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A Very Premature Look at the 2018 Winter Olympics

Shaun White says he could return to the Games

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    Mikaela Shiffrin of the USA competes during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Finals Women's Slalom on March 19, 2016 in St Moritz, Switzerland.

    The Rio Olympics just ended and it's summer, so is it too soon to think about the Winter Olympics? Of course not!

    Here's a look at the United States and its prospects for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The opening ceremony is just 536 days away.

    FIGURE SKATING

    The USA’s strongest competitors in Sochi were the ice-dancing duos of Charlie White and Meryl Davis, and the brother-sister pairing of Alex and Maia Shibutani — known as the Shib Sibs.

    Davis and White have not said for sure they’ll return to defend their gold medals in Pyeongchang, but they've kept sharp. Meanwhile, the Shib Sibs got a silver medal at world championships in 2016 and fellow Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates got bronze there.

    In the individual events, the USA will be trying to get back on the podium. Ashley Wagner ended a 10-year drought for women at worlds and Olympics when she won silver at 2016 worlds in Boston.

    ALPINE SKIING

    Lindsey Vonn missed the Sochi Games but has already been to Pyeongchang to check out the ski runs. She could be looking to end her storied career on a positive note at the Olympics in 2018.

    Mikaela Shiffrin, meanwhile, has been up her usual dominating ways in the slalom — she won all five World Cup races she entered this season. But a knee injury caused her to miss plenty of races, too. If she’s healthy for Pyeongchang she could be one of the Games’ biggest stars. On the men’s side, Ted Ligety was the only American to win a race in the World Cup, though Andrew Weibrecht and Steven Nyman also found the podium. 

    ICE HOCKEY

    The shape of this tournament will be largely determined by whether the National Hockey League continues to release players. If it does, Canada will be expected to win the gold medal for a third straight Olympics.

    Other contenders will be Sweden, Russia and the United States. Finland is coming off a gold medal at the world junior championships and has some of the best goaltenders in the NHL. If the NHL declines to participate, the medal chances of the North American teams go down, to the benefit of Sweden, Russia and Finland.

    In the women’s tournament, the USA and Canada will be the teams to beat. Canada will be aiming for a fifth straight Olympic gold medal, while the U.S. also has made the podium every time since 1998. 

    SPEED SKATING

    The USA almost has to do better in these events in South Korea, if only because Sochi was such a fiasco — no Americans medaled for the first time in 30 years. That said, Brittany Bowe and Heather Richardson Bergsma are coming off excellent World Cup seasons, while Joey Mantia set personal bests at three distances in the fall.

    CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

    The USA continues to slowly improve in the nordic disciplines. Kikkan Randall has been the face of the team for years, but in January, Sophie Caldwell won a World Cup sprint event, joining Randall as the only American women to win a race on the circuit. 

    OTHER SPORTS

    Unlike the speed skaters, the American sliding sporst athletes had a bumper crop of seven medals in Sochi in bobsled, skeleton and even luge. Elana Meyers Taylor improved on her Vancouver bronze with a silver in two-woman bobsled. She also just won bronze at the 2016 world championships. … Snowboarders get another chance at a medal since the addition of Big Air as a discipline. Shaun White flamed out in Sochi but says he plans to come back and compete in 2018 … American 22-year-old Ashley Caldwell joined 2014 silver medalist Devin Logan as a force to be reckoned with in freestyle skiing this season.

    — Denis P. Gorman contributed to this report.