Six months out: 18 U.S. Olympic hopefuls to watch for PyeongChang

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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. Won the 2017 World Cup overall title, the prize given to 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 last season after more knee and arm fractures.

Lowell Bailey, Biathlon: At 35 years old, became the first American to earn an Olympic or world title in biathlon in February. Bailey, who qualified for his fourth Olympic team, nearly quit the sport a year ago to become a cattle farmer.

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

Jessie Diggins, Cross-Country Skiing: Led the U.S. to its best-ever world championships showing in February (three medals for the team). 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: In 2016, skipped the U.S. to its first men’s or women’s Olympic or world championships medal since 2007. Was fourth at 2017 Worlds. 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 by becoming the first skater to land seven quadruple jumps in a competition. Beat Sochi gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu at the PyeongChang Olympic venue in February.

Ashley Wagner, Figure Skating: In 2016, snapped a 10-year U.S. women’s medal drought by taking silver at the world championships. One of the biggest threats 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 deciding not to defend their title. Two straight U.S. titles, two straight world championships medals.

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.

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 in January 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 season, 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. Two wins and a runner-up to finish his season after placing 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 and winning world titles in the 500m, 1000m and 1500m. Married to Dutch Olympic 10,000m champion Jorrit Bergsma.

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PYEONGCHANG 2018
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