1. Australian Snowboarder Belle Brockhoff
Why you should watch: At only 21 years old, this will be Brockhoff’s first trip to the Olympics. She took up snowboarding at the age of 10 — three weeks later, she won her first interschool nationals title. The Aussie came out of the closet earlier this year in direct protest to Putin’s anti-LGBT laws. So, if her snowboarding doesn’t catch your attention, you won’t want to miss her “rip on Putin’s ass” in her Sochi interviews. She will compete in women’s snowboard cross.
3. U.S. Skeleton Racer Noelle Pikus-Pace
Why you should watch: This 31-year-old mother of two is coming back out of retirement in hopes of winning one last medal in the (terrifying) sport of skeleton. She missed the Torino Games after shattering her right leg and just four years later she was a tenth of a second short of a medal in Vancouver. As if all that wasn’t inspiring enough, her husband designed her skeleton sled this year. Regardless of how determined she is, Pikus-Pace will have to beat the reigning champion from Britain, Lizzy Yarnold.
5. The U.S. and Canadian Women’s Hockey Teams
Why you should watch: When women’s hockey was first introduced to the Winter Olympics in 1998, the U.S. took home gold. Canada has won every gold medal since. The rivalry between these two teams couldn’t be more heated with two all-out brawls erupting during games in the past few months.
Believe it or not, this will be the first time the U.S. women’s team is actually coached by a woman. Team USA coach Katey Stone has coached 19 seasons at Harvard and is the all-time wins leader in women’s college hockey with 402 victories. Get the full women’s hockey schedule here.
7. South Korean Figure Skater Yuna Kim
Why should you watch: Twenty-four-year-old Kim is an idol in her home country of South Korea, breaking all previous records in 2010 with her scores in Vancouver and giving her country its first gold in figure skating. “I like to be just an athlete but if I go to competition and compete, I’d love to be a star maybe,” she told Ryan Seacrest in a recent interview. Kim took home a gold medal in 2010, and if she repeats with another win in Sochi she will be the first figure skater since Katarina Witt in (1948 and 1988) to take home back-to-back gold medals. She plans on retiring after this year.
9. Japanese Figure Skater Mao Asada
Why you should watch: The 23-year-old Asada has been rivals with Yuna Kim since they were both teens — though Kim has often gotten the best of Asada on the Olympic stage. Just like her rival, she is set to retire this year. “In Vancouver, I had the gold medal as my goal,” said Asada last year. “I’d worked for it since I was a child, and afterwards I really regretted my mistakes. In Sochi, I’d like to erase those memories by doing everything perfectly. That’s what I’ve been working for these last three years.”
11. U.S. Bobsledders Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones
Why you should watch: LoLo Jones became one of the most polarizing picks for Sochi when she was selected as a runner on the U.S. bobsledding team. An American track and field star, she specializes in the 60- and 100-meter hurdles but came up short of medals in the Summer Olympics. You know you are seriously committed to a gold medal when you switch sports — and seasons — to compete. Jones will make history as one of 10 athletes to compete in both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games.
Jones’ Sochi sledding teammate Lauryn Williams is the one poised to make even more exciting history: If Williams wins a gold medal in Sochi, she’ll be the first American woman to have golds from the Summer and Winter Games. Williams won a silver medal in the 100-meter in Athens in 2004 and gold in the 4×100 relay in London.
13. U.S. Ski Jumper Sarah Hendrickson
Why you should watch: If you watch 19-year-old Sarah Hendrickson’s Olympic debut, you will also be watching her make history as she — along with 27 other women from 11 countries — becomes one of the first women to compete in the ski jumping event. Her retort to the claim that ski jump is potentially harmful to women’s reproductive systems: “My baby-making organs are on the inside. Men have an organ on the outside. So, if it’s not safe for me jumping down, and my uterus is going to fall out, what about the organ on the outside of the body?” Hendrickson made the ski jumping team just five months after blowing out her right knee in a bad crash.
15. British Speedskater Elise Christie
Why you should watch: Having made it through two serious accidents, short-track speedskater Elise Christie has a real shot at winning Britain’s first gold in the event at Sochi. Last November, in a harrowing fall during a World Cup race, a competitor’s skate cut her right leg. “Her blade hit my leg, which looked a mess. I ended up under a stack of safety pads. Luckily they were moveable ones, otherwise I could have broken my leg.” she recalls. Christie will be going for gold in 500-meter, 1,000-meter, and 1,500-meter speedskating events.
17. All Three Dufour-Lapointe Sisters from Canada
Why you should watch: Justine (19), Chloe (22), and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe (24) are all competing for Team Canada in ski mogul events. And not only that, but all three have a good shot at taking medals in freestyle moguls. The youngest, Justine, is ranked No. 2 in the world and Chloe is ranked No. 3, while the eldest is No. 5. Three sisters up on the medal podium would be an emotional moment to witness. The women’s qualifying rounds have already begun.
19. U.S. Paralympic Skier Tatyana McFadden
Why you should watch: McFadden was born in Russia with spina bifida. When her mother was unable to care for her she was put up for adoption and arrived in the U.S. at the age of 6. Her teammates in college nicknamed her “The Beast” not only because of her amazing strength, but because of her worth ethic and determination. At the age of 15, she was the youngest member of the U.S. track and field team in the Athens Paralympic Games. Now a 10-time Paralympic track medalist, she is ready to win a few more. And her birth mother will be in Sochi watching her compete. The Sochi Paralympic Winter Games start in March.
21. U.S. Freestyle Skier Maddie Bowman
Why you should watch: This 20-year-old is about as laid-back as they come. Even her reaction to hearing that halfpipe freestyle skiing was being added as an event was level-headed. “I was at my home in Lake Tahoe when it was announced. I was like, ‘Wow that’s really cool, maybe I can do that’ but then it kind of left my mind and didn’t think about it again. Then all of a sudden it was all in my face, like, ‘Wow maybe it’s a possibility,’” she recalled. Competing isn’t just a possibility anymore, as she became one of the first halfpipe skiers to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.
23. Russian Figure Skater Julia Lipnitskaia
Why you should watch: Most recently, this Russian figure skater claimed gold at the 2014 European Championships in Budapest on her way to the Winter Games. Oh, and she is only 15 years old. Being the youngest competitor in the field and competing in your home country will be more pressure than ever on this teenage prodigy. “Emotions help me to perform well,” she said. “I always thought that they would distract me, hinder my technique, but I discovered that emotions help me improve my performance.”
25. British Curling Skip Eve Muirhead
Why you should watch: WAIT — give curling a chance here. Muirhead, originally from Scotland, is the 23-year-old skip of Great Britain’s team. She turned down heaps of golf scholarships to focus on curling full time. She is also quite accomplished at the bagpipes, just another reason to love her. Women’s qualifying rounds begin Feb. 10.
27. Norwegian Cross-Country Skier Marit Bjoergen
Why you should watch: Four years ago, 33-year-old Norwegian Marit Bjoergen won a Winter Olympic record five medals in the Vancouver Games. This year she could take home six. She is a favorite to medal in all four of the individual cross-country events. Not to mention she is already the most successful sprinter in cross-country World Cup history, with 25 victories.
29. U.S. Figure Skater Ashley Wagner
Why you should watch: This 22-year-old U.S. athlete had an unfortunate run in the 2014 Championships, coming in fourth. The national committee controversially put her on the Olympic team anyway. She will have to skate perfectly and prove she deserved the Sochi spot. Off the ice, she has been outspoken ally to the LGBT community. She has promised to not side-step any questions given to her on the subject.
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