As the U.S. contingent of athletes and support staff gathered in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics, practically everyone — including many in the media — kept making the same observations.
It felt so comfortable there. As close as imaginable to being an American atmosphere. No language barriers. No logistical nightmares. No major adjustments. Just an ideal setting, with the Canadian people such warm, gracious and excited hosts.
As those Games began, everyone just knew the U.S. athletes would fare well, as would Team Canada. In the end, Canada won the most gold medals, 14, while the Americans led in total medals with 37 (nine gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze).
Four years later, as the world gathers in Sochi, Russia, the vibes coming from various sources couldn't be more different. For the USOC and its member sports, the simplest details have been difficult. Just one example, from a U.S. official who didn't want to be named for diplomacy reasons: Everyone had to secure a Russian visa, and the visa application required listing a physical address while in Sochi. But many hotels still were under construction (even two months ago) and didn't have addresses, and the Russians were slow to make exceptions. Stuff like that.
Many U.S. athletes' families have chosen to stay home out of security concerns. We also hear that Americans are being advised not to be too obviously "American" while out in public.
So how does all this translate performance-wise over the next two weeks? New events, especially team figure skating and slopestyle snowboarding, will help. But for a combination of reasons, it's hard to envision Team USA faring as well as four years ago. Lindsey Vonn's knee injury alone takes away several ski medal possibilities. And in other sports, retirements have left U.S. teams in a redevelopment mode.
Here's a quick assessment.
Snowboarding: U.S. superstar Shaun White goes for his third consecutive gold in halfpipe and might win the new slopestyle event. Other top Americans include Nate Holland, Kelly Clark and Lindsey Jacobellis. Total: six medals, two gold (versus five and two in Vancouver).
Freestyle skiing: Best contenders include Hannah Kearney (moguls), Emily Cook (aerials) and David Wise (halfpipe). Total: three medals, down from four in 2010, and one gold.
Long-track speedskating: Perhaps the top U.S. star in Sochi, Shani Davis still rules in the 1,000 meters and perhaps wins 1,500 and team pursuit as well. Heather Richardson (1,000) and Brian Hansen are among others with chances to win. Total: five medals and two gold, up from four and one.
Bobsled: Steven Holcomb and team repeat as four-man champions, and Holcomb adds a medal in two-man. Plus, women break through. Total: three medals, one gold.
Figure skating: New team event gives U.S. a medal, and ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White might win gold. Men's veteran Jeremy Abbott could sneak into top three. Total: three medals, up from two, and one gold.
Ice hockey: Just doesn't feel like a miraculous year. Bronze for U.S. men, silver for women. Total: two medals, same as 2010.
Alpine skiing: Ted Ligety looks to be the best U.S. hope with a chance for three medals (giant slalom, Super-G, combined), and Bode Miller could surprise. Mikaela Shiffrin and Julia Mancuso have to pick up the slack without Vonn. Total: five medals (down from eight in 2010), and one gold.
Short-track speedskating: Apolo Anton Ohno is gone, leaving J.R. Celski and others to battle Koreans and Chinese. Total: two medals, down from six in 2010.
Nordic combined: After a great showing in Vancouver with four medals and one gold, this time won't be as rewarding. Total: one medal.
Cross-country skiing: No medals in 2010, but the U.S. has contenders now in Kikkan Randall and Jessica Diggins. Total: one medal.
Ski jumping: The women finally get their chance, and Sarah Hendrickson could make it to the podium. Total: one medal.
Skeleton and luge: No medals in 2010, perhaps one this time for Noelle Pikus-Pace in skeleton. Total: one medal.
Biathlon: No medals likely, though Tim Burke could surprise. Total: none.
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