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Why these Americans are worth watching in the Pyeongchang Games

Here are 15 Americans with medal hopes or riveting stories to keep tabs on during the Pyeongchang Games:

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine skiing: At 18, Shiffrin became the youngest skier to win gold in the slalom at the 2014 Games. At 22, she will try to become the first skier, male or female, to repeat as Olympic slalom champion. Shiffrin is the best skier in the world. She has nearly twice as many overall points in the World Cup standings as her next competitor. She ranks first in slalom, third in giant slalom and fifth in downhill. At the 2017 world championships, she became the first woman to win three consecutive slalom world titles in 78 years.

Thomas Hong, Short-track speedskating: Hong’s Olympic journey has brought him full circle as he returns to the country of his birth, back to the place he spent summers learning the ins and outs of the sport from Korean coaches, back to his second home where his father and extended family still live. Hong was just 4 years old when he moved to Maryland with his mother, sister and grandmother. He spoke no English when they settled in Laurel. When he was 16, he was the youngest male short-track speedskater at the U.S. Olympic trials, and though he finished 11th overall and didn’t qualify for Sochi, his 2018 goal came into focus. “I kind of realized, maybe next time I can make this team,” he said.

Chloe Kim, Snowboarding: A three-time X Games champion, she already might be an Olympic medalist if rules didn’t bar her from competing at the Sochi Games four years ago as a 13-year-old. With advertising campaigns tied to her, you will see plenty of Kim. “Chloe is one of the most talented young snowboarders I’d ever seen,” said Kelly Clark, who’s heading to her fifth Winter Olympics.

Chloe Kim (Getty Images)

Kim’s Korean-born parents immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago, and she’ll have no shortage of extended family members gathering around the Pyeongchang halfpipe. Her most recent visit to Korea came in February 2017, when the U.S. State Department tapped her as a special envoy for a goodwill tour. It was her first taste of how she might be received at these Pyeongchang Games. “It was actually really crazy; I had like a paparazzi moment there,” she said, “which was, like, kind of cool. I felt like Kim Kardashian. ... I look up, and there’s like 25 cameras around.”

 

Mirai Nagasu, Figure skating: Like the other American women, Nagasu is not expected to medal. But her competitive legacy will be determined by whether she becomes the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics. Only one other American woman has attempted the move at the Olympics – Tonya Harding. “It’s just one jump in the program,” said Nagasu, who plans to attempt one in each of her short and long programs in Pyeongchang. “but at the same time, it’s really cool for me because I am one of the few who has the ability to land it.”

Lindsey Vonn, Alpine skiing: Vonn has had plenty of victories and is one of the greatest ski racers of all time, but she also has had plenty of injuries. She described her emotions at missing the Sochi Olympics as “disappointed and devastated and frustrated.” She doesn’t use the term peaking for the Olympics, but instead talks about just staying in shape and healthy. She enters the Games, though, having won two more World Cup races last weekend and has won more than any American in history. Vonn will be an overwhelming favorite in the downhill, having won the last three World Cup races in that event. She also could contend in the other speed event, the super-G, and the combined, which adds the time from one downhill run and one slalom.

Maame Biney, Short-track speedskating: The 17-year-old who lives in Reston, Va., has won hearts and gone viral thanks to her broad smile and exuberance– since qualifying for the Olympics by sweeping the 500-meter races at the trials. That followed a breakout moment at the 2017 World Junior Championships when she won bronze in the 500 meters and was seventh overall. Born in Ghana, she

Maame Biney (Getty Images)

arrived in the United States at age 5 to visit her dad, who has become her biggest supporter. At the trials, he held up a sign that read, “Kick some hiney Biney.” She initially wanted to be a figure skater when she started at age 6, but was told she was going too fast and switched to speed skating. She was the first African-American woman to qualify for an Olympic speedskating team; Erin Jackson, who qualified in long-track speedskating, became the second soon after.

Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle skiing: Kenworthy was a silver medalist in slopestyle four years ago in Russia, but he made as many headlines for adopting some of Sochi’s stray dogs. And though he worried that it would hurt his sponsorships, he came out, and that boosted his marketability even more. Now he will be one of two openly gay U.S. athletes competing in Pyeongchang.

Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding: Anderson, who will defend her slopestyle gold medal from Sochi, is third in the World Cup standings in that discipline, behind Reira Iwabuchi of Japan and New Zealand’s Christy Prior. Anderson has a shelf full of X Games medals; she won her first, a bronze, in 2006 when she was just 15.

Maddie Bowman, Freestyle halfpipe: Bowman returns to defend her 2014 gold medal, but she will face tough competition from Kexin Zhang of China and Cassie Sharpe of Canada, not to mention her U.S. teammates, Brita Sigourney, who leads the World Cup rankings.

Nathan Chen, Figure skating: The 18-year-old Chen already is a two-time U.S. champion, and he won two gold medals in 2017 – in the ISU Grand Prix and the Four Continents Championship. Though young, Chen has a powerful repertoire that few can match: He performs five quads – jumps that include four revolutions – in his free skate and two in his short program. None of the three men on the U.S. skating team has Olympic experience. Vincent Zhou at 17 is even younger than Chen, and Adam Rippon is a rookie at age 28.

Katie Uhlaender, Skeleton: In her third Olympics in 2014, Uhlaender finished off the podium,

Katie Uhlaender (Getty Images)

0.04 seconds behind Russia’s Elena Nikitina. For a while, it looked as if she would move up to third and earn a bronze when Nikitina was stripped of her medal and banned from the Olympics in the wake of the scandal surrounding state-sponsored doping in Russia. But the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned Nikitina’s ban last week. Uhlaender is the top-ranked American woman (12th) in the World Cup standings.

Nina Roth, Curling: Roth will be the skip for the U.S. women’s team at her first Olympics. In fact, none of her curling teammates – Tabitha Peterson, Becca Hamilton, Corey Christensen and Aileen Geving– has Olympic experience, either. Roth, who placed fifth at the world championships in 2017, has a nursing degree and works as a nurse in the Madison, Wis., area.

Elana Meyers Taylor, Bobsled: After a bronze at the Vancouver Games in 2010 and a silver four years later in Sochi, Taylor hopes the progression continues with a gold in Pyeongchang. She ranks second in the World Cup standings with 1,591 points, behind Canadian Kaillie Humphries’s 1,631.

Ted Ligety, Alpine skiing: Ligety, 33, had not made a World Cup podium for three years before winning a bronze at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, in late January. That sends the two-time Olympic gold medalist (the combined in 2006 and the giant slalom in 2014) to Pyeongchang on a high note.

Shaun White (Getty Images)

Shaun White, snowboarding: White has two Olympic gold medals and returns for his fourth Olympics after a disappointing performance in Sochi, where he finished fourth in the halfpipe and withdrew from slopestyle. He qualified for these Games with a perfect 100-point score at the U.S. Grand Prix. White, who has the most gold medals of any X Games competitor, is also coming off a pair of injuries last fall. He crashed on a 22-foot pipe in New Zealand during a training session and needed 62 stitches.

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