Mikaela Shiffrin

Who are the skiers to watch at the Sochi Olympics?

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Lindsey Vonn‘s announcement that she will not compete in Sochi leaves a major Olympic void on the U.S. Ski Team.

However, a few standout U.S. skiers have excelled in her absence on the World Cup tour since she first crashed at the World Championships in February.

Here’s the quartet that will be the focus in Sochi Olympics, followed by international stars:

Mikaela Shiffrin

The 18-year-old is the reigning world champion and World Cup champion in the slalom. Yes, she’s been called the next Vonn, simply because they share the same nationality (and Colorado hometown of Vail) and sport.

But Shiffrin is very different from Vonn. She is a technical event skier — slalom and giant slalom — whereas Vonn is a speed queen — downhill and super-G.

Shiffrin has won two of four World Cup slaloms this season, but she’s now facing a challenge from one of her idols, Austrian Marlies Schild. Schild, 32, has also won two slaloms this season after coming back from tearing right knee ligaments on Dec. 20, 2012.

Schild won Olympic silver in 2010, World Championships gold in 2011 and four of six World Cup titles from 2007 through 2012.

Shiffrin has improved mightily in giant slalom over the last year to the point where she is now a medal contender in the event with second- and third-place finishes in World Cup races this season.

Ted Ligety

Vonn’s injury at the World Championships did not overshadow Ligety’s accomplishments in Schladming, Austria.

The 2006 Olympic combined champion became the first man in 45 years to win three gold medals at single World Championships, sweeping the super-G, giant slalom and super combined.

Ligety, 29, won the first two giant slaloms this World Cup season and seemed poised to be a heavy Olympic gold-medal favorite in the event. But Austrian rival Marcel Hirscher won the last two, setting up a sweet Sochi showdown.

Expecting multiple medals from Ligety in Sochi may be a bit much, though. He had never won a World Cup or World Championships race outside of giant slalom before that World Championships breakthrough.

He has not made a podium outside giant slalom this season, but Ligety has proven a big-event skier.

Bode Miller

Miller, 36, is the most decorated Olympic skier in American history with five medals, including one of every color at the 2010 Olympics.

He missed all of last season after knee surgery but has returned encouraging early results, including taking second behind Ligety at a giant slalom in Beaver Creek, Colo., on Dec. 8.

Miller, now married to beach volleyball player Morgan Beck, looks to be the best U.S. medal hope in men’s downhill and super-G with a top-10 in each but no podium finishes this season.

Julia Mancuso

Mancuso has been silent on the World Cup tour this season with a best finish of 12th.

But she, like Ligety, is a proven star on the biggest stage. She won the 2006 Olympic giant slalom and took silver in the 2010 Olympic downhill and super combined.

Mancuso, 29, steps in for Vonn as the most notable American in the speed events of downhill and super-G. She’s the reigning world bronze medalist in the latter, having finished in the top three in World Cup super-G standings the previous three seasons.

International Women’s Stars

Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Germany

Vonn’s longtime friend and rival leads the World Cup overall standings and steps in as the Olympic downhill favorite, having won both downhills in Lake Louise, Alberta, in December when Vonn made her return.

Hoefl-Riesch was actually more successful than Vonn at the 2010 Olympics, winning gold medals in the super combined and slalom.

She’s won World Championships medals in downhill, super-G, super combined and slalom and could win four medals in Sochi if she’s in form.

Tina Weirather, Liechtenstein

Liechtenstein, a landlocked European country of some 40,000 people, has won nine Winter Olympic medals, all in Alpine skiing, but none since 1988.

Weirather has emerged as an all-around threat with podium finishes in downhill, super-G and giant slalom this World Cup season. She is the daughter of four-time Olympic medalist Hanni Wenzel.

Lara Gut, Switzerland

Gut shot out of the gates this World Cup season with wins in three of the first four races. She has cooled a bit since but looks like a medal threat in super-G and giant slalom.

She was 17 years old when she won two silver medals at the 2009 World Championships and looked like a major threat to Vonn’s dominance in the downhill until she suffered a hip injury in a September 2009 crash that kept her out of the 2010 Olympics.

Tina Maze, Slovenia

Maze put up the greatest campaign in Alpine skiing history in 2012-13, but the Slovenian singing sensation has been nowhere near that form this season and not won any races.

If Maze finds her spark over the next month, she could win a medal in every Olympic Alpine skiing event. If she doesn’t, she could leave Sochi empty handed.

Olympic goalie mask includes actual gold

Ryan Lochte ‘wipes away the past’ in Power Bar video

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For the second time in as many months, Ryan Lochte stars in a jocular ad making a veiled reference to his Rio Olympic gas-station incident.

The swimmer wipes away “the past” on a foggy bathroom mirror and throws a blond wig out of a sunroof in a one-minute Power Bar video published Tuesday.

The company’s tag line in the video is “Clean Start.”

“For example, I am going to recommit myself to water sports,” Lochte says in the spot.

The ad follows a December video for Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops, where Lochte starred in a spot with a closing banner that read, “Pine Bros.: In this Season of Forgiveness.”

Lochte had previously lost sponsorship deals, including with Speedo, after his Rio Olympic gas-station incident for which he was suspended through June by USA Swimming, plus for the world championships in July.

PHOTOS: Lochte set to be a father

U.S. Figure Skating Championships men’s preview

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The stage is set for Nathan Chen in Kansas City this week.

The 17-year-old is arguably the biggest favorite of any senior discipline at the U.S. Championships, looking to become the youngest U.S. men’s champion since 1966.

Chen, who boasts six quadruple jumps between his two programs, broke out at the Grand Prix Final in December by taking a silver medal. That propelled him to the top of U.S. men’s skating.

He outscored the reigning Olympic and world champions in the free skate at the Grand Prix Final in the best U.S. men’s international performance since Evan Lysacek won Olympic gold in 2010.

Chen’s chances for gold this week were boosted by the withdrawal of 2016 U.S. champion and training partner Adam Rippon due to a broken foot. And by 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown‘s recent right leg injury.

Brown is still in the field, though, as is 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron. Chen, Brown and Aaron are vying for two spots on the team for the world championships in two months in Helsinki.

“Those are the very clear top three,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said. “It’ll take a disaster or a performance of a lifetime for anybody else to get into that top three.”

Friday
Men’s short program — 8:30 p.m.-midnight ET, Universal HD
Sunday
Men’s free skate — 4-6 p.m., NBC

MORE: U.S. Championships broadcast schedule
PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Nathan Chen
Age: 17
Hometown: Salt Lake City
2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalist
2016 U.S. bronze medalist
Two-time U.S. junior and novice champion

Chen came back strong this season following the first major injury of his career suffered at least year’s nationals exhibition. Hip surgery kept Chen from making his world championships debut in 2016, but he’s now poised to lead the U.S. men into Helsinki, trying to earn three Olympic berths. First, Chen goes for his first senior national title.

Tara Lipinski’s Take: Nathan is the star of the show this year. The type of talent he has doesn’t come along every day. He possibly could be on the Olympic podium next year with the technical skating he’s giving us. Artistically, his component scores, if you look at him from last nationals to this nationals, he’s a different skater. He may not be [Olympic champion Yuzuru] Hanyu yet, but he has all the makings of a great, artistic male skater. I think he’s already giving us enough, to be honest.

Jason Brown
Age: 22
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2015 U.S. champion
Fourth at 2015 World Championships

Don’t forget that Brown was one spot off the podium at the 2015 Worlds. It’s been mostly a nightmare since for the 2014 Olympic sensation. Brown missed the 2016 U.S. Championships with a back strain and revealed last week that he was off the ice for the last two weeks of December with a stress fracture in his right fibula. Brown is the only man in this week’s field who has been within 40 points of Chen’s best total score this season.

Johnny Weir’s Take: Now that Adam Rippon is out, the artistic challenger, if he can land a quad, is Jason Brown. He’s won the national title before. He knows what it takes and what that kind of pressure feels like. That is an advantage he has over Nathan Chen. If he lands the quad and creates that artistic moment, he is very favored in the U.S. by the judging panel. He will need a quad toe loop if he’s going to hold off Nathan Chen.

Max Aaron
Age: 24
Hometown: Colorado Springs
2013 U.S. champion
2015 Skate America champion

Aaron may be the best pure athlete in the field. He has finished in the top four at nationals each of the last four years, but it’ll probably take top two this week to earn a world championships spot. He’ll likely have to beat the injured Brown.

Johnny Weir’s Take: He has great skating skills. He’s a wonderful athlete. But I don’t think his free program especially is strong enough choreographically to challenge either Nathan Chen or Jason Brown.

Grant Hochstein
Age: 26
Hometown: Artesia, Calif.
Fourth at 2016 U.S. Championships
10th at 2016 World Championships

Hochstein was placed on the 2016 World Championships team after Chen withdrew due to that hip injury. He finished a respectable 10th in his worlds debut but dropped to 11th in each of his fall Grand Prix starts. Hochstein ranks seventh this season among men in the U.S. Championships field.

Tim Dolensky
Age: 24
Hometown: Kennesaw, Ga.
Seventh at 2016 U.S. Championships

Dolensky had his best U.S. Championships finish last season and ranks behind only Chen, Brown, Rippon and Aaron among U.S. skaters’ top scores this season.

Vincent Zhou
Age: 16
Hometown: Riverside, Calif.
2013 U.S. junior champion
Fifth at 2016 World Junior Championships

Zhou would be a bigger threat if he hadn’t pulled out of his last event in December with a leg injury. Still, he has the jumping firepower, when he lands them, to contend for the podium when healthy.

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