10 Colorado Winter Olympians to watch in Sochi

1. Mikaela Shiffrin, Skiing — Alpine, Vail

In the absence of Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, many believe Mikaela Shiffrin is poised to become the next U.S. skiing superstar. She made her World Cup debut when she was 15 years old, and she’s now set to make her Olympic debut at 18. Even though she’s still young, she has seasoning with just under four years as a pro. That’s a big reason why she’s a favorite to win gold in the slalom and considered a strong contender for the gold in the giant slalom.

2. Torin Yater-Wallace, Skiing — Freestyle, Aspen

The 18-year-old Torin Yater-Wallace is another one of Colorado’s skiing prodigies. Many believe the only thing that could stand in his way of gold in the halfpipe competition is a lingering injury. The Aspen native broke two ribs during a crash at Breckenridge in mid-December. He was unable to compete in any Olympic qualifiers due to the injury, but was still added to the U.S. team as a discretionary pick, which gives you an idea of how much faith his coaches have in his ability.

3. Lanny Barnes, Biathlon, Durango

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better story than the one of Lanny Barnes, now a three-time Olympian, and her twin sister Tracy. During the pair’s effort to earn spots on the U.S. Olympic team this year at a qualifying race in Italy, Tracy made the cut and Lanny, who was sick during the race, fell one spot short. However, it’s Lanny, not Tracy, who will be competing in Sochi. Why? Because Tracy gave up her spot to her twin. In explaining her decision, Tracy, who just missed qualifying for what would have been her first Olympics in 2010, told the Associated Press, “If you care enough about a person you will make any sacrifice for them. Even if it means giving up your dreams so that they can realize theirs.”

4. Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, Nordic Combined, Steamboat Springs

Bryan and Taylor Fletcher’s Olympic story rivals that of the Barnes’ twins. Yes, Bryan and Taylor are two separate Olympians, but they come as a package deal. It’s been that way ever since Taylor, 23, started helping Bryan, 27, get back out on the slopes during the seven years he spent battling Leukemia. Bryan was part of a U.S. Nordic team that won a record-breaking four medals at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. This year, Taylor is hoping to help the team add to that haul in his first Olympics in Sochi.

5. Todd Lodwick, Nordic Combined, Steamboat Springs

The veteran Todd Lodwick rounds out the stellar contingent of Nordic skiers from Steamboat Springs. The bounty of Nordic skiers from the area stands to reason, considering the town is one of just three in the country that has a world-class ski jump. But Lodwick won’t just be representing Steamboat in Sochi, he’ll be representing the U.S. as a whole after being named the U.S. flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. The high honor was bestowed upon Lodwick because he’s about to become the country’s first six-time Winter Olympian this season.

6. Simi Hamilton, Cross-Country, Aspen

Simi Hamilton’s victory at the Tour de Ski in Switzerland was the first by an American cross-country skier since February 1983, when Bill Koch won a 30K race in Sarajevo. The 26-year-old Aspen native and grandson of former Aspen Skiing Company CEO “Darcy” Brown is expected to lead what the U.S. hopes will be a resurgence in cross-country. Hamilton’s fellow Aspen native Noah Hoffman will be assisting in those efforts. How long has the U.S. been absent from the podium in the event? Since 1976, when Koch took home a silver medal.

7. Jeremy Abbott, Figure Skating, Aspen

If you want to watch Jeremy Abbott, you better have a connection in Sochi. The Aspen native is competing in the short program figure skating event, which began Thursday, a day before the opening ceremonies. Abbott is a four-time U.S. champion in the short program, and he’s not the only athlete in his family. His sister Gwen Abbott, a nationally-ranked downhill skier, competed in the X Games as a ski racer this year. The 28-year-old, who says this will be his last Olympics, was disappointed in his ninth place finish at the 2010 Winter Olympics, and most believe he will finish much higher this year.

8. Taylor and Arielle Gold, Snowboarding, Steamboat Springs

Taylor and Arielle Gold are the only brother-sister duo representing Colorado in this Olympicsm and they’re also one of the only brother-sister duos representing any country in the world. But don’t expect their shared last name to be wholly apt this year — the 20-year-old Taylor and 17-year-old Arielle are babies on the Olympic halfpipe circuit. That said, the two will gain valuable experience this year, and both could very well represent the future of U.S. halfpipe snowboarding for many years to come.

9. Gus Kenworthy, Skiing — Freestyle, Telluride

Gus Kenworthy is the only male athlete in the world who will be competing in both the slopeside and halfpipe freeskiing events. Thankfully, the 22-year-old Telluride native won’t have to go it alone on his historic trek in Sochi. Bobby Brown, Kenworthy’s best friend and former roommate for four years in Breckenridge, will also be competing in the slopeside event.

10. Keri Herman, Skiing — Freestyle, Breckenridge

Keri Herman may have become the top female freeskier from Colorado to watch after the top U.S. mogul skier, Vail’s Heidi Kloser, was injured in a Thursday practice run. That means Kloser’s Olympics are likely over. Enter Herman, a Breckenridge native and U.S. World Cup champ, who appears set to duke it out with Canada’s reigning Olympic champion, Kaya Turski, in the woman’s slopestyle competition.