Commentary

Athletes to watch for 2010

Updated: August 12, 2009, 6:53 PM ET
By Amy Rosewater | Special to ESPN.com

Shaun WhiteJoe Klamar/AFP/Getty ImagesShaun White won gold in the men's halfpipe at the 2006 Torino Olympics.
Perhaps there is something in the ice in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Back in 1980, of course, it was the site of the "Miracle on Ice," in which a group of American college hockey players somehow upended the Soviet Union team, what many considered the greatest hockey team ever. The United States went on to win the Olympic gold medal.

This past week in Lake Placid came yet another miracle.

Erin Hamlin, a 22-year-old who now is the toast of her hometown of Remsen, N.Y., pulled off the unimaginable by winning the singles luge world title. The victory snapped Germany's international 99-race winning streak, dating to 1997, including Olympic, world championship and World Cup contests.

The win prompted a Greek restaurant in Utica, N.Y., to hoist a banner in her honor; made news in Taipei, Taiwan; and, reportedly, brought Olympic silver medalist slider Gordy Sheer to tears of joy. More importantly, it positioned Hamlin as a serious medal threat at the Vancouver Olympics, which will begin six months from Wednesday.

"I started riding in 2000, and coming through the years, you always saw these German sweeps," Hamlin said. "To be the person to break [the streak] is pretty amazing."

Not only did a German not win -- Natalie Geisenberger settled for silver -- but the country had just one slider on the podium. Natalia Yakushenko of Ukraine took the bronze. Hamlin believes the event sent a strong message to the once-invincible Germans.

"They have to start watching their backs a little more," she said.

Hamlin, who placed 12th in Torino, knows it won't be easy to pull off the biggest of victories a year from now at the 2010 Games. There she will have to make four runs, instead of the two she had to do at the World Championships. Plus she won't have the advantage of competing on her home track in Lake Placid. She will get to test the Olympic track in Whistler, British Columbia, from Feb. 16 through 21 at the FIL World Luge Cup.

"It will take a lot to stay up here," Hamlin told reporters in Lake Placid, "but who knows, anything can happen."

Here are some other winter athletes who just might pull off some miraculous performances six months from now:

Lindsey Vonn

She won't be the surprise Hamlin would be, but Vonn, who is coming off her first super-G and downhill wins at the World Championships, could become the face of the Games on American televisions should she win in Vancouver. Ever since she crashed during the Olympics on Feb. 13, 2006, and had to be flown by helicopter to a hospital in Torino, Vonn has been thinking about competing in 2010. Even though she had a bruised hip, Vonn somehow managed to compete the following day and placed eighth in Torino. Imagine what a healthy Vonn could do.

Other veteran U.S. skiers haven't been as hot. Bode Miller, a two-time Olympic silver medalist but a huge bust in 2006, has not won a medal at a major event since the 2005 World Championships. He came close to winning the super-combi race this month but straddled a gate just shy of the finish. In a report from the worlds, Miller hinted that he might retire before the 2010 Games, but with him, you just never know. Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety, meanwhile, was disqualified from the super-combi for a "breach of equipment rules." Julia Mancuso, who also struck gold in Torino, has been struggling. Battling back and hip injuries, she has not won a World Cup event in nearly two years.

Shaun White

"The Flying Tomato" continues to soar. The 2006 Olympic halfpipe snowboard champion has spent the past three years winning all sorts of events, including skateboarding. He became the first athlete to compete in both the Winter and Summer X Games and won the skateboard vert in 2007. In January, he made an incredible third-run rally to win his second consecutive gold medal in the superpipe. En route to the victory, he beat Kevin Pearce, who could be White's biggest threat next year. On the women's side, there is a trio to watch: 2002 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter.

[+] EnlargeApolo Anton Ohno
Franck Fife/AFP/Getty ImagesApolo Anton Ohno is looking to qualify for his fourth Olympic Games.

Katie Uhlaender

A four-time national skeleton champion who took up the sport in 2002, Uhlaender won the World Championships crown in 2008. At a World Cup test event in Whistler earlier this month, she placed fourth. Uhlaender, of Breckenridge, Colo., comes by her sports success honestly. Her father, Ted, played for Cincinnati's Big Red Machine in the 1970s and later was a coach with the Cleveland Indians.

On the men's side, Zach Lund is back. The two-time world bronze medalist was bounced from Torino after drug tests showed he had been using a banned substance called finasteride, which is found in many anti-baldness medications. He returned to the sport the following year and claimed the overall World Cup title.

Angela Ruggiero

The three-time Olympic hockey player is hoping to end her career on ice better than she did on TV. Ruggiero, who survived 10 weeks of the 13-week taping of "The Apprentice" before The Donald told her she was fired, has made up her mind to go for gold one more time in Vancouver. A Harvard graduate, Ruggiero has a gold, a silver and a bronze to her name. It will be tough for the Americans, who likely will face the Canadians on Canadian soil, but the United States won the 2008 World Championship. Forward Jenny Potter also is going for her fourth Olympics. Mark Johnson, the coach at the University of Wisconsin, was named the women's Olympic coach last month.

Todd Hays

In 2006, after competing in three Olympics, Hays decided to retire from bobsled to pursue a coaching career in football. A former linebacker at the University of Tulsa, Hays took two years off from bobsled. But now, at 39, he is back on the bobsled track. In 2002, he ended the U.S.'s 46-year medal drought in the bobsled by taking home the silver in Salt Lake City. Whether he has time to return to the medal stand remains to be seen.

Shauna Rohbock

The 2006 Olympic silver medalist (along with Valerie Fleming) certainly has the experience to make a repeat appearance on the Olympic podium. At the bobsled World Cup competition in Whistler last week, Rohbock (along with Elana Meyers) captured the gold. The biggest competition could come from another American: Erin Pac. Pac and teammate Michelle Rzepka won their first World Cup event medal, a bronze, in Whistler. It could be a sign of something bigger to come.

Jeremy Abbott

The newly crowned U.S. figure skating champion has brought a blend of style and athleticism to the sport, but he will have his work cut out for him, especially from within his own country. Actually, from his home rink in Colorado Springs, Colo. Abbott won nationals, but newcomer Brandon Mroz, an 18-year-old who trains with Abbott, wowed the Cleveland crowd in January with a huge quad and a silver medal.

Ryan Bradley, who also trains with them, wound up fourth. And that's not even including two-time U.S. champion Evan Lysacek and three-time champ Johnny Weir. Lysacek barely made the world team with a third-place finish at nationals. Weir wasn't as lucky. He finished fifth and will have to watch worlds on television. The event will be held March 22-29 in Los Angeles.

Others to watch are France's Brian Joubert and Canada's Patrick Chan. No Canadian has won an Olympic gold medal in men's figure skating, although there have been a few who have come darned close. Elvis Stojko and Brian Orser each won two Olympic silver medals, and Jeffrey Buttle, Toller Cranston, Donald Jackson and Montgomery Wilson each won the bronze. The last time the Winter Olympics were held on Canadian soil was in 1988 in Calgary, and men's skating was in its heyday with the "Battle of the Brians" -- Brian Boitano won gold and Orser was the runner-up.

The favorites on the women's side are South Korea's Yu-Na Kim, who is coached by Orser, and Japan's Mao Asada, who can land a triple axel. Newly crowned American champion Alissa Czisny, who has been getting frequent pep talks from Boitano, is gorgeous to watch, but her jumps are far too inconsistent to thwart Kim and Asada.

Other Americans to watch are two-time U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt, bronze medalist Caroline Zhang, 2008 champion Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner. Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 world champion, has a long road to travel if she is to be a force in 2010. Canada could figure in the medal mix with Joannie Rochette and comeback skater Cynthia Phaneuf. Home ice is good for Canadian women. The last Canadian woman to medal at the Olympics was Elizabeth Manley, who soared to the silver in Calgary in 1988.

Apolo Anton Ohno

The 26-year-old short-track specialist has a shot to become the most decorated men's U.S. Olympic speedskater. After medal-winning appearances in Salt Lake City and Torino, he has five medals, tying him with Eric Heiden. Bonnie Blair has six. Ohno will have a huge test March 6-8, when he competes in the World Short-Track Championships in Vienna, Austria. If there were a dancing portion at the Olympics, Ohno would win hands-down. Some women speedskaters to watch are Katherine Reutter and Jennifer Rodriguez, a three-time Olympian dubbed "Miami Ice" for her South Florida roots, who is trying to make a comeback.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White

Speaking of ice and dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White could find themselves in medal contention in a year. They won their first U.S. ice dancing title in January (yes, there is a little asterisk there, since their good friends and former training partners Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto didn't compete as Agosto recovered from a back injury). Davis and White followed up their nationals victory by going to Vancouver to compete in the Four Continents Championships this month and won, beating Canada's world silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir along the way. Belbin and Agosto expect to be healthy at next month's World Championships, but they need to regain their international -- and now national -- stature in a hurry.

Mark Grimmette

Grimmette is prepping for his fifth trip to the Olympics. Beginning in 1994 in Lillehammer, he has competed in four consecutive Winter Olympics, and won a bronze medal in 1998 in Nagano and silver in Salt Lake City in 2002. Along with Brian Martin, Grimmette's luge partner of 13 years, the duo had been struggling of late. But Grimmette and Martin could be back on track after capturing a bronze medal at the World Championships earlier this month, their first at worlds since 2007.

Jeret "Speedy" Peterson

Watching this aerial skier is like watching the stock market these days. He can either skyrocket or take a major plunge. But there's no doubt this guy is a risk taker. Known for his "Hurricane" move, in which he performs five twists and three flips, Peterson either blows away his competition or gets blown out. The two-time Olympian took about a year and a half off from the sport and now is trying to come back with some big moves. He earned his seventh World Cup career victory in Lake Placid last month, marking his first World Cup event win in two years.

Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer based in Baltimore and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

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