Top 5 U.S. Athletes Heading to the 2014 Olympics

Harry How/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
The four Ws surround any Olympic Games: Who Will Win What? Narrowing the list of U.S. Olympic elites headed to the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, required the elimination of recuperating hopefuls and comeback candidates with less than stellar odds of podium-meriting performances. Mid-2013, sports data firm Infostrada foresaw a lower U.S. medal count in 2014 than the previous Games in Vancouver. However, the debut of 12 events at the Sochi Games, such as parallel slalom snowboarding and women’s ski jumping, improve Team USA’s medal odds.

5 Ted Ligety

Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Ted Ligety shows the most medal promise for the 2014 Winter Olympics on the men’s side of U.S. skiing. His strong showing in 2013 World Cup races—wins in the Super-Combined and Super-G races—portends an equally strong Olympiad and a possible repeat of the gold he won in men’s alpine combined at the 2006 Turin Olympic Games.

4 Mikaela Shiffrin

Christophe Pallot/Agence Zoom/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

The year leading to an Olympic Games serves as a warmup for athletes. In 2013, skier Mikaela Shiffrin became the first American to win three World Cup slalom events, making her a favorite to medal at Sochi. The teenage slalom star could rewrite U.S. skiing history with a gold medal win as its youngest alpine medalist.

3 Heather Richardson

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Based on her world-record setting performance at the 2012 World Sprint Championships, speedskater Heather Richardson stands poised to step into former Olympian Bonnie Blair’s gold-winning skates. The Sochi Olympiad makes her second Olympic appearance—she returned from Vancouver in 2010 experienced but without a medal. Expect Richardson to shine in the 500-meter and 1,000-meter races and earn her first Olympic medals.

2 Sarah Hendrickson

Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Another new Olympic winter sport, women’s ski jumping, boosts U.S. gold-medal prospects for Utah native Sarah Hendrickson. Hendrickson finished first and second in the 2012 and 2013 World Cup standings, respectively, and won the 2013 World Championship. If the teenager stays healthy and keeps Japanese rival Sara Takanashi at bay, Hendrickson could claim her sport’s first Olympic gold medal.

1 Shaun White

Agence Zoom/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Sochi gives snowboarder Shaun White a three-peat chance for gold in the halfpipe. The red-headed snow wonder, known as the Flying Tomato, also could be a serious contender for the first medal in slopestyle, one of the new winter sports events. A U.S. team that includes White for men’s and Kelly Clark for women’s events would dominate Olympic snowboarding.

The 5 Best Female Boxers of All Time The 5 Best Female Boxers of All Time