Why you should care
Because if you want to wave an American flag during Sochi, these new faces may be the athletes you’re cheering for.
OZY was first to this story, putting you ahead of the curve. View More OZY Originals
You already know Shaun White, Shani Davis, Hannah Kearney and all the U.S. hockey players and curlers who’ll be trying to grab more Olympic hardware next month in Sochi. And you probably recognize the likes of Heather Richardson, Noelle Pikus-Pace, Kikkan Randall and a host of other U.S. athletes who are returning to the Olympics as medal contenders.
But every four years, we get to meet first-time Olympians who blaze onto the scene, grabbing headlines and captivating viewers as they make a bid for the medal podium.
Let us introduce you to some of the prime medal contenders whose fresh faces OZY is keeping our eye on this year:
Mikaela Shiffrin, ski prodigy
Event: Alpine skiing, women’s slalom
Quote: “If you knew me for longer than a day, you would know that I spill things and I break things and I trip a lot. You would not think I’d be good at slalom.”
Video: Clinching 2013 World Cup title with a deceptively fast comeback
Shiffrin debuted on the World Cup circuit just before her 16th birthday. By the time she turned 18, she was a world champion in slalom. Just after her 18th birthday in March, she garnered the World Cup season title in slalom as well with a clutch performance for the ages.
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And that’s no fluke. Winning a World Cup title requires consistency, and Shiffrin brought it. She ascended the podium after more than half of her World Cup slalom races last season. Granted she had one surprisingly bad result this fall but came back with a win and other good results in slalom and giant slalom.
She’s already a celebrity in ski-crazed Austria, which is a minor distraction, but on the plus side, she’s graduated from high school and doesn’t have any homework to worry about. Apparently, though, she plans to work her way through college — one of the few things she’ll do slowly.
Brittany Bowe, ex-Rollerblader
Events: Speedskating, women’s 500/1,000/1,500
Quote: “It seems just yesterday I was sitting on my couch watching the 2010 Games. And here we are.”
Video: Eating up the last lap to set a world record at the World Cup in November
Four years ago, Bowe was a college basketball point guard with a bunch of inline (roller) skating medals. Now she’s the world record holder in the women’s 1,000 meters and the World Cup leader in the 1,500.
She finished second at the Olympic trials in all three of her distances behind world sprint champion Heather Richardson, a returning Olympian. Richardson also happens to be a former inline skater. And Bowe’s roommate. How many medals will be fighting for shelf space in their house come March?
Sarah Hendrickson, young aviator
Event: Ski jumping
Quote: “It was 2002 and the Olympics were in town, and I remember watching the men ski jump — watching them fly over 100 meters in the air. I thought it was pretty amazing, and I wanted to try it.”
Video: Getting a lift from the ramp and then her teammates at the 2013 World Championships
Hendrickson and the rest of the women who have pursued women’s ski jumping over the past 10 years have worked hard to get their sport into the Olympics.
With a World Cup season title (the first since women’s ski jumping was accorded World Cup status) in 2012 and a world championship in 2013, Hendrickson is hitting her peak just as the women get their long-overdue Olympic debut. The only question is a knee injury that sidelined her throughout the 2013-14 World Cup season. The good news is she’s transitioning from rehab to full-fledged jumping now.
Jamie Anderson, tree hugger
Event: Snowboarding, women’s slopestyle
Quote: “In gratitude for my very existence, I take care of the Earth that is my home … One Love.”
Video: Beating back nerves and the competition to win at X Games 2012
In ESPN’s action sports world, Anderson is already a legend. She has four wins in the X Games (not including the European spinoff). She even won the 2012 ESPY for top female action sports star.
Her event is in the Olympics for the first time, and she brings a unique personality to the Games. She’s a tree hugger in the figurative and literal senses — an avid environmentalist who says she feels rooted and connected by walking barefoot in the summer and, yes, hugging trees.
David Wise, church-going hotdogger
Event: Freestyle skiing, men’s halfpipe
Quote: “There’s an image they want. And I didn’t fit that for a long time. Even after I won the X Games the first time, they said: ‘We don’t know what to do with this guy. He’s different.’”
Video: Soaring, flipping and twisting at X Games 2013
Fans are hoping to tune in for another round in the rivalry between Wise and his friend and fellow American Torin Yater-Wallace. Wise won the World Championship and the X Games in 2013. Yater-Wallace, who suffered broken ribs in December and might miss Sochi, beat him in the European X Games last year.
Already a family man, Wise married his church-camp sweetheart when he was 20 and has a 2-year-old daughter. He and his wife run the youth group at their local church.
Others to watch:
- Nick Goepper (freestyle skiing, men’s slopestyle): He’s a 2013 X Games champion who shook off a broken hand to win a Dew Tour event without poles.
- Arielle Gold (snowboarding, women’s halfpipe): After her breakthrough at the 2013 world championship at age 16, she followed up at X Games, going from alternate to bronze medalist.
- Ashley Wagner (figure skating): She took third in the 2013 Grand Prix Final and is one of the few competitors (maybe the only) who skates to Pink Floyd.
See Beau Dure’s complete medal projections at SportsMyriad.com