One of the best parts about watching the Olympics is finding new kickass heroines to root for. And with superstar skier Lindsay Vonn out of the mix due to injury, up-and-comers will get even more air time to shine. Here, some women to watch for during the winter games from Feb. 7 to 23 in Sochi, Russia.
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The 32-year-old has been snowboarding since she was 11, taking several gold medals at the X Games and a silver in the 2006 Winter Olympics. She’s gained national attention as the face of Oakley and a sometime TV host, but she showed how tough an athlete she could be last year when she returned to the sport after an accident that shattered her eye socket.
Cook has taken the U.S. championship six times, using the skills she originally developed as a gymnast to dominate the acrobatics of aerial skiing. After competing in the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, she’s primed to be in the medal running this year. She finished second place overall in the 2013 World Cup.
The 27-year-old and her partner, Charlie White, are two-time World Champions, 2010 Olympic silver medalists, and five-time U.S. National Champions (among many other titles). A University of Michigan student, she’s been skating with White since childhood and is ready to take top honors at the Olympics this round. Bonus fun fact: Derek Hough on Dancing With the Stars is choreographing for them!
Edmunds, a 15-year-old from San Jose, looks up to former gold-medalist Tara Lipinski, who made the games at the same age in 1998. She’ll have a tough time beating teammate Gracie Gold for the top spot, but her performance has been impressive leading up to Sochi: She qualified for the world’s most-watched sporting event despite never having competed at the international senior level before.
A lot of pressure comes with that last name when you’re an aspiring Olympian. But Gold has momentum, outskating the defending U.S. Figure Skating champ, Ashley Wagner, in the trials leading up to Sochi — and racking up a personal best point total.
She took the National Championship this fall, beating two more seasoned favorites — Olympic teammate Erin Hamlin, as well as Julia Clukey, who didn’t make the final cut for Sochi. And Hansen is just plain fun. Her Twitter bio: “Devout groupie for Beyonce and Celine aanndd I wear spandex.”
Sometimes being a famous track star just isn’t good enough — so you go out for the Olympic bobsled team, too. The 31-year-old hurdler has gotten lots of attention, mainly for her great looks and her openness about her virginity, despite her failure to bring home medals during her previous trips to the games. But you can’t deny how badass it is to be a double-sport Olympian.
The 22-year-old honed her skills on a boys’ team as a kid. (Her brothers also play, though her scoring record beats Olympian brother Phil’s.) A junior at the University of Minnesota, the star forward is taking a year off to compete with the U.S. women’s hockey team, a favorite going into the games. She’s expected to recover from an injury last month in time for Sochi.
She hasn’t made much of a splash on this year’s World Cup tour — her best finish was 12th — but she’s delivered in past Olympics, taking gold in the 2006 giant slalom and silver in the 2010 downhill and super combined. And she’ll step in for Vonn as the American most likely to medal in the downhill and super-G speed events.
The youngest American skier to capture the World Cup, the 18-year-old Coloradan is favored to win a gold at Sochi. She’s particularly spectacular in the slalom and has been on ski-watchers’ radars since she was just 11. Especially with Vonn out, Shiffrin is likely to get some time in the spotlight.
Smith missed being on the 2010 team by one spot, but she nailed her trials this year to qualify in three events — the 500-, 1,000-, and 1,500-meter races. The victory comes after a gamble: The 30-year-old continued training with Jae Su Chun, who was fired as the official U.S. short-track coach when he was accused of mental, verbal, and psychological abuse. While team members left for a new coach, Smith stayed with Chun, paying for his services herself and ignoring the scandal.