have husband-and-wife Olympians on the bobsled team? Nic Taylor, a push athlete on the men’s national team, is married to Elana Meyers Taylor. He proposed at the medal podium at the 2013 world championships and they were married about a year later. Nic was in the four (ahem) person sled piloted by his wife at last season’s world cup in Lake Placid, where they placed 13th.
What is the next viral video for the U.S. cross-country ski team? Who can forget how they got down to “Uptown Funk” in February 2015, causing a sensation with their funky footwork? Jessie Diggins is the choreographer for the team, which spent three weeks producing the video. Simi Hamilton and Andy Newell were the editors.
An American woman has never won an Olympic cross-country skiing medal – or finished higher than sixth – and no American man has won except Bill Koch in 1976 (silver in the now-discontinued 30-kilometer). Could Jessie Diggins, Simi Hamilton and Kikkan Randall be in the best position in decades to put Team USA on the podium?
Randall has been a mainstay on Team USA for more than 15 years, making her first Olympic team in 2002. While she has inspired a generation of cross-country skiers in the United States, she also took time off to work on the next generation of her family. Randall skipped the 2016 season to have her first child, son Breck, but returned last season to win world championship bronze in the sprint freestyle. Now Breck and Randall’s husband, Jeff Ellis, travel with her on tour. Some event organizers have even been kind enough to furnish baby rooms at the finish. With that kind of support, can Randall – who in 2012 became the first American woman to win a world cup title in nearly 30 years – win that coveted Olympic medal?
Jessie Diggins’ teammates call her “Diggs” because she can “dig deep into the ‘pain cave’ during a race,” she said. Can Diggins dig deep enough to get on the podium? Last season Diggins won the silver in sprint freestyle and bronze in the team sprint classic at the world championships. She also had eight top-five finishes in the world cup to place eighth in the overall standings.
Can Sadie and Erik Bjornsen both make their second U.S. Olympic cross-country teams? Sadie, the older sibling, placed ninth in the 4x5-kilometer, 18th in 10K classic and 31st in the 7.5K/7.5K skiathlon in 2014 while Erik was sixth in team sprint classic, 11th in the 4x10K, 38th in 15K classic and 42nd in the 30K skiathlon.
While the popularity of curling gets a huge boost from the Olympic Games, Team USA hasn’t enjoyed similar success since winning men’s bronze in 2006. Both American teams finished last in the round robin in 2010, while in 2014 the men finished ninth and the woman placed 10th of 10. Thanks in part to the U.S. high performance program, Team USA swept to world championship medals in both mixed doubles and men’s in 2016 and is poised to make a big move in the Olympic rankings.
Is John Shuster the skip to bring Team USA back to the podium in curling? He was lead on Pete Fenson’s 2006 bronze-medal-winning team and then skip in 2010 and 2014. Shuster was also skip for Team USA at the past three world championships – placing fifth, third and fourth.
Nina Roth has a tattoo of a curling stone with an American flag on her right foot and a Superman necklace in her curling kit that was given to her by her grandmother after the 2017 world championships. She and Jamie Sinclair are skips of the two teams expected to battle for the lone Olympic women’s berth.
Mixed doubles, the new curling event, mixes up the traditional format. Each team is composed of one man and one woman, a departure from the usual same-sex four-person teams. After an athlete throws a rock, the teammate can either sweep or stand at the other end of the sheet to act as skip and help gauge where the stone will stop. As a result, an athlete could deliver a stone and then hustle to sweep it. The games are eight ends in length (instead of 10) and teams only throw five stones, which makes the game faster. Joe Polo and Tabitha Peterson and siblings Matt and Becca Hamilton are two of the top U.S. mixed doubles teams.
Expect curling to be even more ubiquitous since it now comes with its own snack food. USA Curling has partnered with Cheetos, which knows a thing or two about cheesy curls. So look for the hashtag #DoTheCurl in this high-profile marketing campaign. And Chester Cheetah isn’t the only curling “celebrity.” Washington Redskins tight end Vernon Davis, a huge curling fan and honorary team captain, plans to attend the 2018 Games and is also part of the Cheetos campaign.
Can Nathan Chen, America’s “Quad King,” become the next U.S. Olympic medalist in men’s figure skating? The most recent was Olympic champion Evan Lysacek in 2010. Chen, 18, won the 2017 U.S. title with the highest scores in U.S. figure skating history. He was the first skater to land seven clean quad jumps in competition and the first to land five quads in the free skate. Chen got this season off to a promising start by winning the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, defeating reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Chen landed four quads, including an opening quad lutz/triple toe combination in the free skate.
Karen Chen turned heads by winning the bronze medal at the 2015 national championships at age 15, just a year after fracturing her ankle. Unfortunately, she was too young to compete at worlds that year. The following season, Chen’s feet hurt due to problems with her boots. Once she found the right boots, she was ready to capture her first national title in 2017 and place fourth at worlds, helping secure three Olympic berths for Team USA. Chen is from Fremont, California, the same hometown as Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic champion. Yamaguchi has mentored Chen, 18, whom she said reminds her of her younger self. Yamaguchi also wrote the foreword to Chen’s book, “Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice,” which will come out at the end of November.
Can figure skater Jason Brown’s abundance of personality make up for his struggles with quadruple jumps? Brown, a 2014 Olympian, chose “The Room Where It Happens” from the Broadway hit “Hamilton” for his short program because he wants to be where the action is in February. Despite no quads at the 2017 world championships, he placed seventh, one spot behind quad-master Nathan Chen, which gave Team USA three spots in PyeongChang.
Mirai Nagasu has brought the triple axel back to ladies skating in the United States. But is it enough to get Nagasu, who was fourth at the 2010 Olympics, onto the podium? She is one of only three American women to land the 3½-revolution jump in competition. The first was Tonya Harding in 1991, followed by Kimmie Meissner in 2006. Only Harding had landed it in international competition. No one else could manage it until September, when Nagasu landed the triple axel in both her short and long programs at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. She won the silver medal. “I have a jump that I’m really confident in and really believe will help me get the points I need to get to the Olympic team,” said Nagasu, who won her first U.S. national title at age 14 in 2008. Although Nagasu was third at the U.S. nationals in 2014, she was left off the Olympic team by U.S. figure skating officials in favor of Ashley Wagner, who had placed fourth but had a stronger season overall. Nagasu knows she has to be rock solid at nationals – and all season long – to earn the right to go to PyeongChang.
Who else is vying for the U.S. women’s team? Well, Ashley Wagner is back for another go. She called herself the “Almost Girl” after just missing the 2010 Olympic team (Wagner was third and Team USA only had two berths), then her strong international record propelled her onto the 2014 team, where she placed seventh. Wagner turned in her best performance at the 2016 worlds in Boston, claiming the silver medal and ending a decade-long drought for U.S. women. At the 2017 worlds, her seventh-place finish combined with Karen Chen’s fourth to give Team USA three quota spots in PyeongChang. Mariah Bell, who was third at the 2017 nationals and 12th at worlds, is another contender.
Will we see Gracie Gold skate this season? In September, Gold announced that she was taking time off from the sport to seek professional help. Six weeks later, she withdrew from her two scheduled grand prixs. Gold, who was fourth in Sochi, but sixth at the 2017 nationals, is being treated for anxiety, depression and an eating disorder. Her future plans are unclear.
It’s make-or-break time for Adam Rippon, who will turn 28 on Nov. 11. Rippon, the 2016 national champion, missed last year’s U.S. championships due to an ankle injury. He is a two-time junior world champion, but the Olympics have remained out of his reach. The closest Rippon has come is alternate in 2010. “I won’t be a spring chicken,” he said, “but I have experience and that’s what I’m going to take with me heading into this Olympic season.” But Rippon has youngsters nipping at his heels, including Vincent Zhou, who just turned 17 and is the 2017 U.S. runner-up.
Do the Shib Sibs have dibs on their third straight U.S. ice dance title? Maia and Alex Shibutani burst onto the world scene seven years ago, winning the bronze medal at the 2011 worlds. Three years later, they became the first set of siblings to represent Team USA in ice dance at the Olympic Games, placing ninth. The Shibutanis added a world silver medal in 2016 and the bronze in 2017. No U.S. brother-and-sister team have won an Olympic medal since pairs skaters Kitty and Peter Carruthers won the silver in 1984.
Even with defending Olympic champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White not returning for these Games, the United States has more depth in ice dance than in any other figure skating event. Madison Chock and Evan Bates are two-time world medalists, capturing silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016, while Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue won the Four Continents title in 2014 and placed third in the short dance at last season’s world championships.
Team USA is not as deep in pairs, qualifying only one team for PyeongChang for the first time since 1924. Married couple Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are expected to grab that lone spot. The couple, who wed in 2016, hasn't had the easiest go of it in recent years, despite their billing as the top U.S. pair. Scimeca Knierim underwent three abdominal surgeries in 2016, causing them to miss the 2017 national championships. In their return to competition, they placed sixth at the Four Continents Championships and 10th at worlds.
Team USA dominated the Olympic debut of halfpipe and slopestyle skiing in Sochi to such an extent that Americans won three of the four possible gold medals. Joss Christensen led a Team USA sweep in men’s slopestyle, with Gus Kenworthy taking the silver and Nick Goepper the bronze. Devin Logan added silver in women’s slopestyle. Then in halfpipe, Maddie Bowman and David Wise claimed the two golds. All six skiers are back in hopes of defending or upgrading their medals.
Kenworthy got as much attention in Sochi for the stray dogs he adopted as for his skiing. After the Games, he became one of the first action sports athletes to publicly identify as gay. Kenworthy topped the overall Association of Freeskiing Professionals rankings for six consecutive seasons, but can he parlay that into medals in both slopestyle and halfpipe in PyeongChang? After missing out on the halfpipe Olympic team in 2014, Kenworthy is more determined than ever to make both squads for 2018.
Can David Wise win his second gold medal with his children watching in person? After Wise’s victory in Sochi, his wife Alexandra held up an enlarged photo of their daughter, Nayeli. Wise saw it immediately and said he felt her spirit cheering for him. And he was right. There’s video of Nayeli jumping up and down at home in Reno, Nevada, then kissing her father’s image on the screen. Son Malachi subsequently joined the family. Wise hopes they all can join him in PyeongChang, but he has wisely put Alexandra in charge of the arrangements.
Will anyone topple Maddie Bowman in halfpipe? She has some of the most technically difficult runs among female skiers and has won seven X Games medals, including four straight golds. Bowman’s run at the 2016 X Games included back-to-back 900s and the first switch 900 ever performed by a female skier in competition.
Oh, brother. Could one or both sets of freestyle skiing brothers make the Olympic team? High-flying aerials skiers Chris and Jon Lillis, known as Team Lillis, were the top U.S. finishers on the 2015-16 world cup circuit. And last season, Jon became the first American man in eight years to win the world title, while Chris was named rookie of the year. Jon is 23 while Chris, who just turned 19, became the youngest man ever to win an aerials world cup in early 2016. The other brother set, Brad and Bryon Wilson are moguls specialists. Bryon, 28, won Olympic bronze in 2010, while Brad, 25, was a 2014 Olympian and is a three-time world cup winner.
Who’s your Daddy? Well, for aerials skier Ashley Caldwell, “The Daddy” is the trick she landed to win the 2017 FIS Freestyle Ski World Championships. Caldwell became the first woman to cleanly land a full, double full, full. She is a two-time Olympian and five-time world cup winner who consistently performs some of the hardest triple flips on the women’s circuit – in fact, she is one of the only women to land triple flips. Can “The Daddy” boost Caldwell from her two 10th-place Olympic finishes onto the podium?
Will slopestyle skier Maggie Voisin make up for the injury that kept her out of the 2014 Games? Voisin was just 15 when she qualified for Sochi, becoming the youngest skier to be named to the U.S. Olympic Team since 1972. Alas, she suffered a broken ankle during training and was unable to compete. Voisin was second at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang and won at Mammoth Mountain, California, recently, which was the first Olympic selection event.
After beating an infection that nearly killed him, Torin Yater-Wallace is making the most of his new lease on life. At age 15, he won the X Games silver medal in the superpipe, making him the youngest medalist in Winter X Games history. Although Yater-Wallace had a collapsed lung leading into the Sochi Games, he was able to compete in halfpipe and placed 26th. Yater-Wallace’s health problems weren’t over, though. In November 2015, he was diagnosed with a life-threatening infection that affected his gall bladder, liver and lungs. He spent two weeks in the hospital, 10 days in a medically-induced coma and lost 20 pounds. Amazingly, he was back on his skis on Jan. 10, 2016, and was fifth at the X Games Aspen two weeks later, then won the gold at X Games Oslo. Yater-Wallace, 21, won two world cups last season, one of which was the Olympic test event in PyeongChang while the other was the first Olympic selection event.
Yater-Wallace's girlfriend, Olympic ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, was with him through his toughest times, and at one point they even recuperated together. Hendrickson, 23, also showed phenomenal talent at a young age. She won a Continental Cup title, which at that time was the highest level in her sport, at age 14. She then was the 2013 world champ, but suffered a training crash that summer. Hendrickson recovered enough to compete in the inaugural Olympic women’s ski jumping competition, coming in 21st. The silver lining? She went in unranked, due to missing the season with injury, and became the first woman ever to jump at an Olympic Games. She underwent knee surgery again in 2015 and was forced to sit out the season (which coincided with Yater-Wallace’s illness). Returning to competition in December 2016, Hendrickson had four top-15 world cup finishes. She is the only member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Ski Jumping Team – male or female – who is still competing. But will Hendrickson’s knee hold up through the Games?
If you’re hunting for big names in men’s ice hockey, look no further than the Team USA staff. Wisconsin coach Tony Granato will be the head coach while Jim Johannson will be general manager. They were teammates at the 1988 Calgary Games, along with assistant coach Scott Young, a two-time Stanley Cup winner. Chris Chelios, a Hall of Fame defenseman, Yale coach Keith Allain and Ron Rolston round out the staff. But Granato expects some players to find fame in the future. “You’re going to see young players that will be really exciting to watch, and you’ll be watching them for a long time in the NHL post-Olympics,” Granato said.
While the men’s hockey team won’t come together until early next year, the women’s national team was announced in May and has been living and training together since September. Team USA opened “The Time is Now Tour” presented by Toyota on Oct. 25, losing to arch-rival Canada 5-1. The tour includes the Four Nations Cup in Wesley Chapel, Florida, and Tampa, Florida Nov. 7-12, followed by two more games against Canada on Dec. 3 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Dec. 15 in San Jose, California.
Hilary Knight has been a member of the national team since 2006 when she was 17 years old. She was MVP at the 2015 and 2016 world championships. She wears No. 21 to honor Cammi Granato, who led the 1998 team to gold. Is it time for Knight to finally win a gold of her own after silvers in 2010 and 2014?
How satisfying is it for Amanda Kessel to be back on the ice in a Team USA uniform? The dynamic forward scored three goals and three assists in five games in Sochi, but symptoms from a concussion suffered prior to the Games came back to haunt her. After nearly two years away from hockey, Kessel helped her college, the University of Minnesota, win the NCAA title. She then signed a contract with the New York Riveters. Kessel made a triumphant return to the national team, scoring her first international goal in more than three years in pool play against Russia at the 2017 world championships.
As the last goaltender cut before the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Alex Rigsby has been trying to save a place for herself on the roster ever since. She was named one of the top three U.S. players at the 2016 world championships and was the U.S. Player of the Game while earning a 1-0 shutout in the gold-medal overtime win over Canada.
Even as she seeks her fourth straight Olympic team, Erin Hamlin is looking for new ways to improve. This season, it’s her start. In 2014, Hamlin became the first American to win an Olympic medal in singles luge. She added three medals at the 2017 world championships, solidifying her place in history as the most decorated U.S. single luger, male or female. Hamlin is also expected to play a key role in the team relay.
Jayson Terdiman and Matt Mortensen competed in Sochi in doubles luge, but not together. Terdiman raced to 11th place with Christian Niccum, who subsequently retired, while Mortensen was 14th with Preston Griffall, who went on to compete in “American Ninja Warrior.” Terdiman and Mortensen then paired up with auspicious results. In the overall FIL world cup standings, they went from seventh to fifth to third last season.
How important is it to be cutting edge? USA Luge has been aided by a more robust research and development program, with partners Dow and Norton placing a greater emphasis on analytics and sport technology. Team USA set a program record with 18 medals during the 2015-16 world cup circuit, followed by 11 podium finishes and three world championships medals last winter.
Perhaps no one will be rooting harder for Emily Sweeney to make the Olympic team than her sister Megan. Back in 2010, Megan won a special race-off between the sisters for the third and final Olympic berth. Emily was just 16 at the time, while Megan was 22. Emily went on to win the junior world title in 2013, but missed qualifying for the 2014 Games as well. Since then, she has won three world cup silver medals, each time behind Erin Hamlin, and has come back from wrist surgery in the summer of 2016.
Wouldn’t it be great to have a luge track in your own backyard? Tucker West did, thanks to his father, Brett, and it helped propel him to the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in 2012. Then at age 18, West was the youngest American male luger ever to qualify for the Olympic Games. West was 22nd in Sochi, and his results have only gotten better. He has three world cup wins, including victories in Lake Placid and Whistler last season where he set track records.
An “old” pair of brothers and a “young” pair are the top prospects for the Team USA Nordic combined squad. Bryan and Taylor Fletcher are the experienced siblings. Bryan, 31, is seeking his second Olympic team while Taylor, 27, is going for his third. Adam Loomis, 25, and brother Ben, 19, the 2016 Youth Olympic Games silver medalist, are up-and-comers who have never made the Olympic team. New scoring rules in Nordic combined put more emphasis on jumping, which has been a challenge for U.S. athletes.
Skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender knows how it feels to finish fourth, and it’s no picnic. “It’s devastating – I’m not going to lie,” said Uhlaender, who missed a medal in 2014 by .04 seconds. “It’s almost the equivalent to being left at the altar. You’re about to get the ring and then it just didn’t work out and they walked away. You can’t be mad at them – you had a great time – but it just leaves you with this empty feeling.” She shared that feeling with the men’s hockey team and six other individual U.S. athletes in 2014: speedskaters J.R. Celski and Jessica Kooreman; snowboarders Shaun White, Hannah Teter and Faye Gulini; and figure skater Gracie Gold.
Let’s hear it for perseverance. At the ripe old age of 32, Greg West is making his world cup debut in skeleton. In the selection races, he was third in Lake Placid and won both times in Calgary. West has previously raced on the North American Cup, European Cup and Intercontinental Cup circuits, including two top -10 finishes last year on the Intercontinental Cup tour.
Didn’t John Daly retire from skeleton? Yes, he did, but he couldn’t stay away. After over two years off, Daly returned to the track in November 2016, just in time to compete for the second half of last season. After all, he had unfinished business. Daly was in bronze-medal contention going into the fourth and final heat at the Sochi Games when he popped a groove at the start. He couldn’t recover and placed 15th, his head in his hands at the finish. “I was completely devastated,” Daly said. “My world fell apart in an instant.” He left the sport, becoming a medical sales rep, but eventually got “a tiny smolder of a flame back.” The two-time Olympian swept the trials races in Lake Placid to claim USA-1. Matt Antoine, the 2014 bronze medalist, is vying for his second Olympic team.
Listed as an Olympic hopeful since prior to the 2010 Winter Games, skeleton racer Annie O’Shea is still trying to make her first Games. Her quest took an unexpected turn, however, when O’Shea did not qualify for the prestigious world cup circuit for the first time in four years. Instead, she will compete on the Intercontinental Cup circuit, just as she did in 2009-10 and 2013-14. The 2018 Olympic team will be chosen on Jan. 15 based on points earned throughout the season on the various tours.
Nathan Crumpton will also try to slide onto his first Olympic team via the Intercontinental Cup tour after spending two years on the world cup circuit. Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Crumpton spent most of his childhood in Africa. He moved to the United States to compete as a sprinter and jumper at Princeton. Crumpton then moved to the Rocky Mountains to ski and snowboard before devoting his time to skeleton. Crumpton helps pay for his sliding through modeling and as a photographer.
Snowboarder Chloe Kim won her first X Games medal, a silver, at age 13. Because of age restrictions, she was too young to compete in Sochi, so her first Olympic experience came at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, where she won gold medals in halfpipe and slopestyle. Now at age 17, Kim is the most dominant woman in halfpipe. At the U.S. Grand Prix in Park City two seasons ago, she became the first female to land back-to-back 1080s and score a perfect 100. Kim was born in the United States, but has family in South Korea and speaks fluent Korean (as well as French).
The Flying Tomato is still riding high. Shaun White, who won Olympic halfpipe gold in 2006 and 2010 before finishing fourth in 2014, is still the biggest name in snowboarding. When he announced an injury on Instagram in late October, he got about 32,000 likes. White showed a photo of himself with a gash on his forehead and a bloody nose from the spill in New Zealand. He wrote, “I’ve always lived my life by pushing the limits. Winning is great, but it’s the tough times that truly define you. I took a slam while training the other day, but don’t worry, I’ll be back soon and better than ever.”
Team USA is loaded in snowboardcross. Three-time Olympian Lindsey Jacobellis, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist and five-time world champion; Alex Deibold, the 2014 bronze medalist; three time Olympian Nate Holland and 2014 Olympic team members Faye Gulini and Nick Baumgartner all have experience on the world’s biggest stage. Hagen Kearney, who is vying for his first Olympic team after winning his first world cup last season, said the best advice he has received is “Ride with a chip on your shoulder. It sounds negative, but it puts me into a place of being aggressive and having no fear. It helps to remind me to attack every feature in front of me.” Watch out, veterans.
Big air has been part of the FIS world championships since 2003 as riders flipped and twisted en route to – hopefully – a perfect landing. During the Olympic test event held at the Alpensia Ski Jump, competitors flew off the biggest ramp in the world at 49 meters tall. Its slope reached 40 degrees at its steepest point. It’s common for the same snowboarders to compete in big air as well as slopestyle, which is exactly what will happen at the Olympics. While skiers participate in their own big air competitions, they didn’t make the cut for these Games when the IOC was determining new events.
Jamie Anderson is Team USA’s best bet to be a double threat in snowboard. The 2014 Olympic slopestyle gold medalist is also a world leader in big air. She won the Olympic test event in slopestyle in PyeongChang and captured golds in both events at the 2016 world championships. On the men’s side, 2015 slopestyle world champion Ryan Stassel was third in the big air test event in PyeongChang.
Two female Olympic hopefuls could spell double trouble for Anderson. Hailey Langland is the first woman to land a double cork in competition while Julia Marino is not only the first woman to land a double in slopestyle competition, but did two on the same run. Marino landed a Cab double underflip on her first jump and a double backflip on her last jump. Both women have been on multiple big air and slopestyle podiums.
In her four Olympic appearances, Kelly Clark has never finished lower than fourth in an Olympic snowboard halfpipe. At age 34, can Clark get back on the podium in her fifth Games? She won the gold in Salt Lake City in 2002, dropped to fourth in Torino, then won bronze medals in Vancouver and Sochi. Clark is the first woman to land a 1080 in competition.
US Speedskating won its first and only medal of the Sochi Games in the very last event, the short track men’s 5,000-meter relay. J.R. Celski was part of that silver-medal-winning team, and he’s back to try for his third straight Olympic Games. Celski also won two bronze medals in 2010 in the 1,500-meter and 5,000 relay, making him the most decorated active Olympic short track skater. He has struggled with injuries the last couple of years, including a torn MCL, but returned to competition to win the bronze medal at the February world cup in Dresden, Germany, for his first podium in more than three years.
Newlywed Katherine Reutter-Adamek has lengthened both her name and her career. In Vancouver, the short track speedskater – then known as Katherine Reutter – won the silver in the 1,000 and the bronze in the women’s 3,000 relay. She was forced to retire from the rink in the 2013-14 season due to injuries, but returned for the 2016-17 world cup circuit. Since then, Reutter-Adamek has advanced to multiple A finals. She also squeezed in a wedding in July and likely hopes the honeymoon – on and off the ice – won’t be over until well after the 2018 Games.
South Korea is a speedskating hotbed. It has won 51 of its 53 Olympic medals in the sport, including 42 in short track. The short track test event, an ISU World Cup, drew nearly 30,000 fans who were thrilled to see their home country dominate the medal table with four gold, one silver and two bronze medals. American short track Olympic hopeful Thomas Hong was born in South Korea and lived there for four years before moving to the United States. Brandon Kim, 16, has provisionally qualified to compete at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Short Track Speedskating and could become the youngest speedskater to represent Team USA at the Games.
Can Jessica Kooreman help Team USA qualify for the short track speedskating women’s relay event after the U.S. missed out in 2014? Qualifying a relay would also grant the U.S. two additional athletes at the Games. Kooreman, who just turned 34, also wants to see if she can get that extra edge in her individual events. She was fourth in the 1,000 in Sochi and sixth in the 1,500.
Yes, Maame! The future of short track speedskating in the U.S. could be a 17-year-old who was born in Ghana. Maame Biney moved to the United States at age 5, and within a year later was attracted to a “Learn to Skate” program. Told she was too fast for figure skating, she switched to speedskating. Biney, who is known for being “way too happy all the time in high school” according to her official bio, won the bronze medal in the 500-meter at the 2017 short track junior world championship. In August, she was the America’s Cup winner at the Short Track World Cup Qualifier alongside men’s champion J.R. Celski. Biney reported that her favorite speedskating moment was watching the 2014 Olympic trials, so she can replace that with her own moment on the ice in December.
Did Lana Gehring make the right decision in switching from short track to long track and back to short track? Gehring, who won a bronze medal in 2010 on the women’s short track relay, decided to try her luck in long track after failing to qualify for the 2014 short track team. She spent a couple of seasons on the 400-meter track, then went back to pack skating for the 2016-17 season.
Will it be Bergsma or Bowe or both leading the women’s long track speedskating team for the United States. Heather Bergsma (née Richardson) and Brittany Bowe are two of the most successful skaters in the 1,000 and 1,500 at the international level, trading off as Grand World Cup champion the last three seasons. Bergsma is on track to win more medals – as many as four – than any other member of Team USA in any sport in PyeongChang: 500, 1,000, 1,500 and mass start – plus, with Bowe and another teammate, potentially team pursuit. No American has won two golds in the same Winter Games since Bonnie Blair more than 20 years ago. Bergsma is married to a Dutch Olympic gold medalist and lives and trains in the Netherlands, the country that dominated the Sochi Games. Bergsma was a one-woman juggernaut last season, winning four of Team USA’s five world championships medals. Bowe is the current world-record holder in the 1,000. She suffered an offseason concussion in 2016, but returned to form quickly, earning a bronze at the only world cup she participated in last season and skating her fastest 1,000 in nearly two years at this season’s world cup trials.
Can Joey Mantia complete his transformation from inline skating superstar (with 28 world championships) to speedskating superstar by winning an Olympic medal? His best finish in Sochi was seventh in team pursuit. Last season Mantia won world cup gold and bronze medals in the 1,500 and gold in mass start, which goes well with his inline instincts. He won Team USA’s first world title in mass start at the 2017 World Single Distances Championships.
Just where is PyeongChang anyway? Not to be confused with Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea – though the names are confused more times than you’d imagine – PyeongChang is located on the eastern coast of South Korea, about 180 kilometers from Seoul. It was a county with a population of 43,000 when it began bidding to host the Winter Games more than 15 years ago. PyeongChang lost in 2010 and 2014 before prevailing in 2018, bringing the Winter Games back to Asia for the first time since 1998 in Nagano. PyeongChang is nicknamed “Happy 700” because its location 700 meters above sea level is considered the optimal altitude for the well-being of humans and animals.
After warm temperatures in Vancouver and Sochi that threatened the quality of the snow, will weather be a worry in PyeongChang? Organizers claim the average temperature in February for the mountain cluster is 22 degrees and that there is abundant snow. Gangwon Province is known as the place where the first sun rises in the Republic of Korea and the first snow falls and its resorts yearn to be considered the “Alps of Asia.”
And finally, who’s next on “Dancing with the Stars”? Olympic athletes are popular competitors on the long-running reality television show – and they’re successful, too! Winter Olympians have won three of the coveted mirrorball trophies: short track speedskater Apolo Ohno, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and ice dancer Meryl Davis, who was fresh off her 2014 gold medal with Charlie White. Gymnasts Shawn Johnson and Laurie Hernandez also danced to victory on the show. So, it’s a good bet someone won’t be able to resist kicking off skates or skis to put on some dancing shoes!