Opening Ceremonies are set to take place tomorrow in Sochi, and while the Jamaican bobsled team is still searching for their shoes, the 22nd Winter Olympic Games are ready to take flight. While short track skater and fan favorite Apolo Ohno won’t be found on the ice following his 2010 retirement, the United States boasts a range of youthful talent among its 230 athletes preparing to compete, including quite a few who are tasting the Olympic Village for the very first time.
With Lindsey Vonn out of these Winter Olympics as she struggles with knee issues, Shiffrin is a star in the making for the U.S. women’s alpine skiing program. Donning her shining black ski suit on the cover of this past week’s Sports Illustrated, Shiffrin is the youngest female world ski champion since 1985 and the youngest American to ever hold the world title. Clinching first in three of the five international slalom events this winter season, plus one second place finish, “Mika,” as her fans across Europe call her, has a vast skiing background with both of her parents dabbling in competition in their pasts.
When to watch: Women’s giant slalom runs will take place on February 18 at 2:00 and 5:00 a.m. while regular slalom will occur on February 21 at 7:45 and 11:15 a.m.
While not a first time Olympian by broad definition, Jones, has not yet experienced the Games in a below freezing climate. After failing to medal in two straight Summer Games as a hurdler for Team USA, Jones opted to trade in her blazing speed on the track for a pair of ice shoes in recent years and train full time to compete as a bobsledder. Disappointing finishes and slip ups in 2008 in Beijing and 2012 in London led Jones to put on weight and build her core strength in order to handle the brakes for this year’s four woman sled. A compelling character and former LSU superstar, Jones is partially in Sochi solely due to a controversial decision by the U.S. bobsled committee.
When to watch: Women’s bobsled heats will take place on February 18 at 10:15 and 11:23 a.m. as well as February 19 at 11:15 a.m. and 12:23 a.m.
19 year-old Goepper grew up skiing down small 300 foot hills near his hometown of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, developing a lifelong love for slopestyle skiing. Capturing gold at each of the last two Winter X Games as well as silver in 2011, Goepper comes in as a favorite in his event after also taking gold at the 2013 New Zealand Games.
When to watch: Men’s Ski Slopestyle Qualifications are on February 13 at 4:30 a.m. with the finals subsequently at 4:30 a.m.
To this point, the U.S. has not been able replace the likes of Michelle Kwan, Sarah Hughes, and Tara Lapinski on their ladies figure skating squad, but a young core enters Sochi with zero Olympic experience and endless room to grow:
The star of the group, or so they say, Gold enters these Games as the top seeded skater from the States after capturing gold last month at the U.S. Championships in Boston. Born in Newton, Mass., Gold, 18, is known for her elusive speed on the ice and strong interest in connecting with the musical numbers played during her programs. With coach Frank Carroll in tow, the man who mentored both Kwan and 2010 gold medalist Evan Lysacek, and bright red liptstick applied, Gold is the most promising of this bunch to earn a piece of hardware in Sochi.
Wagner, a military brat who has lived in as many as nine places throughout her upbringing, comes to Sochi with the most pressure on her shoulders in the group. Despite dropping to fourth in last month’s Championship event, Wagner was given the nod for the 2014 games due to her “body of work” as well as her past experience. At 22, she is the veteran of the trio and after failing to garner a spot on the 2010 team in Vancouver, she has added multiple titles and recognitions to her resume. Wagner took the top prize in both the 2012 and 2013 U.S. Championships as well as the gold in the Four Continents Championship in 2012. Given the choice between ballet and figure skating at the age of five, Wagner selected figure skating because she “wasn’t going to do anything in pink shoes.”
Perhaps the future of the U.S. figure skating program, Edmunds’ journey brings her to Sochi only six weeks over the minimum age requirement; the 15 year old skater was the 2013 junior national champion in the States. Endorsed by former Olympic medalists Brandi Chastain and Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Edmunds’ mother is from Russia and has coached her since she was twenty months old.
It is unknown whether any of these three will put together programs capable of topping world favorites like Kim Yuna from South Korea or Carolina Kostner from Italy, but there are supreme expectations for this group to advance their own skill sets and give the U.S. a five star lineup heading into future competition.
When to watch: Ladies short program will take place on February 19 at 10:00 a.m. while free skating will occur on February 20 at 10:00 a.m.
First time Olympic figure skating pair Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir also join a hopeful team USA as they exhibit their artistry later today when team pairs take the ice at 12:10 p.m. for the short program.
Note: All events air live via NBC’s website and various mobile apps at the times listed (all Eastern). To catch the action on television, tune in to NBC each night as they will replay each day’s full action on a daily basis (Sochi is nine hours ahead of ET).