The U.S. has dominated snowboarding since its addition to the Winter Games in 1998, racking up 19 medals--nearly a dozen more than Switzerland, its closest competitor. This year, as two new events--slopestyle and parallel slalom--are added to the mix, expectations remain high for America's 23 Sochi-bound snowboarders.
The group, ranging in age from 16 to 35, includes eight athletes with Olympic credentials, an X Games legend, high school students and a guy who lived out of the back of his truck while training for his chance to go to Sochi.
The team's first competition--qualifiers for mens' and women's slopestyle--airs Thursday at 8 p.m. on NBC. Before tuning in, brush up on who's who and what exactly is at stake.
Shaun White, one of the pioneers of professional snowboarding, has been a household name for years. Splitting his time between skateboarding and snowboarding, he was the first cross-over athlete to medal in both the Winter and Summer X-Games. He has two Olympic golds for halfpipe--the last of which he earned for a jaw-dropping performance in Vancouver. There, he debuted the Tomahawk--two flips, three and a half spins--which had never been performed during a competition. White also has eight Winter X Games wins, a band, and a new grown-up look: Short hair has replaced the mop of red that earned him his early nickname, the Flying Tomato.
This year he goes for his third gold in the halfpipe. He also qualified for slopestyle--a new Olympic event that includes a mix of jumps, rails and quarterpipes--but he dropped out the day before the first competition. In a statement to NBC News he said that after much deliberation, he wanted to focus solely on claiming his third halfpipe gold.
Joining him in halfpipe are Olympic rookies Taylor Gold, Danny Davis and veteran Greg Bretz--a strong trio of competitors with plenty of medal potential.
Davis, a 25-year-old with wild hair and a history of bad luck, heads to Sochi after missing out on two previous chances take the Olympic stage. In 2006 he just missed the halfpipe cut-off for the Torino Games. In 2010, he appeared on track for Vancouver but crashed an ATV, injuring himself and putting his Olympic dreams on the shelf for another four years. He recently won the halfpipe event at the Winter X-Games, which Shaun White sat out. His friends told The Associated Press that they would celebrate by "locking Danny in his hotel room" to keep him safe for Sochi.
Bretz placed 12th at the Vancouver Games but has made big strides since then. Late last year he won first place over Shaun White at the Dew Tour Ion Mountain Championship, delivering him a big confidence boost.
Gold, 21, will travel to Sochi with another Olympic novice--his kid sister Arielle who will compete on the women's halfpipe team.
MEN'S PARALLEL SLALOM
The U.S. is sending just one guy to Sochi to compete in parallel slalom--a downhill one-on-one race debuting at the Games. That guy is Justin Reiter, who wanted the Olympics so badly he slept in the back of his Toytoa Tundra in Park City, Utah to devote as much of his time and resources to training as he could. The sacrifice paid off. The 2013 world champ in parallel slalom earned hist first Olympic spot. He will be the only competitor from the U.S. men's team in the new event--a downhill one-on-one race.
Chas Guldemond--aslo known as Chuck G”-- Ryan Stassec and Sage Kostenburg will represent the U.S. in the Olympic's slopestyle debut. Guldermond, who worked a string of part-time jobs to fund his Olympic ambitions, won bronze last year at the U.S. Open and gold at the Grand Prix. Stassec, a 21-year-old Alaska native is a three-time U.S. Revolution Tour champion who will be making his Olympic debut. Kostenburg, a "big air specialist" was invited to two X Games last year and progressed in world slopestyle rankings from 21st to 10th. A pair from Canada--Max Parrot and Mark McMorris enter the contest as heavy favorites.
MEN'S SNOWBOARD CROSS
At 35, Nate Holland is the oldest member of the team and brings with him years of experience. He is a seven-time Winter X Games champion, with 17 world cup medals. He placed 14th at the 2006 Games and 4th at Vancouver. He'll be joined by fellow Olympic vet Nick Baumgartner, who placed 20th in Vancouver, as well as Olympic rookies Alex Deibold and Trevor Jacob who you may recognize from MTV stunt show "Nitro Circus" which takes up some of the 20-year-old's off-time.
Of all the ladies on the team, Kelly Clark heads to Sochi with the most Olympic experience. At 30, she has participated in three Olympics, taking the gold in 2002, placing fourth in 2006 and winning bronze in 2010. And she's not slowing down. Last month she dominated the X Games notching her fourth halfpipe gold.
She'll be joined by fellow veteran Hannah Teter, 27, won the Olympic silver in 2010 and gold in 2006. She is also an eight-time World Cup medalist and philanthropist whose "Sweet Cheeks" undies line helps out a children's charity
Also on the team are 17-year-old Arielle Gold (who was inspired to trade her skis for a snowboard after watching her big brother and now-Olympic teammate practicing on his) and fellow rising star Kaitlyn Farrington. Fun fact: To fund her training, Farrington's parents had to sell off all the cows on their Idaho farm. Farrington told NBC Olympics that they just wanted to see her do well.
WOMEN'S SNOWBOARD CROSS
Lindsey Jacobellis leads the ladies' snowboard cross team. Sochi will be the third Olympics for Jacobellis--one of the winningest women of the X Games. In addition to her eight X golds (the most recent notched last month) she has a silver medal from Nagano. She returns to the Games after months off the snow thanks to a bad injury in 2012. She's joined by Jackie Hernandez, a motorcycle aficionado, and Faye Fulini, who was still a teen when she made her Olympic debut in Vancouver, where she placed 12th.
Four young women will compete in the debut Olympic event. Ty Walker, 16, is the youngest of them. The "straight A student," from Vermont placed fourth at the 2013-14 U.S. Grand Prix and fifth at the world championships last year. She's joined by Jamie Anderson who knows what it's like to be the baby. Now 23, Anderson became the youngest X Games medalist when she notched her first at the age of 15. Olympic rookies Karly Shorr and Jessika Jensen round out the team, both making their Olympic debut.
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