By Sam Scanlon ’19
Winter is coming. This winter will be a particularly exciting one, as all eyes will be on Pyeongchang, South Korea. The world’s best winter athletes will convene to represent their respective countries in the 2018 Winter Olympics with some big changes coming to the games this year.
Perhaps the biggest story surrounding this year’s winter games is the absence of the National Hockey League (NHL) players in the ice hockey event. The NHL announced earlier this year that it would prohibit its players from participating in the upcoming Olympics. The reasons were clear and understandable. NHL organizations are no longer interested in shutting down the season for a few weeks just so their players can go play for someone else.
Mid-February is the time of year where the NHL gets its most attention from viewers. The National Football League would have just culminated with the Super Bowl, and Major League Baseball would be in the middle of its off season, so the opportunity to grab new viewers is easiest at this time.
Another reason that NHL organizations are not having their players play somewhere else in the middle of the season is due the threat of injury. NHL players who participate in the Olympics are often times the most valuable and best players on their respective NHL rosters and cannot risk any injuries.
After five consecutive Winter Olympic Games with NHL involvement, the league and organizations decided that it is not worth it to send their players to the Olympics. So, they will look to draw players from the American Hockey League (AHL): the minor league affiliate for the NHL, the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL): Russia’s premiere league, the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and other European professional leagues. Team USA’s roster is going to look a lot like the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team with its college and other non-NHL players.
While ice hockey is gaining most of the attention now, other sports are going to start to get more focus as they are starting to think about finalizing rosters. The return of Lindsay Vonn is highly anticipated in the ski events. Vonn, who missed the 2014 Sochi Olympics due to a severe knee injury, has worked her way back to the top of the skiing world. Arguably the most famous and successful female skier in the world, her return is going to be vital for the success of Team USA in the alpine skiing events as she is no stranger to the podium; most notably, her gold medal performance in 2010 in the downhill event. In addition to downhill, Vonn also competes in the super-G, slalom, and super combined, where she has had tremendous success the past few years leading up to this Olympics.
Skiing has added a few new and exciting events in recent history, including the freestyle event. Team USA has multiple hopeful participants who are looking to stand atop the podium in February. Gus Kenworthy, who you may recognize from MTV’s “The Challenge: Champs vs. Pros”, is an electrifying freestyle skier who took home the silver medal in the 2014 games. He is someone to watch during this year’s Olympics. Freestyle skiing is something the United States dominates on the men’s side, as Joss Christensenn won gold and Nicholas Goepper completed the USA podium sweep in 2014 with a bronze medal. Look for USA to have extreme success in this event this winter as well.
Figure skating has always been a popular Winter Olympic event. Recently, Russia has dominated this event, but Team USA is looking toward young star Gracie Gold to win gold this winter and possibly avoid a Russian sweep. She helped Team USA capture a bronze medal in 2014 in the “Mixed Team” event.
Team USA had a disappointing showing in the snowboarding events in Sochi, but with gold medalist Jamie Anderson leading the charge, they look to get back to the podium this time around in Pyeongchang. In addition to snowboarding, Team USA’s bobsleigh and skeleton athletes will more than likely boost our medal count.
The United States’ top competition throughout this Olympics with be Russia in figure skating and hockey, Austria in alpine skiing, Sweden in cross country skiing, and the Netherlands in speed skating. Team USA has an estimated athlete count of 245, giving them a great chance to medal in each event.