This month, 216 Americans will venture north to Vancouver to compete in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Team USA is represented by 123 men and 93 women.
Thirty-one different Americans have won Olympic medals in previous Winter Games, collecting a total of 48 Olympic medals among them (12 gold, 20 silver and 16 bronze).
At the 2006 Games, the United States had its most successful Winter Olympics ever on foreign snow and ice - winning nine gold, nine silver and seven bronze for a total of 25 medals. Snowboarding and speed skating led the way for the U.S. with seven medals each.
Since then, the winter success has only continued. At the individual 2009 World Championships, the U.S. won more gold medals (13) in events on the Olympic program than any country, and finished second overall in medals to Canada. While some of the 13 world champions are unlikely to find similar results in Vancouver, the number speaks to the depth and talent of the Americans. The U.S. earned at least one world medal in 11 of the 15 sports in 2009, and a gold medal in 9 of the 15.
Vonn hopes to carry momentum to Whistler
Already a mega-celebrity in Europe, Lindsey Vonn is poised to be one of the foremost American athletes at the 2010 Vancouver Games. The 25-year-old has had an eye to Vancouver since February 13, 2006, the day she suffered a frightening crash during downhill training at the Torino Games. She's now the reigning downhill and super-G world champion and has won both the 2008 and 2009 overall World Cup titles. Considered the greatest female American skier of all-time, Vonn could contend for a medal in each of the five Olympic events she enters, but is strongest in the downhill and super-G.
Round 2 for Torino Alpine gold medalists
If it weren't for Vonn, the medal forecast in the alpine events would be less encouraging. Torino combined gold medalist Ted Ligety has emerged as a constant medal threat in his speciality, the giant slalom, while Julia Mancuso, the only other American alpine skier to win an Olympic medal in 2006, also a gold, has fared worse and is only considered an outside medal contender. Two-time Salt Lake silver medalist Bode Miller recently expressed his intention to ski the full, five-race program, but outside expectations are much lower than they were in Torino.
Figure skating forecast
The U.S. men did not win a figure skating medal in Torino, but reigning world champion Evan Lysacek will be one of the favorites in Vancouver. Though he lacks the technical dominance of his competitors, Lysacek is a safe bet to land on the podium due to his consistency. Colorado native Jeremy Abbott won his second U.S. title in convincing fashion, firmly establishing himself as a contender for a medal in Vancouver. Johnny Weir, a three-time U.S. champion, earned his spot in Vancouver with a third-place finish at Nationals.
Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu will represent Team USA in Vancouver ladies figure skating competition. Flatt, who will be 17 in Vancouver, was the top American at the 2009 Worlds, finishing fifth. Meanwhile, ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, who won silver in Torino, remain in the Olympic medal mix after claiming a world silver medal in 2009. Also in the mix, thanks to first-place finish at Nationals, are ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The duo won gold at the Grand Prix Final, a feat no American dance team has ever accomplished, and have consistently posted the highest scores of the Olympic season. But with many of the top ice dancers missing in action, they're unlikely to duplicate efforts in Vancouver. In pairs skating, newly crowned national pairs champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett and runners up Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig will compete in Vancouver.
Mix of veterans and young guns for USA speed skating
Three American athletes combined for the seven speed skating medals in Torino. Two of them, Shani Davis (G: 1000m, S: 1500m) and Chad Hedrick (G: 5000m, S: 10,000m, B: 1500), will return for more in 2010. Since Torino, Davis has established himself as the world's premier middle distance skaters, owning the world record in both the 1500m and 1000m distances (as of Dec. 12, 2009). At the 2009 Worlds, Davis won gold in the 1500m and bronze in the 1000m. After winning all four 1000m races during the fall 2009 World Cup season, the Chicago native could become the first man in Olympic history to win back-to-back 1000m golds in Vancouver. Hedrick struggled to regain top form in the years after Torino, but since becoming a father in March 2009 he's been gaining momentum and could again contend for a spot on the podium. Davis and Hedrick will be joined by promising newcomer, Trevor Marsicano, at the Richmond Oval next February. The 20-year-old won four medals at 2009 Worlds and has the potential to do the same in Vancouver.
Snowboarders aim to extend Olympic dominance
The U.S. remains the world superpower in the halfpipe and is nearly as imposing in snowboard cross. Torino halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White will again be the favorite entering Vancouver. White lists U.S. teammates Louie Vito and Scotty Lago among his top threats in Vancouver. Torino gold medalist Hannah Teter, silver medalist Gretchen Bleiler and 2002 gold medalist Kelly Clark all figure to feature prominently in the women's halfpipe competition in Cypress. In snowboard cross, Torino gold medalist Seth Wescott and silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis are both among the medal favorites in the notoriously unpredictable event. Jacobellis has been particularly dominant, winning her sixth gold medal in seven years at the 2010 X Games.
Ohno brings big-race experience
For the third consecutive Olympics, Apolo Ohno leads the U.S. short track charge. Ohno, one of the signature stars of both the 2002 and 2006 Winter Games, now owns the record for most American Winter Olympic medals with eight (two gold, two silver, four bronze). The one-man show could change in 2010 with the emergence of J.R. Celski, a 19-year-old who grew up in Washington state idolizing Ohno. Celski, winner of four medals at the 2009 Worlds, suffered a serious injury from his skate blade during the U.S. trials in September, but has returned to the ice and will be in peak form at the Olympics. Celski won his first Olympic medal on Day 2 in Vancouver, winning bronze in the men's 1500m. Despite Celski's emergence, South Korea should still be given a slight edge over the U.S. as the top men's nation. For the women, Katherine Reutter has emerged as a world-class skater and should now be considered a medal contender in both her signature distances, the 1000m and 1500m, this February. The Champaign, Ill., native went to the same high school as Olympic legend Bonnie Blair.
Sliders take on world's fastest track
Since Torino, driver Steve Holcomb has emerged as the strongest American medal threat in bobsled despite a degenerative eye disease that nearly left him blind. Holcomb had surgery following the 2008 World Championships to restore his vision and won gold in the four-man and bronze in the two-man at 2009 Worlds. Holcomb's four-man victory ended a 50-year world championship gold medal drought for the U.S in that event. On the women's side, 2006 Torino silver medalist Shauna Rohbock continues to excel on the international stage winning a world silver medal of her own this winter and placing first at the test event in Whistler. Both drivers should again be in the medal mix in Vancouver.
Historic firsts for biathlon and women's cross-country?
The U.S. has never won an Olympic biathlon medal, and that is unlikely to change in Vancouver. Tim Burke and Jeremy Teela represent the United States' best chances, but they are longshot contenders, though Burke has tallied impressive results this season and has the potential to surprise. Though the U.S. has done slightly better in cross-country - an Olympic silver by Bill Koch in 1976 - that medal total should also remain constant in 2010. World silver medalist Kikkan Randall, the best American female cross-country skier in history, does provide some consolidation of hope. Medal futility will also continue at the ski jumping venue. In Torino, no U.S. jumper finished higher than 40th and the U.S. team finished 14th out of 16 nations. The Americans are unlikely to even have an entry in the team event in 2010.
Medal prospects for U.S. curlers
The inexperienced U.S. men's curling rink, skipped by John Shuster, is not expected to be a medal contender, but could surprise in Vancouver. Shuster knows something about the unexpected. In Torino, Shuster was a member of Pete Fenson's underdog team that won the bronze medal. The U.S. women have fared worse since winning U.S. Trials. The rink, led by skip Debbie McCormick, finished 2009 Worlds a disappointing 4-7. McCormick is a veteran of the Nagano and Salt Lake Games, but Vancouver will mark her first time as skip.
High hopes in freestyle competitions
Looking to Vancouver, none of the top American freestyle athletes should be considered a lock for a medal, though there are several spots where a U.S. podium finish is possible. In fact, the team seems to be riddled with outside contenders. Among them: surprise 2009 world moguls champion Patrick Deneen, 2009 overall World Cup moguls champion Hannah Kearney and 2009 aerials world gold medalist Ryan St. Onge. Daron Rahlves, one of the most successful Alpine skiers in U.S. history, emerged from retirement to compete in ski cross, the newest event on the Olympic program. Rahlves found success early and has a chance at a medal in Vancouver.
Women's hockey takes cues from 'Miracle' man
The U.S. women's hockey team, winners of the last two world championships, should face Canada in the gold medal game in 2010. The United States is preparing for Vancouver with a new coach - 1980 Miracle on Ice hero Mark Johnson, and a popular post-NCAA residency program. The U.S. men should once again make the medal round, but with a younger, re-tooled squad for Vancouver.
Top American sleds in Whistler
The best American luge medal hopes come in the women's competition where 2009 world champion Erin Hamlin is considered an outside medal contender as the world's best non-German slider. Her world title can largely be attributed to the fact that she was racing on her home track in Lake Placid. Two-time Olympic doubles medalists Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin won world bronze in 2009, but that result also benefited from home track knowledge.
Nordic combined hopeful for history
2010 could be the year the U.S. gets its first-ever Olympic nordic combined medal. Four-time Olympian Todd Lodwick returned from a two-year retirement and won two gold medals (one in a non-Olympic discipline) at the 2009 Worlds and three-time Olympian Billy Demong likely represent the best U.S. medal chance in 2010. Demong won gold in the individual large hill event at the 2009 Worlds and finished third overall in the season standings after a consistent year - his best to date - which saw him post five World Cup victories and a total of 10 podium finishes.
Face first without fear
The U.S. has won more skeleton Olympic medals (six) than any other nation. American contenders in Vancouver will include two-time overall World Cup champion Katie Uhlaender and 2007 world champion Noelle Pikus-Pace, either one of whom could add to the medal tally. Uhlaender experienced an emotional 2008-09 season that saw the loss of her father and mentor Ted to cancer. The men's side is weaker, with 2007 World Cup champion Zach Lund and Eric Bernotas, who won the United States' first World Cup gold in nearly two years last month, as the top sliders.