SALT LAKE CITY — Opening Ceremonies for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games are still a few days away, but the U.S. Olympic Team has already broken a few records.
The 242 athletes representing the U.S. in PyeongChang make up the largest contingent any country has ever sent to the Winter Games. This U.S. team is America’s most diverse with 10 African-Americans, 11 Asian-Americans and the first two openly gay male athletes.
Salt Lake native Nathan Chen is among the most high-profile athletes to watch, as the 18-year-old reigning U.S. champion continues to push the sport of figure skating with his ability to land more quads in two programs than almost anybody in the world.
But there are others, including a few with Utah connections, who are worth watching as the Games get underway with Opening Ceremonies on Feb. 9.
Three athletes will be competing in their third Olympics — something only six other U.S. Olympians have done — and all three have Utah connections.
Long track speedskater Shani Davis, the most decorated athlete on the U.S. roster with four medals (two gold and two silver), trains part-time at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns.
“I’m honored,” the 35-year-old Chicago native said after earning his spot on his fifth Olympic team in Milwaukee. “Twenty years of this is quite substantial when you look at all the time I’ve put into it. I still enjoy it. I’m still trying to be the best I can be and the best speed skater that I can, and I’m going to continue to plug away at it.”
Snowboarder Kelly Clark won her only Olympic gold medal in her first Olympics in Salt Lake City. She won bronze in Vancouver and Sochi.
Then there is cross country ski veteran Kikkan Randall, who is competing in her first Olympics after having her first child in 2016.
Randall’s family lived in Salt Lake City when she was born as her mother was attending the University of Utah’s law school. She is also the niece of two Olympic cross-country skiers.
Likely U.S. medalists are Alpine’s Mikaela Shiffrin, the 22-year-old slalom skier whose success has sparked debate about whether she’s the best skier — ever; bobsled pilot Elana Meyer Taylor and push athlete Lauren Gibbs, both 33; and snowboarder Chloe Kim, who could become the youngest woman to win gold at 17.
Heather Richardson-Bergsma | Heather Richardson-Bergsma, Associated Press
Long track speedskater Heather Richardson Bergsma, who now lives and trains in the Netherlands now that she’s married to Dutch speedskater Jorrit Bergsma. She could win Olympic gold in any distance or mass start. She owns a world record and numerous World Cup titles but has yet to win an Olympic medal.
Other U.S. Olympians to watch will be four-time Olympians Lindsey Jacobellis (snowboard cross), Shaun White (snowboarding) and Katie Uhlaender (skeleton).
Internationally, Canada mogul skier Mikael Kingsbury, who is the most decorated mogul skier of all time, should contend. He doesn’t own an Olympic gold yet, as his countryman Alexandre Bilodeau edged him for the win in Sochi. He recently surpassed U.S. mogul legend and two-time Olympic medalist Hannah Kearney with 48 World Cup wins.
Germany looks to be the gold medal favorite with dominant athletes in biathlon and cross country. It's unclear how the IOC's decision to ban the Russian team will impact the Games, as about 200 athletes will be allowed to compete as individuals under the Olympic flag, including Russia's hockey team. The biggest impact may be in figure skating and speed skating.
Australian short track skater Andy Jung will attract attention as he skates in the country his family fled after the Korean War divided it. His family has expressed hope for political peace in the wake of the announcement that North and South Korea would march together under a unified flag, as they did at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.