Meet the best of Team USA
Norway may be a Winter Olympics powerhouse, but as Norwegian Americans, we can still root for the US to put up a good fight in some sports—and dominate others
The Norwegian American
Jo Christian Weldingh
The question is who will finish behind Mikaela Shiffrin, 22. In her Olympic debut four years ago, Shiffrin became the youngest skier to win a gold medal in slalom. She finished first in the overall World Cup standings in 2017 and leads this year by a huge margin. Shiffrin finished first in World Cup slalom in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017 and took a gold in the slalom and silver in the giant slalom in the 2017 World Championships.
Among the men, Ted Ligety, 33, beset by injuries, is the best American medal hopeful. This will be his fourth Olympics. He took a gold in the giant slalom four years ago in Sochi—and that’s his best event to medal.
This may be the first Olympics for Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, 30, but he and his teammates have turned in some impressive performances in the 2017-18 season, racking up three gold medals, two silvers, and three bronzes. Pilot Nick Cunningham, 32, will be in his third Olympics and is the Americans’ most experienced driver.
Codie Bascue, 23, will also be making his Olympic debut, as the top four-man driver. Chris Fogt, 34, will be in his third Olympics, which includes a bronze in the four-man with pilot, the late Steve Holcomb in 2014. Steve Langton, 34, took two bronzes at Sochi in the two- and four-man with Holcomb as pilot. The Americans are competing for the memory of Holcomb, a three-time Olympian who won three Olympic medals, 10 world championships, and 60 World Cup titles.
Taylor and Jamie Greubel Poser, 34, pace the women’s sledders as they began the 2017-18 season as the top ranked drivers in the world. They are now second and third, respectively, behind Canada’s Kallie Humphries. Taylor collected a silver in Sochi and bronze in Vancouver (2010), while Poser earned a bronze in 2014. America is the only country to medal in every Olympics since women’s bobsled was inaugurated in 2002. Lauren Gibbs, 33, debuts as Taylor’s brakeman, after a gold with Poser and silver with Taylor in November’s World Cup. Aja Evans, 29, also returns to the Olympics after a bronze with Poser four years ago and will be the brakeman for Poser. Evans earned two silvers in the World Cup in November. Poser readied for her second Olympics with a gold and two silvers in the World Cup.
The import of 26-year old Jessica Diggins finishing third in the Jan. 7 Tour de Ski at Val di Fiemme, Italy, behind Norway’s Heidi Weng and Ingvild Flugstad Østberg, is significant. No American woman has ever medaled in Olympic cross-country skiing. Bill Koch’s silver medal in the 30km in 1976 is the lone hardware in the event for America. Diggins also beat Weng and Norwegian Ragnhild Hala in a 10km freestyle mass start in a World Cup in Seefeld, Austria, on Jan. 28, her fourth career individual World Cup victory. Diggins made her Olympic debut four years ago skiing in four events with a highest place of eighth.
The U.S. is one of the favorites in the team sprint, and Diggins will be joined by either Sadie Bjornsen, 28, who is making her second Olympic appearance, or Sophie Caldwell, 27. At the 2017 World Championships, Bjornsen picked up a bronze in the team sprint classic and a fourth in the 4x5k relay. Caldwell finished sixth in the sprint freestyle at Sochi in 2014. Kikkan Randall, 35, will be skiing in a record fifth Olympics.Figure Skating
Nathan Chen may be 18 and skating in his first Olympics, but what a season he’s had so far. He went undefeated during the Grand Prix season, becoming the first man to win the Grand Prix title since 2009. In 2017, he took gold in the ISU Grand Prix Final and the Four Continents Championships, and at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships became the first man to complete five quad jumps in one performance. In 2016, Chen was the youngest American man (17) to ever medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final.
This could be one of the best American ice dance teams with pairs Evan Bates, 28, and Madison Chock, 25; Madison Hubbell, 26, and Zachary Donohue, 27; and Maia Shibutani, 23, and Alex Shibutani, 26. The three pairs finished within 0.52 of each other at last month’s U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Bates will be in his third Olympics, the first time for an American ice dancer. Hubbell and Donohue captured gold at last month’s U.S. championships, leaving no doubt they would make their Olympic debut after a fourth-place finish denied them a trip in 2014. Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, or “Shib Sibs,” are in their second Olympics. In eight seasons, they have been on the podium at the U.S. Championships each year, won 15 Grand Prix medals (six gold), a national championship, and became only the third American duo with three world medals.
Bradie Tennell, 20, winning the U.S. National Championships and earning an Olympic spot last month, culminated a comeback. In 2015, she won the U.S. junior championship at age 15, but injuries cost her most of the next two seasons.
Devin Logan, 25, made history by becoming the first athlete to qualify in the slopestyle and halfpipe events. Logan took home silver in the slopestyle in 2014. She won silver in the last halfpipe qualifying event on Jan. 17, then qualified in the slopestyle. To qualify, an athlete must receive two medals in at least two events in a season.
Gus Kenworthy, 26, who won silver in slopestyle at the 2014 Olympics for an American sweep, returns and follows figure skater Adam Rippon as the openly gay American Winter Olympians. His first-place finish in the Grand Prix at Stonemass in Colorado, and second in the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain in California, gave him the Olympic nod. McRae Williams, 27, is the current world champion.
Entering the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Snowmass in Colorado Jan. 12, defending Olympic halfpipe champion David Wise, 27, needed gold, or silver if an American didn’t win the event, to qualify for the Olympics. He nailed the gold, to go along with his gold at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain, Colorado.
Maddie Bowman, 24, returns to defend her gold in the halfpipe at Sochi, the first year for women’s halfpipe at the Olympics. She qualified with a second at Mammoth Mountain, Calif., in Feb. 2017, a third at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colo., and a second in the Toyota Grand Prix at Snowmass in Colorado on Jan. 12.
Ashley Caldwell, 24, heading to her third Olympics in women’s aerials, is not the same person who finished 10th both times. She is defending world champion, ranked eighth in the world—the top spot for an American—and has won 12 World Cup medals. She is primed to become the first American woman to medal in aerials since 1998.
The U.S. also has the men’s aerial world champion in Jon Lillis, 23, the first time Americans are holding both titles since 1996.
The American women dominate the world mogul rankings, holding four of the top 10 spots, led by top-ranked Jaelin Kauf, 21. Kauf medaled thrice this season. Morgan Schild, 20, medaled twice during qualifying and is ranked seventh. Keaton McCargo, 22, is ranked eighth, and Tess Johnson, 17, holds the 10th spot. All four will be performing in their first Olympics.
On the men’s side, Bradley Wilson, 25, is the only one with Olympic experience. He is ranked seventh.
The United States will be one of 12 teams competing in Pyeongchang. The tournament will be the first since 1994 not to include players from the National Hockey League, so the team will be composed of college players, American Hockey Leaguers, and American players playing professionally in Europe. The men’s ice-hockey tournament is always a close affair. There are usually six or seven nations with a decent chance at winning the gold medal, the American team being one of them.
American hockey fans might have to trust the women’s team to bring home a gold medal. They won the silver four years ago after a frustrating 3-2 overtime loss against Canada. The American team has had several close matches against their Canadian rivals over the last year, most recently winning 3-2 on Oct. 22 and losing 1-5 three days later. Brianna Decker, currently Team USA’s top scorer, recently told NBC Sports that success in Pyeongchang means “a gold medal.”
The men long trackers didn’t medal in 2014 for the first time since 1984. Two-time Olympian Joey Mantia, 31, gives them the best chance as he qualified in three events: 1,000m, 1,500m and mass start—a new event this year, not seen in long track since the 1932 Olympics. Since 2014, Mantia, a 28-time world champion in inline skating, has won nine of his 10 World Cup medals in the 1,500m and mass start. Shani Davis, 35, is back for his fifth Olympics as the all-time World Cup points leader.
Heather Bergsma, 28, and Brittany Bowe, 29, are the women stars. Bergsma qualified in four events with two firsts in the 1,000m and mass start, and two seconds in the 500m and 1,500m in the U.S. Olympic Trials. This is Bergsma’s third Olympics. In three World Cup events this season, she added three medals to her career haul of 85 (34 golds, 30 silvers, 21 bronzes) since the 2010-11 season. The surprise was Bowe besting Bergsma in the 500m and 1,500m at the Olympic Trials. Bergsma is the world champion in the 1,500m.
Maame Biney, 17, originally from Ghana, made history in December by becoming the first African-American to qualify for the Olympics in short-track speed skating. She is a former medalist on the 500 meters in the Junior World Championship.
Sarah Hendrickson, 2013 World Champion, has been plagued by injuries the last couple of years but will be back competing in Pyeongchang. If Hendrickson, 23, is back to her usual level of performance, she might be a legitimate medal contender.
The shoulder-length red hair is gone, but Shaun White is back for his fourth Olympics. Now 31, the man who became the face of snowboarding nailed a perfect score in his last halfpipe run at the Toyota Grand Prix in Snowmass, Colo., last month. White picked up gold at the 2006 Olympics when he was 19, and again in 2010, but settled for fourth in 2014. He was ranked third in the World Cup standings in 2017. He’s earned 23 career Winter X Games medals with six consecutive halfpipe championships from 2008 to 2013.
Three-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark, 34, Chloe Kim, 17, and Maddie Mastro, 17, qualified for the women’s halfpipe team. This will be a snowboard record fifth Olympics for Clark. That means Kim and Mastro were almost 2 years old when Clark won her first Olympic gold in 2002. At the time, Clark was the youngest American snowboarder to medal at 18. Kim and Mastro might change that. Kim was the first snowboarder to qualify for the Olympics with two wins—and a second—in four early qualifying events. Before she was 16, Kim won three golds in X Games, the first athlete to do so at that young age. In just her second World Cup event, Kim landed two consecutive 1080s and a perfect 100 score.Jamie Anderson, 27, gold medalist in 2014, Julia Marino, 20, and Hailey Langland, 17, were the automatic qualifiers in slopestyle—that was the order of the finish at the Toyota Grand Prix at Mammoth Mountain. A few days after Mammoth, Anderson overcame a crash on her first run to capture X Games Aspen, dethroning champion Marino. It was Anderson’s record 14th X Game medal. She has medaled in every one of her X Games slopestyle events and Snowboarding.transworld.net picks her to win gold in slopestyle. Yet Marino has also been impressive the last two seasons, medaling in three of five qualifying events in combined slopestyle and big air. In her X Games debut in January 2017, she captured gold in slopestyle and bronze in big air. Langland medaled in two qualifying events and captured gold in big air at 2017 X Games Aspen.
Lindsey Jacobellis, 32, is a five-time defending world champion in snowboardcross, with three prior trips to the Olympics, but she is still chasing an elusive gold medal. Three crashes in each subsequent Olympics followed a silver in 2006.
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.