How America Can Make a Medal Comeback in Pyeongchang

Looking for opportunities for Team USA to make up ground in the Olympic medal count

The United States has won at least 25 Winter Olympic medals at each of the last four Games. With one week to go in Pyeongchang, the Americans have visited the podium just 10 times and are on pace to post their lowest medal count at Winter Games since 1998.

After winning 13 medals each at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and 1998 Nagano Olympics, Team USA medal totals at Olympic Winter Games increased exponentially. First, it was 34 trips to the podium in 2002 at Salt Lake City. Then, 25 medals at Turin in 2006. A record 37 Winter Olympic medals followed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and 28 more in Sochi four years later.

Have the American athletes performed below expectations? Or have they not had the opportunity to medal yet?

The answer is a little bit of both.

Several American favorites did not deliver in events in which they were expected to contend. That group includes a number of fourth place finishes, such as Mikaela Shiffrin in slalom, an event in which she was defending her 2014 gold medal, and Lindsey Jacobellis in snowboard cross. Other Team USA medal favorites finished further off the podium, like figure skater Nathan Chen and freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy.

One of the big problems has come at Yongpyong Alpine Centre, where Team USA has earned just one medal, and the men are in danger of being blanked in downhill events for the first time since Nagano.

The U.S. has excelled in alpine skiing events at the last two Olympics, taking home eight Vancouver medals and five in Sochi. In Pyeongchang there are four downhill medal events left: men’s slalom, women’s downhill, women’s combined and the team event. The U.S. is not expected to contend in the team event and it would be a surprise if an American man medaled, but big names like Shiffrin and Lindsey Vonn could reach the podium in the remaining women’s events.

There have been aberrations over the years, as in 2010, when the U.S. added to its total with four medals in Nordic combined. An American hadn’t won one before and hasn’t won one since. We are more focused on events in which the United States traditionally does well, but has not done so in 2018.

There are 41 more medal events to go at Pyeongchang 2018, which translates to 123 total medals. Here is a look at what has gone wrong in some events, and where the U.S. has a chance to make up ground in others.

Figure Skating
Kristi Yamaguchi. Tara Lipinski. Sarah Hughes. In the 1990s and early 2000s, women’s figure skating was often where American Winter Olympic stars were born. The United States won gold in three of four Olympics from 1992 to 2002, but has not reached the podium since Sasha Cohen took silver in 2006.

Ice dance could help the United States here. While it would not be a disappointment if the U.S. failed to medal, there are contenders for at least a bronze. The three American teams — Maia and Alex Shibutani, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — are all among the top six ice dance teams in the world.

Freestyle Skiing
The rising U.S. medal counts over the last 20 years can be linked to the introduction of extreme sports to the Olympics. Halfpipe and slopestyle were added to the Winter Games in 2014 and Americans took home six of the 12 medals across men’s and women’s disciplines.

Team USA nabbed just one of six medals in slopestyle this year — Nick Goepper’s silver — but halfpipe is still on the docket and two American medalists return. David Wise won gold in men’s halfpipe in Sochi, while Maddie Bowman took women’s gold.

Ice Hockey
Playing without NHL players, the U.S. men’s hockey team will face an uphill climb if it is to reach the podium in Pyeongchang, after earning silver in 2002 and 2010. The women’s team, on the other hand, has earned a medal at every Olympics since the sport was introduced in 1998, and that streak should continue.

Short Track Speedskating
The United States won 12 Olympic medals in short track speed skating from 2002 to 2010. Apolo Ohno won eight of them. If there’s one sport where the drop-off in American medals can be linked to one athlete, this is it. Ohno won two medals in Salt Lake City, three in Turin and three in Vancouver.

Following his retirement, the U.S. won just one medal — a silver in the men’s 5,000 meter relay — in short track speedskating at the Sochi Olympics. The Americans could contend in that race on Thursday in Pyeongchang, and received a pleasant surprise when John-Henry Krueger took silver in the mens’ 1,000 meter race.

Americans have dominated snowboarding events since they were added to the Olympics and have earned four gold medals in 2018. However, this is the first year since snowboard cross was added that an American man failed to reach the podium.

The U.S. could add a snowboard medal on Friday, as Jamie Anderson, already a gold medalist in Pyeongchang, will shred in women’s big air.

Americans won at least four medals on the oval in each Olympics from 2002 to 2010 before failing to win a single one in 2014. That year, Under Armour’s Mach 39 suit came under fire as the cause of the problem. This year, Brittany Bowe, Heather Bergsma and Joey Mantia were all thought to be threats for the United States entering Pyeongchang, but none have medaled yet. U.S. racers could contend in the men’s and women’s mass start, held on the final day of the Games.

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