Guest column: Rocky start for Olympics, but it will get better

By Jana LeBlanc
February 08, 2014

The 2014 Winter Olympics are already off to a rocky start.

One of the biggest stars of the Games, two-time defending half pipe champion Shaun White, made the decision to drop out of the newly added Olympic sport of slopestyle, citing fears that the course was too dangerous. 

The women's downhill ski practice was also delayed a day, due to concerns over course safety. The bizarre stories of bathroom spying, half toilets, yogurt impoundment, stray dog poisoning and the like, also continue to grab the headlines.

It has been suggested by the media that Olympic pride is nowhere to be found in Sochi. I believe, however, that before the closing ceremonies of these games, we will once again find ourselves fawning over a newly crowned ice princess, celebrating the victory of a returning champion and discovering a new hero who will fill our hearts with the pride of America. 

If looking the part came with a gold medal, then American national figure skating champion Gracie Gold would already have her win at Sochi. A cross between Grace Kelly and a Disney Princess, the 18 year old has long, beautiful lines reminiscent of Nancy Kerrigan and is a natural born jumper. If she skates clean enough to medal, she will erase the memory of the U.S. bust in the previous Olympics. True, Ashley Wagner looks to have the better odds based on the body of her work previous to the women's nationals, but if she medals, all may not be forgiven by those who feel that she did not deserve a spot on the team over third-place national finisher Marai Nagasu.

If ice sports of a more aggressive nature are more your cup of tea, then your choice of ice princess may be one of U.S. women's hockey teammates, the Lamoureux twins, Monique and Jocelyn. Women's hockey does not allow checking, so during the final seconds of Team USA's Dec. 20 exhibition win over Canada, Monique Lamoureux's slam of Canada's Brianne Jenner into the boards resulted in a penalty for Lamoureaux and a subsequent melee on the ice between rival teams. The U.S. women's hockey team is poised to end its 16 years of gold medal drought in the Olympics. Since 1998, when the United States won the first Women's Olympic hockey tournament, the U.S. and Canada have met in all but one Olympic finals. Look for the teams to meet again this year. 

While Lindsey Vonn is out of this Olympics due to injury, much interest and expectation has been placed on the skis of World Cup Slalom champion Mikaela Shifffrin. A mere 18 years old, Shiffrin is a technical master who will face veterans like 32-year-old idol Austrian Marlies Schild in her quest for the gold. 

Hannah Kearney is another U.S. women's skier to watch. A two-time Olympian and the reigning gold medalist in moguls, she won the 2013 world championship, coming back from a lacerated liver and a punctured lung from an October 2012 training session.

The story of the men's U.S. Winter Olympic team is one of returning veterans. The ubiquitous Shaun White, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the halfpipe, seems poised for another win. However, he has tarnished his golden reputation by withdrawing from the slopestyle event, ostensibly due to fears for his own safety, but many sportswriters, such as Alyssa Roenigk of ESPN.com, have suggested that the actual reason for the snowboarder's withdrawal from the new Olympic event was his fear of losing. Unfortunately for Brandon Davis, an 18 year old who most likely would have replaced White, the decision to withdrawal from the competition was made too late allow for Davis' selection for the Olympic team. 

Alpine ski racer Bode Miller is returning for his fifth Olympics after skipping the 2013 season to recover from knee surgery. At the age of 35, the skier may be past his prime, but if he wins a medal on the slopes of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Resort, it could be a result of a maturity that he has lacked in previous years. True, Miller may have won five medals in Winter Olympic Games, but his reputation as a rebellious party animal who is considered to have thrown away his chance for a medal in the 2006 games by partying like a frat boy, has not endeared him to the American public. 

Shani Davis, the first black athlete from any nation to win a gold medal in a Winter Olympic individual sport, returns to the long track to compete for a third 1,000 meter Olympic speed skating title. Davis won his first Olympic gold in the 2006 Turin Olympics and still owns three world records. He burst on the Olympic skating short track scene in 2002 amidst allegations that teammates Apolo Ohno and Rusty Smith had conspired to concede victory to Davis in the 1,000 meter Olympic qualifier in order to deny Tommy O'Hare a spot on the Olympic Team. He left the Salt Lake City Olympics after the opening-day ceremonies to compete in the Junior World championships.

While Davis won the gold medal in the 1,000 meters and the silver in the 1,500 meters in longtrack in 2006, he was again thrown into a controversy after he was made an alternate for the U.S. in short track team pursuit. Public outcry ensued as Davis did not skate in the team pursuit despite the fact that he would only have been eligible to skate if a teammate was injured. Davis again won the gold in the 1,000 meter long track and the silver in the 1,500 meters in the 2010 Olympics. Davis is now 31 and his last world record came in 2009, but he is still a favorite to three peat in the 1,000 meters.

Who will we discover as the breakout stars of the Sochi Olympics?  Will figure skater Jason Brown dazzle the Olympic judges with his free skate skills? Perhaps twins Erik and Sadie Bjornsen will share Olympic victory in Nordic Skiing. Might Sarah Hendrickson amaze us with her length and style of flight in the first ever Women's Olympic ski jumping event? In two weeks time we will know the answer to these questions. Enjoy the 2015 Sochi Olympics. 


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