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Team USA’S pursuit of gold in PyeongChang

Frank Gunn / Today

The year 2017 may be nearing its end, but winter athletes around the world are just getting started. 62 days from now, on Feb. 9, the 2018 Winter Olympics will commence in PyeongChang, South Korea. While many have already guaranteed themselves a spot in the games, eligible Russian athletes now hope to receive invitations from the International Olympic Committee (IOC). After winning 28 medals in Sochi in 2014 (an eight medal decrease from 2010), Team USA is looking for redemption. Team trials began last February with the start of the Snowboarding World Cup and will conclude in January with the Mammoth Grand Prix, completing Team USA’s roster of 245 athletes.

On Dec. 5, in a press conference with IOC President Thomas Bach, the suspension of the Russian National Olympic Committee — a response to Russia’s violation of the Anti-Doping Lab at the Sochi Games in 2013 — was announced. Under strict qualification rules put in place to provide a level playing field, Russian athletes have the opportunity to be invited to compete in PyeongChang. If invited, “they will compete with a uniform bearing th[e] name [Olympic Athlete from Russia] and under the Olympic Flag,” the IOC said at the press conference. The qualifications, made by the IOC Executive Board, state that the athlete must qualify for their respective sport, have not violated the Anti-Doping Rules, and pass any other test requirements.

Russian athletes that were on the podium in Sochi have been stripped of their medals, resulting in elevated podium positions for many other athletes. “[The IOC] will now look for opportunities to make up for the moments they have missed on the finish line or on the podium”, Said Bach. With the start of the games looming close, eligible Russian athletes hope to claim a place for  themselves in the games.

Lindsey Vonn, the first woman on Team USA to win gold in Downhill Skiing in the 2010 games, is making a triumphant return to the Olympic stage after eight years. Due to a serious injury to her right knee, Vonn was unable to compete in the 2014 games. In an interview with former Today Show journalist Natalie Morales, Vonn said, “For me, it’s not just a question of, ‘Will I be ready?’ It’s just, ‘Will I be healthy?’ That’s my main goal.” However, despite her many injuries, Vonn comes into the games confident after her recent Downhill Skiing World Cup victory, a confirmation that she remains a force to be reckoned with. “I hope there’ll be plenty of news reports about my medals,” she told Morales. Looking for success in her return to the Olympic games, Lindsey Vonn is one to watch in PyeongChang.

Shaun White may be the top halfpipe snowboarder, but after two devastating runs that kept him off the podium in Sochi, he is looking for Olympic redemption. Known for his “Double McTwist 1260,” a move comprised of three twists and two flips that placed him on the top of the podium at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010, White’s routines in the games should be sensational. However, his impressive trophy collection does not guarantee him a spot on Team USA. Winning the first qualifying event, White gave himself an early lead, but he needs to continue his success this month in the next four events. White’s journey to the games is far from over and the veteran continues to impress on his road to redemption.

For 22-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin, these games are an opportunity to defend her titles and make history. Born and raised in Vail, CO, Shiffrin has spent her life working to join the ranks of the elite female Alpine skiers. In her rookie season, 17-year-old Shiffrin won her first ‘small crystal globe’ at the FIS World Ski Championships in slalom. Her success continued at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she won the gold medal in women’s slalom, becoming the youngest U.S. woman to win gold in the event. Topping her impressive victories, Shiffrin won two more ‘small crystal globes’ in 2015 and 2017, defending her title three times in a row. But she did not stop there: Shiffrin won her first ‘big crystal globe’ as the 2017 FIS World Ski Championships overall champion.

In an interview after winning her Olympic gold medal in 2014, Shiffrin said she was “dreaming of … winning five gold medals [in the next Olympics].” At the time, this feat seemed nearly impossible, but after an impressive 2017 season in slalom and giant slalom Shiffrin is taking big steps to making her dream a reality. With one Olympic gold medal and 33 World Cup race victories, Shiffrin enters the 2018 Olympic Games on top with all odds in her favor.

Can the men’s bobsled team succeed in PyeongChang despite the absence of pilot Steven Holcomb? This question has been hanging over the heads of the U.S. men’s bobsled team since the death of 32-year-old Steven Holcomb on May 6, 2017. A member of the team for 20 years, Holcomb proved to be a pivotal member of the team. Holcomb led the four man “Night Train” team to gold at the 2010 games, achieving the first U.S. bobsled win since 1948. Although he hoped to usher the team into another gold medal at the 2014 games, the team earned bronze. However, Holcomb and his teammate Steven Langton, did, however, end the 62-year dry-spell for Team USA by winning bronze in the two man race at the 2014 games. In his absence, the pressure to continue the team’s success is on. “It’s been a challenge for the team to move forward without the security of knowing we could count on Steven Holcomb to pull us through,” said USA Bobsledding CEO Darrin Steele in an interview with the United States Olympic Committee. A win at the games would be pure bliss for this team, but no matter the outcome, the U.S. men’s bobsled team will preserve Holcomb’s legacy.

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Team USA’S pursuit of gold in PyeongChang