The 2018 Winter Olympic Games are here. Perhaps you’ve heard about Russia kind of, sort of, being banned. Perhaps you’ve heard about North and South Korea competing together, or about the security drones designed to catch other drones, or about the $60 million stadium that will be used four times.
One aspect of these Games that you may not have heard much about, ironically enough, are the athletes themselves. It’s a stark contract to the Sumer Games of 2016, which was so packed with star power that it’s a wonder if anybody around the globe hadn’t heard of at least Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Ryan Lochte or Simone Biles, at least two of whom will go down as the best ever to compete in their sport, while Lochte also notoriously found ways to grab headlines outside of the pool.
A recent poll conducted by Hub Entertainment Research revealed that 19 percent of those surveyed couldn’t identify a single potential Winter Olympics star – not even established talents such as Shaun White or Lindsey Vonn, let alone projected breakout athletes Nathan Chen, Mikaela Shiffrin, Chloe Kim or any number of others.
This isn’t to say that the United States isn’t packed with its usual amount of star power. In fact, the Americans appear to be as stacked as ever with talents young and old poised to make PyeongChang the setting for their breakouts.
Nathan Chen, figure skating
An 18-year-old from Salt Lake City, Chen has claimed the U.S. National Championship in both 2017 and 2018, and is the only skater competing with five different types of quadruple jumps – toe loop, Salchow loop, flip and Lutz. Chen’s numerous sponsors have justifiably begun marketing his talents, with Corn Flakes putting out a cereal box with him on it, Coca Cola running an enormous advertisement in Times Square and NBC plugging a commercial on Super Bowl Sunday.
Should he win gold, as he is widely expected to, Chen will be the youngest male skater to finish atop the podium since 1948.
Mikaela Shiffrin, skiing
The 22-year-old Colorado native is the heir apparent to Lindsey Vonn, the 2010 gold medalist in Vancouver and whom Shiffin has referred to on Twitter as the G.O.A.T. Many expect Shiffrin, a gold medalist in the 2014 Sochi Games in the slalom, to be in line to claim that title for herself.
In this season alone on the World Cup circuit, Shiffrin has won five of the seven slalom races, winning each by margins of more than .75 seconds (this is a lot in skiing), and in the 23 total World Cup races she has competed, she has finished on the podium 15 times.
Chloe Kim, snowboarding
Kim is just 17 years old, and yet is no stranger to making history, a habit she began at age 14 when she became the youngest female competitor in X Games history to win a medal. Before she turned 16, she had won a pair of gold medals — again, something no other female snowboarder could claim. It was not much of a surprise, then, when she wrote history again at the 2016 U.S. Grand Prix, landing back-to-back 1080s, something no female of any age had ever been able to do.
Now she’s a heavy favorite to take home gold in the PyeongChang halfpipe. Should she medal, it’ll be another in what is quickly becoming a long line of historic finishes, making her the youngest snowboarder ever to win an Olympic medal.
Matt and Becca Hamilton, curling
Curling has become an object of American fascination, and Matt and Becca Hamilton, siblings who live in Madison, Wisconsin, are sure to become the darlings of the curling world. They’ve been curling for more than a decade, though only when it was announced that there would be mixed curling in the 2018 Olympic Games did they begin competing together.
In 2017, they won the National Championship, and Becca Hamilton was named Female Athlete of the Year by USA Curling.
Along with the mixed doubles, they’ll also be competing on the men’s and women’s teams, so we’ll be seeing plenty of the Hamiltons.
Maame Biney, speed skating
Medal or no medal, Biney’s story is already an inspiring one, one that begins in Ghana and features stops in Virginia and Utah and, now, PyeongChang, where at the age of 18 she will be the first African American female to race for the United States.
As a youngster, Biney had signed up for figure skating lessons but the instructor told her father, Kewku, that his daughter skated too fast. A prescient observation: Biney won the women’s 500 meter at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.