BY CHAYIM TAUBER
Twenty years ago, the Winter Olympics housed the biggest story in the United States (until a certain white Bronco was caught in a police chase) as the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding drama played itself out. Now, 20 years later, the US is still looking to make headlines, but with a considerable reduction in the drama.
If you’re watching the Winter Olympics, there are a couple of names you already know and are probably tuning in to watch again. Shaun “The Flying Tomato” White, the man who revolutionized Snowboarding and is a living legend on the halfpipe returns to yet again defend his crown. This will be his most difficult defense as young up-and-comers like I-Pod (Iouri Podladtchikov), Danny Davis, Taylor Gold, and Greg Betz are gunning for his crown.
The other biggest name in US Winter Sports, Lindsey Vonn, will be on your screen for the Olympics but as a correspondent for NBC. The former gold medalist, American sweetheart, and current Tiger Woods gal-pal tried valiantly to return to the Olympics following a torn ACL and MCL and a tibial plateau fracture about a year ago. She rehabilitated, recovered, and was on pace to make her triumphant (and courageous) return when she re-tore her ACL on Nov. 19. Despite the absence of Vonn, US skiing is still in great shape as returning gold medalists Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, and Julia Mancuso headline a strong US crop of skiiers. Ligety in particular is one to watch this year as he’s won 4 consecutive World Cup titles.
Shani Davis is already in the record books. He is the first black gold medalist in Winter Olympic history. He then became the first defending champ in the speed skating 1000M and this year, is trying to build on that becoming the Gold medalist in the 1000M for the third consecutive Olympics.
The identity of the single most intriguing 2014 US Winter Olympics athlete is undisputed: Lolo Jones. Yes that Lolo Jones. She of the summer Olympics near-misses and well-publicized virginity, has made the Winter Olympics as a member of the bobsled team. This is no publicity stunt. Jones has reportedly been consuming 9,000 calories a day in an attempt to add muscle before Sochi. With her as a pusher, former Olympic gold medal sprinter Lauryn Williams (who has the chance to be the second athlete to win gold in both the summer and winter Olympics). The US has a good chance of medaling (in both the men’s and women’s bobsled) as do the Germans, Canadians, Latvians, Russians, and Swiss. The best non-American story would have to be the return of “Cool Runnings” – the Jamaicans once again have a bobsled team.
Of course, there’s figure skating; the sport that made such big headlines 20 years ago. Gracie Gold is America’s best new hope in women’s figure skating at the tender age of 18 after running away with the US Championships. At 22, Ashley Wagner is the veteran of the US skating team. She finished one spot away from qualifying for Vancouver and has won back to back US Figure Skating Championships in 2012 and 2013. Polina Edmunds, just 15 years old, was the surprise of the US Championships. She took home a silver medal with the most technically demanding routine of the competition. She works partly with Gold’s coach and comes into the Olympics as virtually, a complete unknown.
With Evan Lysacek, the American gold medalist from 2010 out with injury, don’t expect much from the men’s skaters.
The best chance the US has on the ice comes in the form of ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The power couple has dominated since winning a Silver medal in Vancouver; winning six straight US Championships and dominating every competition in sight (including 13 Grand Prix events). They are the favorites to win gold in their event. It would be the first time the US has ever won a gold in this category.
And lastly, to hockey. The US men have a strong team but desperately need Jonathan Quick to return to the form that made him such an intimidating force between the pipes the last few seasons. The team has more grit than goal-scoring ability but should have enough firepower to get the puck in nets. The chief competition, as usual, should come from Canada (who is loaded as usual) as well as Russia.
The US women need to slay the same monster the men do. Team Canada won in Vancouver and though that home ice advantage is gone, they are always dangerous. The women are well equipped to make a deep run though paced by veteran Julie Chu (who already has 2 Silver and a Bronze medal to her ledger) and scoring phenom Amanda Kessel, younger sister of men’s sniper Phil Kessel. The Kessel siblings have a similar game and are both volume goal-scorers critical to their respective teams’ success.
Other medal favorites include 18 year old Mikaela Shiffrin who is already considered the best slalom skier in the world and Arielle Gold, the seventeen year old halfpipe phenom is a maestro on a snowboard and is poised to be catapulted into the limelight on an international stage.
The biggest story going into the Olympics in Sochi, as they so often are at the Olympics, is political. The ban on demonstration in support of homosexuality has been a lightning rod of controversy.
The safety concerns surrounding the Olympic games has garnered even more attention as five nations’ Olympic committees received terrorist threats. A terrorist attack in Volgograd killed 34 in December, an Islamic terrorist group claimed responsibility. Russia has sent in 37,000 extra troops to Sochi and a “ring of steel” has been erected closing the Olympic Venues off from the public.
The fear is that Ruzanna Ibragimova, a “Black Widow” bomber, is already inside Sochi. There could be up to three additional “Black Widow” bombers still at large (Zaira Allieva, Dzannet Tsakhaeva, and Oksana Aslanovoa). A manhunt is currently underway for the “Black Widow terrorists”.
While Russia is confident in the measures it has taken to secure the Olympics, safety is of paramount concern and the United States has posted two warships offshore in the Black Sea and has offered additional assets that they are sharing with Russia according to Secretary of Defense