Olympic athletes to watch

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National pride swells when the Olympics roll around. Americans gather to cheer on athletes donning the red, white and blue of their country.

Some of these athletes are well known from previous Olympic games, while others are jumping in as new Olympians with gold-medal dreams. Whether they have made a name or not, most top Olympians have been away from the spotlight for years, quietly preparing for their chances at a gold medal. Sochi puts them back on center stage.

Here are five U.S. athletes to watch out for while enjoying the Olympics at Sochi this coming month.

BYU’s own Kate Hansen

BYU's Kate Hansen reacts after winning the women's  race at the Luge World Cup event in Sigulda, Latvia. AP photo
BYU’s Kate Hansen reacts after winning the women’s race at the Luge World Cup event in Sigulda, Latvia. AP photo

Kate Hansen, a BYU sophomore from La Canada, Calif., recently took home the World Cup gold medal in luge, a feat that has not been accomplished by an American in 17 years. Hansen has put in four hard years of work after just barely missing the 2010 Olympic qualifiers.

She is coming back even stronger to the Sochi Olympics after securing her spot on the U.S. women’s team, and she has hopes of becoming the first American to bring home the gold in women’s luge. Hansen’s first event will begin on Feb. 10.

Shaun White is back for more

Shaun White has always been a crowd favorite, with his wildly recognizable red hair and X Games antics. The athlete from San Diego is at it again, coming back after skipping the most recent X Games to heal from a small ankle sprain from a minor crash during practice, and is heading to Sochi with two Olympic medals in mind.

This time around it could prove to be a bit more difficult, with White participating in both the slopestyle and halfpipe events. He doesn’t seem all that worried though, approaching this games with a more mature and experienced mindset. White’s events begin on Feb. 11.

LoLo’s on a roll

LoLo Jones has extended her Olympic presence — recently qualifying for the U.S. Olympic women’s bobsled team. She received some criticism from fellow qualifier hopefuls, most saying she only secured the spot because of her fame. Shrugging off the negative attention, Jones is going into Sochi hoping to answer her critics with success.

In the 2008 Summer Olympics, Jones was a favorite to take gold in the 100-meter hurdles and was in the lead until she clipped the ninth of 10 hurdles and stumbled back to seventh place. Her frustration from that disappointing loss is motivating her to perform her best this coming Olympics, and she will likely not disappoint. The multi-sport Olympian from Des Moines, Iowa, will compete with rest of the bobsled team on Feb. 18.

Park City’s Sarah Hendrickson pioneering women’s ski jumping 

Park City native Sarah Hendrickson (center) represents the U.S. in the first Olympics including women's ski jumping. AP photo
Park City native Sarah Hendrickson (center) represents the U.S. in the first Olympics including women’s ski jumping. AP photo

Sochi will be the first winter Olympics to have women’s ski jumping as an official Olympic sport, and Utah native Sarah Hendrickson is right at the helm after months and months of preparing. Her dream of the Olympics almost died after she tore her ACL in August. Since her injury, she has continued to practice and eventually qualify for the Olympics, standing out as an athlete to closely watch.

Since the sport is just making its debut, Hendrickson, the reigning ski jumping world champion and second overall in World Cup standing, is highly favored to bring home the Olympic gold. This new event will hopefully be a popular one for the world to watch, after many years of advocating for women’s ski jumping to be added to the Olympics. It will start on Feb. 11.

Patrick Kane is bringing hockey back

Patrick Kane is a force to watch in the world of hockey but is not going to give anything less than his best in Sochi. The Vancouver silver medalist has also won two Stanley cups, been awarded as the NHL’s playoff MVP and famously scored the Stanley cup overtime winning goal.

Kane is an athletic star away from the Olympics — right now being considered one of the best in the NHL. The Buffalo, N.Y., native is currently fourth in the NHL scoring race with 59 points in 54 games. The NHL season hasn’t kept Kane from preparing though, as he is coming out stronger than ever as an Olympian and will be a key U.S. player in Sochi’s hockey event. Olympic hockey games will begin Feb. 12.

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