Four years ago, American athletes took home 37 medals in Vancouver
- a Winter Games record.
Leading the way were star skier Lindsey Vonn, who became
the first U.S. woman to win gold in the downhill, and speed skating icon Apolo
Ohno, whose three medals in Vancouver cemented his place as the most decorated
American Winter Olympic athlete of all time.
But now that Vonn has been sidelined with a knee injury and
Ohno has officially retired, who will be the face of Team USA as it goes for
gold in Sochi? Here are 10 athletes who figure to have a strong shot of making
the medal podium at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
On the rink, Hilary Knight has dominated at every level.
She won a national title at the University of Wisconsin (where she holds the
school record for goals scored). She's also raked in four Women's World Championships (in
2009, Knight led the tournament with seven goals).
hardware missing? An Olympic gold. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, the American
women had to settle for silver, losing the final game to their rival Canada. Knight,
who was the youngest member of that team at age 20, says the players haven't
forgotten the bitter loss.
wasn’t a great feeling and it's still a feeling that haunts a bunch of us today
and it's definitely in the back of our minds that we don’t want to feel that
way again," Knight told CBS News.
The U.S.-Canada rivalry is heated. In an exhibition game in Burlington in October, the two
teams engaged in a full-on brawl after the Canadians took issue with a hit to
their goalie. Knight was in the middle of another melee when the teams threw punches again in a December game in Grand Forks, N.D.
In tune-up matches for Sochi, Knight has come through big
time against their nemesis. On Dec. 28, Knight won the game with a
shootout goal, and in a rematch with Canada two days later, she scored in Team
USA’s 3-2 win. Knight expects another intense – and physical game – should the
teams meet again in the gold medal round in Sochi.
extremely physical teams and you'll get the best game out of both of us when
we're playing against each other, hands down," she said.
"It's heated, your blood boils and
you just want to put the other girls through the boards and put the puck in the
back of the net and win."
Just seven years ago, Steve Holcomb was nearly blind. A degenerative eye disorder forced the bobsled driver to the
brink of retiring from the sport he loved and the Park City, Utah native became
increasingly withdrawn – even attempting suicide in 2007.
But a cutting-edge cornea
procedure put him on the path to recovery, and within just a year, Holcomb
became the first American to win a world championship in the four-man bobsled
"It was pretty
crazy," Holcomb said of the dramatic turnaround.
Just two years after the eye procedure, Holcomb again would
be king of the bobsled world. At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, he led
the USA-1 four-man bobsled team to a gold medal, ending a 62-year gold medal
drought for Americans in the event.
"I know we can
beat them. We have incredible equipment, a phenomenal push crew," Holcomb
said, "and a great driver, I hope."
Julia Mancuso had a rough start to her
World Cup season but the 29-year-old Californian is hitting her stride just in
time for Sochi. After being plagued by persistent issues with failing to crack
the top 10 in any World Cup race, Mancuso was the fastest skier at the World
Cup downhill training and had two consecutive top-10 results in Cortina
been a tough start but things are really going according to plan going to the
Games," she told CBS News. "I feel exactly where I need to be."
The laid-back Mancuso has a reputation for being a fierce competitor,
especially on the Olympic stage. At the 2006 Torino Games, the woman who had never won a
World Cup race came out of nowhere to win gold in the giant slalom. Then in 2010,
the slumping Mancuso turned it around in Vancouver, winning two silver medals
in the downhill and combined. No other female American alpine skier has
won three Olympic medals.
Mancuso admits she may turn it up a
notch at the Games, in part, because of her hometown. Raised in Squaw Valley,
Calif. – the host of the 1960 Olympics – Mancuso grew up in the shadow of the
Olympic rings and always dreamed of skiing at the Games. Asked whether Sochi
would be her last Olympics, Mancuso said she wasn't sure, conceding that it is
tough to endure the travel schedule – and rollercoaster emotions – that come
with the job. But she said that her avid fans – and her childhood dream – keep
her inspired to keep going.
definitely surprised that I'm sitting here now … and I'm doing the same thing
as a kid – dreaming about the Olympics," she said, "I didn’t know I'd
be doing it for so long and I still feel like a kid."
If there was any doubt that Mikaela Shiffrin was the best slalom skier in
the women's World Cup, the teenager put that to rest with her second World Cup
win in a row and third of the season.
"It's nice to sing my national anthem a couple of races before the
Olympics," Shiffrin said after her World Cup slalom victory in Flachau,
Austria. "Hopefully I can sing it again in Sochi."
Shiffrin's rise to the top of the alpine mountain has been swift. Still just
18 years old, she made her World Cup debut in 2011, two days before her 16th
birthday. Less than a month later, Shiffrin was crowned the U.S. slalom
champion, the youngest-ever American to win a national title.
And now with compatriot Lindsey Vonn out of the Olympics with a knee injury,
Shiffrin finds herself increasingly in the spotlight. The Vail, Colo. native
has already appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman and she was voted
Colorado's Female Athlete of the Year.
Sharyn Alfonsi, who recently profiled Shiffrin for a segment on 60 Minutes
Sports, says that coaches credit Shiffrin's mother Eileen, a masters ski
champion, for Mikaela’s steady style. Eileen is a constant presence on the
mountain when her daughter competes.
"The biggest reason I'm around is because I'm her mom," she told
Alfonsi. "And in a normal world, I would be around."
If the 18-year-old wins in Sochi, she’ll be the youngest American alpine
skier to win gold, ever. Alfonsi asked the rising star if she was peaking too
Shiffrin's response: "I’m just getting started, guys."
At just 25, Patrick Kane has already reached the top of the
hockey world. Since claiming the rookie of the year award in 2008, the Chicago
Blackhawks star forward has won two Stanley Cups, including the Conn Smythe
trophy as the playoff MVP last season.
But Kane and his teammates fell
short of gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, losing the final game to Team
Canada. At Sochi, Kane – who is arguably the best American-born player in the
NHL – will lead an American team that hopes to win its first gold since the
1980 "Miracle on Ice" squad.
The oddsmakers have made Canada the favorite to repeat at
Sochi – and Russia and Sweden have better odds than the Americans to win gold.
But Kane said that while the U.S. players were considered underdogs in 2010,
expectations are different this time.
"The only people that thought we had a chance
[in Vancouver] were probably the guys in the locker room, or our coaches and
management of USA Hockey," Kane said. "This time, it’s different."
Hannah Kearney recently said she has the "best full-time job in the world." If so, she can easily lay claim to employee
of the year in U.S. mogul skiing, dominating the World Cup circuit after
winning the world championships last year.
Kearney has had to work hard to regain her form.
After a serious knee injury, a concussion, a bruised liver and broken ribs, she
told CBS News she feels "fantastic" thanks to her renewed focus on
diet and training.
"I want to stand in that start gate and have
full confidence that I'm going to lay down a good run," Kearney said,
"and for me that comes from knowing that I did exactly 1,022 jumps into a
pool this summer to practice."
In Russia, the 27-year-old from
Vermont will be looking to add another Olympic gold medal to the one she
claimed at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. She is peaking at the right
time, winning three of her six events during the World Cup season – but she still
thinks there is room for improvement as she prepares to hit the Sochi slopes.
"I truly believe I can become a better mogul
skier," Kearney said. "My plan in Sochi is to ski the three or four
best mogul runs of my life."
he's been a star on the oval for a decade, Shani Davis has been largely an enigma to the public
– shunning interviews, rejecting sponsorship deals and refusing to train with a
coach. Now 31, the speed skater – who still trains without a coach – is finally
embracing the spotlight as he heads into what could be his final Winter
Olympics in Sochi.
"It's my time," Davis told the Associated Press. "I'm
going to try to take advantage of it, share myself and my story with the world
as much as I can without it interfering with what I have to do."
In Russia, Davis is favored to win the
1,500 – a distance where he's had to settle for silver in the last two Winter
Games. But all eyes will be on Davis in the 1,000, where he will try to become
the first male skater to win the same event at three straight Olympics. (He
captured gold in the event at both Turin and Vancouver).
The Chicago native has already made
Olympic history, becoming the first black athlete to win an individual gold
medal at the Winter Games. He started speed skating at age 6 and hasn't looked
''Any time I step out on the ice and I put my hood on, I
have something to prove,'' Davis said recently. ''I've been doing it for 25
years. I just love being the position I'm in now. Years ago, I never would've
thought I would be as good as I am now. I'm just so thankful that I'm here.''
With his five Olympic medals and four World Cup golds, Bode
Miller may be the face of the men's U.S. ski team. But the American man to
watch in Sochi may very well be Ted Ligety.
Just ask Bode Miller.
"There's no questioning Ted's
ability or his brain," Miller told the Associated Press. "He's smart
and he's unique in that he takes responsibility for his situation. That's what
has allowed him to be successful."
Ligety has proven almost unbeatable in the giant slalom,
earning the nickname "Mr. GS." The 29-year-old from Park City, Utah captured
four straight World Cup giant slalom races dating back to last season, the
first to accomplish that feat in over two decades.
But don't think the laid-back Ligety is a one-dimensional skier. At the
world championships last season, in addition to the GS title, he won the
super-G and super-combined, becoming the first male skier to win three events
since French great Jean-Claude Killy took home four golds at the 1968 world
And he's not slowing down. Just a few weeks before the Sochi Games, Ligety
won the super-combined in Wengen, Switzerland, for his first World Cup win
outside the GS event.
"I feel very confident in my skiing,” Ligety said. “I
know I have a good chance to win any race I start."
Less than a month before the Sochi Games, figure skater
Ashley Wagner had a candid assessment of herself at the U.S. Championships in
Boston: "A tearful little wimp out on the ice."
Despite falling twice and failing to cleanly land two other
triple jumps on the big stage, Wagner is headed to Sochi anyway. In a
controversial decision, the 22-year-old made the team based on her overall body
of work, which includes a fifth place finish at the world championships and a
bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final.
The two-time U.S. champion has vowed that she will be a
different skater in Sochi and she's not taking a conservative approach. Wagner recently
announced she is scrapping her long program in favor of one that will allow her
to execute a triple-triple combination jump – something that only the world's
elite female skaters can pull off. According
to the Washington Post, Wagner will skate to a program set to Camille
Saint-Saens’ Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah. She said the character fits her demeanor –
and her determination.
“It’s a character I'm very comfortable with,” Wagner told
the newspaper. “Delilah is this strong woman who knows what she wants, and
she’ll go after it and get it any way that she needs to.”
What a difference four years makes. During the trials five
months before the Vancouver Olympics, speed skater J.R. Celski suffered a
gruesome injury on the track when his right skate sliced his left leg, covering
the ice in blood and throwing into doubt his ability to compete in Vancouver.
Celski would bounce back in time to earn two bronze medals at the games – but
memories of the crash lingered.
"Everybody gets those kind of
thoughts in their heads," he told the Associated Press. "You've just
got to push past them."
Four years later, Celski
is fully healthy and at the top of his game. The skater, who sports an unusual tattoo that honors his Filipino-Polish heritage, recently won the 1,000 meters
at the U.S. Olympic trials, assuring he'll compete in all three individual
events (the 500, 1,000 and 1,500) in Russia. With speed skating icon Apolo Ohno
retired, Celski will be America's biggest star at the short track – and he
expects to rise to the occasion.
"I've gotten the experience, but
this time is completely different for me," Celski
told the AP. "Mentally, physically, I'm healthy. I'm going to ride that
momentum. I look forward to doing some damage over there."