The Winter Olympics Youth Movement
The Winter Olympics will have its share of legends, from Shaun White to Meryl Wilson and Charlie White to Teemu Selanne. But older athletes aren't the only ones traveling to Sochi with dreams of gold medals. The next generation of snowboarders and skiers will also hit the slopes, trying to make some history by knocking their heroes off the podium.
When the 2014 Games begin on Friday, keep an eye on Sarah Hendrickson, Ayumu Hirano, Torin Yater-Wallace, Arielle Gold, and Mikaela Shiffrin. These high-flying teenagers are going to turn some heads in Sochi!
Sarah Hendrickson, 19, Ski Jumping
Hendrickson grew up in frosty Park City, Utah, and has been through many severe winters, but she still can't stand cold weather. "The second I'm done competing, I'm to the beach," she says with a laugh. It's a good thing Hendrickson doesn't have a problem with heights, because she's reached some rare air during competitions. In 2011 she won the first-ever women's World Cup in ski jumping. She is currently recovering after a serious right knee injury that she suffered in August, but she hopes to be ready to compete in the Winter Games, where women's ski jumping will make its Olympic debut.
Ayumu Hirano, 15, Snowboarding Halfpipe
This talented kid from Japan will be one of the youngest competitors in Sochi, but he is no newbie to his sport. He has been competing against pro snowboarders for several years. This year he became the youngest person in history to win an FIS Snowboard World Cup. He also won the Burton European Open and finished second at the Winter X Games and the U.S. Open. Hirano will be Shaun White's top challenger in the halfpipe event.
Torin Yater-Wallace, 18, Freestyle Skiing
You'd think an athlete known for daredevil moves on a halfpipe would have no fears. But it turns out there is one thing that Yater-Wallace is afraid of: frogs. "They're gross and slimy," he says. "I have had nightmares of a lot of frogs jumping all over me." It's safe to say there will be no slimy critters in Sochi to throw off the phenom. Plus, Yater-Wallace is entering the Olympics riding a hot streak. This year he finished first at X Games Tignes and at a World Cup event that was held at the Olympic venue in Sochi.
Arielle Gold, 17, Snowboarding Halfpipe
Gold's mom can't bear to watch her daughter's soaring performances on the halfpipe. "Whenever she comes to contests, she'll close her eyes for pretty much all the runs and have my dad tell her what's going on," says Gold. She's missing out, because Gold's feats on the halfpipe have been eyepopping. In 2013, she placed first at the world championships and third at X Games Aspen. She has been named to a loaded U.S. halfpipe team that includes veterans Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, and Gretchen Bleiler.
Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, Alpine Skiing
Shiffrin has more accomplishments on her résumé than most veteran elite skiers. She began competing in World Cup events when she was 15. In 2013 she became the youngest U.S. skier, male or female, to win a World Cup title. This past December, she finished second in a World Cup giant slalom event, her best-ever finish. With star Lindsey Vonn still recovering from a serious right knee injury, the door is open for Shiffrin to break out as the face of the U.S. ski team at the Olympics.
For more coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics and interviews with Olympians, check out Sports Illustrated Kids' Guide to the Games!
Photos: DEAN MOUTHAROPOULOS/GETTY IMAGES (HENDRICKSON ACTION), HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES (HENDRICKSON HEADSHOT), THE ASAHI SHIMBUN/GETTY IMAGES (HIRANO ACTION), HANNAH JOHNSTON/GETTY IMAGES (HIRANO HEADSHOT), DOUG PENSINGER/GETTY IMAGES (YATER-WALLACE AND GOLD ACTION, GOLD HEADSHOT), HARRY HOW/GETTY IMAGES (YATER-WALLACE HEADSHOT), CHARLES KRUPA/AP (SHIFFRIN ACTION), EPA/MARKKU OJALA FINLAND OUT (SHIFFRIN HEADSHOT)