18 U.S. Olympic hopefuls to watch for PyeongChang 2018

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The U.S. may be better equipped than ever to, for the first time, top the medal standings at a Winter Olympics held outside North America.

Three primary reasons. First, that the Winter Games are being held far away from traditional European powers Germany and Norway. Second, that rival Russia is dealing with a doping scandal that could limit (or eliminate) the participation of some of its stars in PyeongChang. Third, a continued American stronghold on new freestyle events on the Olympic program.

If the U.S. is to win the most medals in PyeongChang, these 18 are among the likeliest athletes to contribute:

Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine Skiing: Became the youngest Olympic slalom champion in Sochi. Currently leads the standings for the World Cup overall title, which annually crowns the world’s best all-around skier. Should contend for at least two medals in PyeongChang.

Lindsey Vonn, Alpine Skiing: 2010 Olympic downhill champion and winningest female Alpine skier missed the Sochi Winter Games due to knee surgery. Returned to the top of the podium again this season after more knee and arm fractures.

Elana Meyers Taylor, Bobsled: Bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014. Now the world’s best female driver, looking to win the first U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled title since the sport’s debut in 2002.

Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing: Two World Cup wins this season, looking to become the first U.S. Olympic women’s cross-country skiing medalist and second overall after Bill Koch in 1976.

John Shuster, Curling: Skipped the U.S. to its first men’s or women’s Olympic or world championships medal since 2007 last year. Shuster skipped the U.S. to 2-7 records at both the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.

Nathan Chen, Figure Skating: Won the U.S. title at age 17 last month by becoming the first skater to land seven quadruple jumps in a competition. Beat the reigning Olympic and world champions in the Grand Prix Final free skate in December.

Ashley Wagner, Figure Skating: In 2016, snapped a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver at the world championships. Might be the biggest threat to a possible Russian podium sweep.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, Figure Skating: Siblings are the new top U.S. couple in ice dance with Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White absent from competition the last three years. Two straight U.S. titles with a 2016 World silver medal in between.

Maddie Bowman, Freestyle Skiing: Sochi ski halfpipe champion has earned medals in all eight of her X Games appearances (Aspen and Europe) dating to 2012 despite knee surgeries in 2014 and 2015.

Gus Kenworthy, Freestyle Skiing: Sochi ski slopestyle silver medalist earned X Games medals in halfpipe and slopestyle in 2016 and could make the PyeongChang team in both disciplines.

Amanda Kessel, Hockey: After silver in Sochi, came back from life-altering post-concussion effects to become the highest-paid player in the new National Women’s Hockey League and rejoin the national team.

Patrick Kane, Hockey: First U.S.-born player to win the Hart Trophy figures to lead the U.S. attack in PyeongChang, should the NHL decide to participate in the Olympics for a sixth straight time.

Erin Hamlin, Luge: In Sochi, became the first U.S. Olympic singles medalist with a bronze. Won medals in all three events at the world championships last month and said she hopes to make her fourth Olympics the last competition of her career.

J.R. Celski, Short Track Speed Skating: Took a year off after winning his third Olympic medal in Sochi. Last weekend, earned his first individual World Cup medal since 2013.

Jamie Anderson, Snowboarding: Sochi slopestyle gold medalist could go for two medals in PyeongChang with the addition of big air to the Olympic program. Pushed by two potential U.S. Olympic rookies — Hailey Langland and Julia Marino.

Chloe Kim, Snowboarding: Too young for Sochi at age 13, has since won two X Games titles and became the first woman to score a perfect, 100-point run and to land back-to-back 1080s. The daughter of South Korean immigrants.

Shaun White, Snowboarding: Changed coaches and dropped an event (slopestyle) since finishing fourth in Sochi. Now focused wholly on halfpipe and no longer playing guitar in a band. Won last the U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., on Sunday after finishing 11th at the Winter X Games.

Heather Bergsma, Speed Skating: Part of a disappointing, medal-less U.S. speed skating effort in Sochi. Has been on a tear since, breaking world records in the 1000m and 1500m, winning the 500m world title in 2015 and winning all five of her World Cup 1000m starts this season. Married to Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma.

PYEONGCHANG 2018
Storylines | 18 US Stars | 18 Global Stars | Strange Olympic Hopefuls | Key events
Oldest US Olympian? | Youngest US Olympian? | Venue Photo Gallery | North Korea

Michael Phelps to participate in Shark Week

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NEW YORK (AP) — Olympic champ Michael Phelps is participating in Discovery network’s Shark Week this summer, although he won’t be asked to outswim one.

It’s not immediately clear what Phelps will be doing, although Discovery President Rich Ross said Tuesday he’s intrigued about seeing the fastest human swimmer interact with nature’s fastest. Perhaps Phelps can be encouraged to go underwater in a shark cage, he said.

The week of shark-themed programming in mid-summer is annually Discovery’s biggest event. Now that it is approaching its 29th year, programmers are on the lookout for a new wrinkle.

Phelps has won 28 Olympic swimming medals, 23 of them gold.

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MORE: Phelps: I don’t know what to tell my son about doping

World Figure Skating Championships ice dance preview

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Alex Shibutani says he and sister Maia have made a statement the past two years.

“With our ability to perform when the stakes are highest,” he said.

The stakes don’t get much higher than this week.

The Shibutani siblings, breakout world silver medalists a year ago, lead three U.S. couples who finished in the top six at the 2016 World Championships into this year’s worlds in Helsinki.

It is the strongest ice dance field since the Sochi Olympics. The PyeongChang Winter Games medal contenders will be confirmed this week.

The clear favorites are Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions competing this season for the first time since taking silver in Sochi. Virtue and Moir returned from their two-year break to post the three highest total scores of all time in their last three international competitions.

“This is probably the most prepared we’ve been for a world championships,” Moir said, while adding, “this was a warm-up season.”

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance | TV schedule

The Shibutanis finished second (with a personal-best score) to Virtue and Moir at the most recent event, the Four Continents Championships at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea in February. The margin separating the two couples — 5.1 points — was considerable.

“We’re sort of in a way in a race against ourselves to try and see how good we can get and how good we can become,” Alex Shibutani said. “Each competition along the way is another step to that eventual goal [the Olympics].”

At worlds, the Shibutanis are in the medal mix with France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who won the last two world titles.

The French, already the youngest world champs in 40 years, are trying for the first ice dance three-peat in 20 years.

But they have not progressed this season, unable to match or better their winning score from the 2016 World Championships.

Papadakis and Cizeron train in Montreal with Virtue and Moir, but they struggled (held against their own standard) in both competitions outside of French borders this season. And in different areas — step sequences, twizzles, lifts.

Conversely, it looks like the Shibutanis’ biggest obstacles are well behind them. They went from a world bronze medal in their first senior season together in 2011 to four straight years off the podium.

The Shibutanis hit a nadir at the Sochi Olympics with a ninth-place finish, worst of the three U.S. couples. Maia’s tights snagged on Alex’s sequined jacket during a lift.

The devoted vloggers countered doubts after Sochi by stressing their youth — Alex was 22 then; Maia was 19. They talked about weathering the journey and sticking to a meticulous creative process.

It paid off with their first U.S. title last year, followed by that world silver medal in Boston.

“Last year’s results at the world championships were very energizing for us,” Alex Shibutani said. “People are aware of the career trajectory that we have had. We’ve set ambitious goals because we were so motivated following that result and that exciting string of competitions that we had last season.”

The Shibutanis were actually outscored by two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates in the U.S. Championships free dance in January. They stormed back with that personal best at Four Continents, though, erasing any doubt that they are the U.S. couple expected to make the podium in Helsinki.

The U.S. has earned 12 ice dance medals at the last 12 World Championships. In that same span, the U.S. brought home eight medals combined from men’s, women’s and pairs.

The Shibutanis feel confident they will extend recent American success in their discipline.

They would also create more history for sibling skaters. They’re already the most accomplished brother-sister duo since Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay of France won three straight world medals followed by Olympic silver in Albertville.

“We really elevated the way that we compete and perform,” at Four Continents last month, Alex Shibutani said. “Our skating has reached another level.”

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