By Peter Mertz
COPPER MOUNTAIN, the United States, Nov. 30 (Xinhua) -- Final spots on the U.S. men and women's Alpine, freeski and snowboard squads won't be decided until two December qualifying events, but the core of next year's Beijing 2022 Team USA is forming daily and features a star-studded cast of returning Olympians.
Between Shaun White, Mikaela Shiffrin, David Wise, Chole Kim, Red Gerard and Jamie Anderson, they have already won 11 Olympic gold medals. But this year, these storied Olympians also have become leaders for the younger athletes to follow.
"We've got a group of leaders on the slope who are excellent role models and seriously accomplished Olympians," said Hannah Megan Harrod, U.S. Alpine Ski Team Communications Manager.
This blend of famous Olympic medalists combined with young, upstart talent, could prove a toxic mix against Olympic competition, as the U.S. ski and snowboard team has been pounding the snow since October preparing for the upcoming Beijing Olympiad.
"It's remarkable to see this much talent training here on the mountain," Harrod told Xinhua Monday, of the some 65 Olympic caliber snowboard and skiing professionals who are training at "Copper," located 115 kilometers west of Denver in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
On the men's side, snowboard fans will be thrilled to see living legend Shaun White, 36, who came out of retirement in 2019 with another Olympic gold medal in his headlights, and upstart Red Gerard, 21.
In 2018, Gerard, then 17, became the youngest American man to win gold since 1928, in slopestyle, at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Gerard, an Ohio native, currently lives 20 kilometers away from Copper in Silverthorne, Colorado where he has his own miniature snowboarding park in his backyard with a rope tow, according to the Aspen Times.
White, the most decorated athlete in the history of snowboarding, is looking for a fourth Olympic gold in the men's halfpipe after winning the event in 2006, 2010 and 2018, and now can add to his legacy by mentoring young talent like Gerard, and especially Toby Miller, another superpipe specialist.
Miller, 21, is "considered by many to be the next big thing in halfpipe snowboarding," trains closely with White and was part of White's entourage at the 2018 PyeongChang Games when White dramatically won gold on his last run, according to Olympics.com.
At Aspen's Winter X Games, White has an astonishing 15 gold medals, five silvers and three bronze medals, but did not compete in the 2021 Games because of a knee injury.
But the hottest young name to enter the circuit is Dusty Hendrickson, only 17, who burst onto the snowboard stage at the 2021 X-Games by grabbing gold in both the slopestyle and knuckle huck events, and is considered the most prominent rising star on the U.S. team.
Although David Wise, 31, has taken time away from half pipe skiing to enjoy his two young children, insiders say his three-peat - another halfpipe gold in Beijing - is a rock solid possibility after the Nevada native captured gold at both the 2014 Sochi and 2018 PyeongChang Games.
Another potential podium grabber will be Nick Goepper, the slopestyle/big air skier who took bronze at the 2014 Sochi Games, silver in PyeongChang, and is the favourite to grab gold in Beijing.
Colorado native Aaron Blunck, 25, who has been coming on like gangbusters after a brutal crash a year ago in Switzerland, has this year perfected his "double switch 1440," and is a two-time Olympian and 2017 X-Games gold medalist.
Another veteran is halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira, 27, an Aspen native who took silver at PyongChang in 2018, and has a long list of X-Games medals, first climbing the podium in 2014 with a bronze medal when he was 19.
"Our female athletes are definitely our foundation of success and driving our team forward," Harrod said.
The three superstar women's names are Mikaela Shiffrin, Chloe Kim and Jamie Anderson.
On Sunday in Vermont, Shiffrin tied the record for World Cup wins in a single discipline with her 46th slalom victory, prevailing at the circuit's lone stop in the U.S. in Killington, for a fifth straight time.
"Shiffrin has won all five Killington World Cup slaloms, and tied legendary Swede Ingemar Stenmark's record for career World Cup wins in a single discipline with 46 victories," NBC said.
Shiffrin, with the fastest second run, prevailed by .75 of a second over Slovakian rival Petra Vlhova, who bested an ailing Shiffrin in two World Cup slalom runs in Finland two weeks ago.
The 26-year-old Alpine speed specialist, known for her rigorous work schedule, is the biggest American women's name on USA's downhill speed team since Lindsey Vonn.
Shiffrin and Paula Moltzan, who took seventh at Killington last weekend, lead the American Alpine team against formidable European opposition.
Chloe Kim is back in fiery form after breaking her ankle in 2019 and taking a year off competitive snowboarding to focus on her studies at Princeton University, according to Forbes.
At the 2018 Winter Olympics, Kim became the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal when she won the halfpipe at 17 years old.
Kim, now 21, was called one of Time Magazine's top 100 Influential People in 2018, is a six-time X Games gold medalist, and the first woman to win two gold medals in snowboarding at the Winter Youth Olympic Games.
Another American snowboarder to watch is Maddie Mastro, 21 who took silver at the 2021 World Championships in Aspen, and is "on the heels of Chloe Kim, with a good rivalry going on," noted Harrod.
While White has amassed more snowboarding metals than anyone in the history of the sport, fellow American Jamie Anderson is poised to surpass the celebrity legend in Beijing if she wins her two events.
Anderson, 31, is looking for a snowboard slopestyle "three-peat" as a two-time gold medalist in 2014 and 2018, the latter feat making her the first female snowboarder to win more than one gold medal, according to the Huffington Post.
At Aspen's X Games, Anderson was the most decorated woman in X Games history, amassing 18 gold medals, five silver, and two bronze during her storied career, according to Olympics.com.
"At this stage in her career, Jamie Anderson knows she doesn't have anything to prove," The Huffington Post said last month.
One of the most compelling Olympic stories is that of Alpine skier Ryan Cochran-Siegel, 29, who broke his neck after a crash in January, 2021, in Kietzbuehel Austria, less than one month after NBC sports called him "USA's Great Hope" after he had demolished international competition by winning the World Cup competition in Italy at the end of December.
Cochran-Siegel, 29, a Vermont native and son of 1972 Olympic slalom champion Barbara Corcoran, had his C7 fused in the beginning of February, and returned to competitive skiing by May. "He's one to watch," Harrod said.
Experts say Cochran-Siegel is nearing his peak world class form again, making him "even more eager to get to the Beijing Olympics," the Seattle Times reported last month
On the men's Alpine team, young "prodigy" River Radamus, 23 has his pick of seasoned veteran role models with three time olympian Steven Nyman, 39, Tommy Ford, 32, Bryce Bennett, 34, and Travis Ganong, 29.
The American men's Alpine country stores will have a difficult task breaking into the ranks of French, Swiss and Austrian downhillers, who have dominated world competition in recent years.
And in cross-country skiing, Jessie Diggins won America's first ever gold medal in 2018, and is training hard to repeat her gold medal performance, an unprecedented achievement in a sport dominated by Scandinavian and European skiers.