The Olympic Games comes around every four years for athletes of a particular sport, and we're just six days away from the start of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Today's athletes are well-trained and more determined than ever to attain the ultimate prize – a coveted medal. So who will be the standout stars for Team USA? I'm predicting that the following five athletes will be making headlines in the coming weeks:
- Mikaela Shiffrin. Mikaela is the first American woman to have won two World Cup races before turning 18, and she is the youngest skier to win a US Alpine Championship, which she accomplished at the age of 16. With Lindsay Vonn out due to injury, Mikaela has been thrust into the spotlight as the face of the US women's Alpine ski team. With this kind of attention on such a young athlete, Mikaela has a bright future ahead of her.
- JR Celski. A true testament to triumph over adversity, speed skater JR nearly missed the opportunity to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver when he crashed, causing his right skate to slice into his left thigh. After emergency surgery, 60 stitches, and five months of rehabilitation and training, he bounced back to compete as part of the 2010 U.S. Olympic speed skating team, ultimately winning two medals. With Apolo Anton Ohno's decision to retire before the 2014 Olympic Games, JR has emerged as the team's leader with a lot of promise and a great story to tell.
- Shaun White. Arguably the most popular U.S. Olympian heading to Sochi, Shaun is a fan favorite and a dynamic athlete. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but the pressure is on in Russia. Can he achieve the hat trick with a third gold medal? All eyes are watching to see if he can best his own record for the highest score in the men's halfpipe at the Winter Olympics – currently set at 48.4 points.
- Lindsey Van. Not to be confused with Lindsay Vonn, this Lindsey will make history as one of the first women to compete in Olympic ski jumping, as Sochi will be the first Olympic Games to include women's ski jumping events. Lindsey became the first World Champion in women's ski jumping in 2009, and she remains the only American – male or female – to win a gold medal at the World Ski Jumping Championships. She has already made quite a name for herself as the spokesperson for the fight to add the sport to the Olympic Winter Games program, and with stats like hers, she is poised to be a standout star.
- The US men's national hockey team. Made up of 25 National Hockey League superstars, the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team is likely to be one of the highlights of the 2014 Olympic Games. The 2010 gold medal game between the US and Canada remains the most watched hockey game in America since 1980's “Miracle on Ice” against the Soviet Union, and the 2014 roster features 13 returning Olympians in addition to young new talent. With a roster like this, the pressure is on to rebound and claim the gold medal.
Will my predictions be right or wrong? Whether it's these five stars who make it all the way or a “Cinderella story” that steals the spotlight, I suspect we will find ourselves riveted by their stories of hardships, perseverance, failure, and victory. After a lifetime of blood, sweat, and tears, these athletes have earned the opportunity to perform on the world's stage, with the support of their fellow Americans cheering them on along the way.
Ann Wool is a Ketchum partner and MD of Ketchum Sports & Entertainment.