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Winter Olympics: A blizzard of U.S. medals, or more of a trickle?

Wearing both 'optimist' and 'pessimist' hats, Olympic reporter Philip Hersh predicts best- and worst-case scenarios for U.S. athletes at Sochi.

February 01, 2014|By Philip Hersh
  • U.S. teenager Mikaela Shiffrin is a World Cup slalom champion capable of winning a gold medal at the Sochi Games.
U.S. teenager Mikaela Shiffrin is a World Cup slalom champion capable of… (Marco Trovati / Associated…)

SOCHI, Russia — Last April, when the pre-Olympic winter sports season ended, the optimist and pessimist weighed in about U.S. medal chances for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Back then, the optimist liked the U.S. to improve its record total of 37 medals, with nine gold, from the 2010 Winter Olympics. The glass-very-full view showed 52 medals, including 20 gold.

The glass-nearly-drained view showed just 22 medals, with three gold.

As the 2014 opening ceremony looms, it's time to revisit those predictions.

They look almost the same in aggregate, with the optimist saying 49 and 18, the pessimist 21 and two.

But snow and ice are slippery, and potentially changing weather conditions for each competitor in many sports make the prediction game just as slippery for a Winter Olympics. That is especially true in Sochi, where temperatures in the lower mountain venues could reach the high 40s — or more — and it may not be below freezing some days at the Alpine skiing venue in Rosa Khutor.

Still, the optimist and the pessimist are weighing in again, with the 2010 U.S. medal totals in parentheses after each sport:

ALPINE SKIING (two gold, eight medals)

Optimist (two gold, eight medals): No Lindsey Vonn means two fewer medals. Reigning world champion Mikaela Shiffrin wins the slalom and makes up for a missing Vonn medal by sneaking one in giant slalom. Julia Mancuso finally gets untracked this season and takes a medal in either super-G or combined. A surprise downhill medal comes from Stacey Cook or Leanne Smith. Ted Ligety wins giant slalom and gets medals in super-G and combined. Bode Miller, back from his year off, rustles up a medal. (Difference from April: one fewer gold and total)

Pessimist (one gold, three medals): Ligety wins GS and one other medal. With Austria's Marlies Schild fully recovered from injury, Shiffrin drops lower on the slalom podium. (Difference: one fewer total)

NORDIC COMBINED (one gold, four medals)

Optimist (two medals): World Cup results this season offer less hope. But the U.S. somehow wins the team event medal, and Bryan Fletcher gets an individual podium. (Difference: one fewer gold).

Pessimist (0 medals): World Cup results don't lie. (Difference: one fewer medal).

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING (0)

Optimist (one gold, two medals): Reigning World Cup overall champion Kikkan Randall gets to ski her specialty in individual sprint (freestyle) at this Olympics and wins gold. Reigning team sprint world champions Randall and Jessica Diggins, who won that title in freestyle, find enough mojo in classic style to win a medal. (Difference: none)

Pessimist (one medal): Randall wins medal in individual sprint. (Difference: none)

SKI JUMPING (0)

Optimist (one medal): Sarah Hendrickson, back on skis for barely a month after knee surgery, regains enough of her old form to get a medal in the inaugural Olympic women's jumping competition. (Difference: one fewer gold)

Pessimist (0 medals): No comeback miracle for Hendrickson. (Difference: one fewer medal).

FREESTYLE SKIING (one gold, four medals)

Optimist (two gold, seven medals): Hannah Kearney wins moguls gold and Patrick Deneen medals. Emily Cook returns from an injury-riddled 2013 to win an aerials medal. David Wise wins and comebacking Torin Yater-Wallace is on the podium in halfpipe. John Teller sneaks a medal in ski cross. Angeli VanLaanen, who has battled Lyme disease, is a surprise medalist in halfpipe. (Difference: none.)

Pessimist (one gold, three medals): Kearney wins. Both Wise and Deneen get medals. (Difference: one fewer gold and total.)

SNOWBOARDING (two gold, five medals)

Optimist (three gold, eight medals): Shaun White wins his third straight halfpipe gold and medals in the new slopestyle event. Danny Davis, who missed the 2010 Games after an ATV accident, makes up for lost time with a pipe medal. Kelly Clark and the kid, 17-year-old Arielle Gold, score a win and a medal in pipe. Nate Holland finally gets his medal in boardercross. Lindsey Jacobellis not only is back on the SBX podium after an eight-year gap but wins gold. Newcomer Trevor Jacob, in his second year of SBX, gets a medal. (Difference: one more medal)

Pessimist (three medals): At 27, age catches up to White, who gets just one medal. Women get one halfpipe medal. Jacobellis is on podium. (Difference: none)

BIATHLON (0)

Optimist (one medal): Tim Burke, silver medalist at 2013 worlds, breaks through for first U.S. medal in the sport. (Difference: none)

Pessimist (0): Same old, same old, although Burke does improve on the best-ever U.S. individual finish of ninth. (Difference: none)

FIGURE SKATING (one gold, two medals)

Optimist (one gold, three medals): 2010 silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White win ice dance. As favorites falter, Ashley Wagner returns to her fall 2012 form or Gracie Gold finds the consistency she needs to snag a medal. U.S. takes silver in the new team event. (Difference: one fewer gold and total).

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