Allow Us To Explain
The opening ceremony doesn't take place until tomorrow, but sporting events at the 2014 Sochi Olympics start today. And you know what that means for us nerds: The beginning of the only time when a lot of us, myself included, ever give a flip about anything sports-related. I will fully admit to being pretty damn sports-clueless. But I've bitten the bullet, taken advantage of my research skills, and compiled this list of 15 female athletes that you, my nerdy brethren, should keep an eye on at Sochi.
We feel it's important to acknowledge and appreciate the women who have worked so hard to reach the pinnacle of their chosen sports, but while we cheer for their potential and their victories, we should remember that they stand in contrast to the many Russian citizens in crisis as their government turns a blind eye to widespread violent acts against he LGBTQ community there.
Here, then, are 15 ladies you should keep an eye on until the Olympics end on February 23rd. Then we can go back to only caring about games with the words "video" or "tabletop" in front of them.
Jessica Jerome (Ski Jumping)
As always, this year’s Olympics will see the debut of some new sports. Sadly, ex-Olympic sport tug of war (really) will not be one of them. But we do get women’s ski jumping. The first person to get a spot on that team is Jessica Jerome, who won the Olympic trails in Park City, Utah. Jerome was part of the 2002 and 2010 Olympics, but only as someone who tested the ski jumps, which at the time was all female jumpers could do. Needless to say, it felt like a little bit of an insult. Or, as Jerome puts it: “Are you serious? No! We deserve to be here as competitors. We’re not going to be your hamsters to test out the hill for the men.” At Sochi she, along with US teammates Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson, finally get a chance to go for the gold.
(The Washington Post; picture by MartinPutz via Wikimedida Commons)
Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams (Bobsled)
At Sochi Lolo Jones and Lauryn Williams will become the ninth and tenth American Olympic athletes to compete in both the summer and winter games. Jones has more name recognition: She was on track (ba-doom-ching) to win the 100 meter hurdles in Beijing until she clipped one of the last hurdles, and in 2012’s London Olympics she came in fourth. But Jones’ Sochi sledding teammate Lauryn Williams, who also made the move from track and field, is the one poised to make history: If she wins a gold medal in Sochi, she’ll be the first American woman to have golds from the summer and winter games.
(Jones pic, top, by Lucas Jackson / Reuters/Reuters; Lauryn Williams via Facebook)
Lindsey Jacobellis (Snowboarding)
I distinctly remember watching Lindsey Jacobellis compete in the Snowboard Cross final at the 2006 Turin Olympics. She had a gigantic lead over the next nearest competitor, so, approaching the finish line, she got into the X Games spirit and tried a trick. I was a bona fide adult at the time—I was of legal drinking age and everything—but I felt like throwing myself to the floor and having a tantrum when she landed on the edge of her snowboard, fell, and had to settle for silver. It was a rough moment for me, emotionally. And at Vancouver she got disqualified before the final round. Jacobellis has won more gold medals (8) in the X Games than any other woman, but she's yet to achieve ultimate Olympic victory. Here's hoping that changes at Sochi.
Picture by mountainpix / Shutterstock.com.
Katey Stone and Julie Chu (Hockey)
We might be cheating a bit with Katey Stone. She’s not a Sochi athlete. Instead she's a Sochi coach, the first female to fill that role for women’s ice hockey at the Olympic level, and we think that’s pretty damn cool.
The American and Canadian female ice hockey teams have a pretty intense rivalry; America beat Canada for the gold at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, the first time female ice hockey was included as a category, but since then Canada’s won the gold all three times, with the US of A getting silver twice and bronze once. But Stone, who also coaches Harvard’s team, is one of the sport’s most successful coaches, male or female; under her watch Harvard’s women’s team has won 378 games, and nine of her players have made it to the Olympics. One of those is Julie Chu, who at the 2002 Salt Lake City became the first Asian-American to play on the US women’s hockey team. She also competed at the Torino and Vancouver Olympics, making her a veteran of all three times the American lost out on Olympic gold to our neighbors from the north. At Sochi she’ll be the only member of her team over 30, and she’ll be ready to kick some Canadian ass.
(Pic copyright Lucas Jackson / Reuters/Reuters)
Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner (Figure Skating)
18-year-old figure skater Gracie Gold is being called America’s “It Girl” for the Sochi Olympics. Last month saw her win her first national championship, and though she’s only ranked 10th in the world by Icenetwork.com, she can pull off triple-triple combinations, which makes a medal at Sochi very possible. Gold and Ashley Wagner are the two female individual skaters chosen to be part of America’s “team” event. It’s something new for the Sochi Olympics, similar to the way gymnasts at the summer Olympics compete both as a team and individually. So there'll be even more chances to see people zooming around in those lovely spandex, rhinestone’d outfits. Wagner’s the subject of some controversy in the ice skating world; she choked at the U.S Championships, but based on her past performances—she’s a two-time national champion and is ranked third in the world—she was chosen to the round out the Olympic team over Mirai Nagasu, who came in third.
(Gracie Gold pic by David W. Carmichael, via Wikimedia Commons)
Kim Yu-Na and Mao Asada (Figure Skating)
Neither Gold or Wagner, however, are favored to win figure skating gold. That would be South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na or Japan’s Mao Asada, depending on whom you ask. They won gold and silver, respectively, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. But since then Asada’s re-worked her jump technique and won three Grand Prix goals, while Kim hasn’t competed as regularly. The rivals (in a friendly way, not a Kerrigan and Harding way) are both retiring after Sochi at the grand old age of 23. If Kim takes home the gold she’ll be only the third female figure skater in history to do so in consecutive Olympics.
(Pic of Asada (l) and Kim (c) by Olga Besnard / Shutterstock.com)
The Dufour-Lapointe Sisters (Moguls)
For me, most days of the year “moguls,” means “film moguls.” But during the winter Olympics moguls refers to a specific type of freestyle skiing. It’s the one where the snow is bumpy and the skiiers do tricks. You know what I mean. It’s one of the more fun skiing events to watch (though nothing can top ski ballet). Representing Canada in the moguls are not one, not two, but three Dufour-Lapointe sisters: Maxime (24), Chloe (22), and Justine (19). That’s ten percent of the entire women’s moguls field. The sisters are ranked numbers five, three, and two in the world, respectively, so while youngest sister Justine is the most likely Olympic victor, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that two or even three of the Dufour-Lapointes could medal. If all three do, it’ll be the first time a trio of sisters sweep the podium.
Picture via Twitter
Mikaela Shiffrin (Alpine Skiing)
When she was 17 years old Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest American world ski champion ever. Now 18, she’s going into Sochi with two consecutive World Cup wins under her belt, and a third from earlier in the season. That’s out of only five races, by the way, one of which she placed second in. Anything can happen at the Olympics—even someone wearing something better Hubertus von Hohenlohe’s Mariachi-inspired skiing outfit, which isn’t likely—but Shiffrin winning a medal of some kind is pretty dang likely. If she gets a gold, she’ll become the youngest American alpine skiier to do so.
Picture by Beelde Photography / Shutterstock.com
Vanessa Mae (Alpine Skiing)
OK, so Vanessa Mae is less "one to keep your eye on because she'll do well" and more "one we think is interesting." See, Mae isn't a professional athlete. Instead, alpine skiing is her "life-long hobby.” As you can see from the pic we chose, she's actually a violinist by trade. And a successful one, too; she’s sold over 10 million albums of her signature "techno-acoustic fusion" style. She qualified for Sochi under a rule that states any country without a top-500 ranked skiier can send a male and a female to the Olympics if they meet a second set of qualifications, which Mae—who’s representing her father’s country of Thailand under the name Vanessa Vanakorn—was able to do on the last weekend before the qualification deadline. "When it comes to music, I am a perfectionist,” she says. “When it is skiing, I have no delusions about a podium - or even being in the top 100 in the world."
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