5 Elise Christie
Short-track speed skating conjures memories of South Korean, Chinese and American champions. Great Britain’s Elise Christie hopes to change that when she laces up for the Sochi Games. Her achievements on the road to the 2014 Winter Olympics indicate she has the blades to succeed. Christie ranked first in the world in the 1,000-meter event at the beginning of 2013 and became the first British speed skater to medal in World Cup competition the same year.
4 U.S. Women’s Hockey Team
They lost to the Canadian team at the 2010 Games, but beat their northern neighbors at the 2013 world championship. The U.S. women take the Sochi ice without their defense star, Angela Ruggiero, for the first time since women’s hockey became an Olympic event. When the puck drops, the U.S. hopes to end a 16-year gold-medal drought under a new coach, Harvard University’s legendary Katey Stone, the first female Olympic hockey coach for Team USA.
3 Kaillie Humphries
Canada’s gold-medal bobsledder, Kaillie Humphries, appears to have the sport’s fastest sled as Sochi 2014 nears. Humphries added a second consecutive World Cup overall title in 2013 to cement her sledding dominance. To hang another gold medal around her neck, the Canadian has to overcome the pressure that defending Olympic champions face.
2 Javier Fernandez
Known as the “Quad King,” Spanish figure skater Javier Fernandez may jump his way to the podium, giving Spain its third Winter Games medal in history. Fernandez’s win at the 2013 European championships shows his potential: His first-place performance included three quadruple jumps. Although he took the bronze two months later at the World Figure Skating Championship, he landed two of the four-rotation leaps—the only medal winner to do so.
1 Lindsey Vonn
Some say Lindsey Vonn, the most accomplished skier in U.S. Alpine skiing history, faces an uphill battle to repeat the downhill gold she won at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Vonn tore ligaments in her right knee and fractured her shinbone at a 2013 World Cup competition. With four overall World Cup titles, this competitor’s drive to regain her form should not be ignored.