The Olympics isn't just a celebration of sports ability that transcends national differences, of the indomitable human spirit, or of individual achievement. Sure, it's a tribute to all of those things, but it's also a really big reality show, featuring hundreds of characters and hard-to-follow plot lines. There are countries you've forgotten about and sports you've never seen. And then there are the good guys: the members of Team USA.
Here is a guide to this year's protagonists, who have new faces, but are taking on old roles – roles previously filled by the sort of successful athletes who end up getting lucrative sandwich-endorsement deals. The show goes on.
The new Lindsey Vonn
In Vancouver: Lindsey Vonn
Four years ago, Lindsey Vonn wasn't just the marquee ski and snowboarding star, but the headliner for the entire U.S. Olympic delegation. Vonn became the first American to win gold in the downhill and added a bronze in Super-G for fun. Unfortunately, knee injuries have sidelined Vonn for Sochi. The only question is whether she'll turn up as a commentator.
In Sochi: Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin is precocious. In 2011, she won her first U.S. slalom championship at age 16. She repeated a year later after bagging her first World Cup win. In 2013, she won a world title in slalom. Now 18, Shiffrin has spent a season laying waste to all comers, piling up three World Cup wins and six podiums, including two in Giant Slalom. Shiffrin is only the third woman in history to win seven World Cup races before turning 19. She is a prodigy. She is a phenom. She now lives on your TV screen.
Also, she loves her mother.
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