The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are expected to deliver many incredible performances and sporting memories. Let’s take a look at four of the most prominent storylines to follow as the Games kick off this weekend:
1. How Many Gold Medals Will Mikaela Shiffrin Win?
Four years ago, in Sochi, young American skier Mikaela Shiffrin took the world by storm as she became the youngest Slalom Olympic Champion in history. Fast forward four more years and Shiffrin has made an even bigger name for herself in the skiing world.
Now 22, she is the defending Overall World Cup champion and appears to be in fine form as she heads to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics with an eye for multiple gold medals. Shiffrin has spent the last four years transitioning from a Slalom specialist to an all-around skier capable of winning additional events such as the Giant Slalom, Downhill, and Super Combined.
With a multitude of endorsements in her back pocket, including Barilla, Oakley, and Atomic, Shiffrin has become an American winter sports icon and expectations are high for her to continue dominating the slopes and bring home more gold.
2. Will Shaun White Return to the Top of the Podium?
Looking back on the Sochi Games, perhaps the most shocking result of any event occurred in the Men’s Snowboard Halfpipe. American snowboarding hero Shaun White, gold medalist in the 2006 and 2010 Winter Olympics, was expected to complete a three-peat of titles despite the presence of heavy younger competition. The three-peat did not happen as White finished a disappointing fourth place to be left off of the podium.
Despite intense speculation that he would retire from Olympic competition, White announced his intention to qualify for the 2018 Games. He did just that. Now, ‘golden’ expectations are just as high as 2014 and perhaps even higher for the 31-year-old veteran especially after White scored a perfect 100 in U.S. qualifying to punch his ticket to Pyeongchang.
Although White has long performed at an elite level under the spotlight, it will be fascinating to see if he can outrun the shadow of 2014 and reclaim his Olympic Champion status once again.
3. Without NHL Players, Who Will Win the Men’s Hockey Title?
With the National Hockey league’s decision to omit its players from consideration for the Olympics, the entire dynamic of the Men’s Hockey Tournament will be vastly different from past Winter Games. The United States and Canada in particular will receive heavy attention as they rely on a mixture of minor league players and older veterans not currently on NHL rosters.
Since the legendary 1980 gold medal winning team coached by Herb Brooks, the U.S. has filled Olympic rosters with NHL all-stars. In Pyeongchang, however, it will be the youngsters’ turn to represent the flag in a tournament that is up for grabs.
Despite the U.S. National Team roster’s lack of pure Olympic experience, it is a guarantee that each player will leave everything on the ice in memory of Jim Johannson, the late General Manager of U.S. Hockey, who passed away on January 21st just weeks before the Opening Ceremony.
4. Will Chloe Kim Overcome the Pressure to Win Halfpipe Gold?
From the perspective of the United States, Shaun White is not the only iconic Halfpipe snowboarder looking to dominate in Pyeongchang. A 17-year-old by the name of Chloe Kim is viewed as the present and future of U.S. women’s snowboarding and is the heavy favorite to win gold in 2018.
Though she was too young to compete in the Sochi Games, Kim proved age is only a number by winning the silver medal in Halfpipe at the Winter X Games in 2014. Since then, Kim has gone on to win three golds at the X Games and is widely considered to be the best female snowboarder in the world.
Although her competitors have many more years of experience, Kim has made it clear through her stunning performances that she is fearless and ready to take on any challenge. Expectations are high for Kim and the world is looking forward to seeing what she can do at her first Winter Olympics.