My Olympic sports predictions for 2013
In anticipation of the new year, SI.com's writers are predicting the stories they think will define the sports landscape in 2013.
1. Lindsey Vonn will not win the overall World Cup.
This is not a very bold prediction now, though it would have been before the season began. Vonn has won four of the last five crystal globes given to the Alpine skier who totals the most points over the season among all disciplines (downhill, super-G, giant slalom, slalom, parallel slalom and super combined). But it's been a trying stretch for the reigning Olympic downhill champion. She's battled the FIS (so far failing in her bid to race against men) and illness. Vonn also admitted to past depression in PEOPLE magazine and announced a break from skiing two weeks ago to fully recover from an intestinal infection that hospitalized her in November. It's unknown when she'll return.
Vonn is in fourth place in the overall standings through 14 of 37 races. She'll miss two more Friday and Saturday and likely at least the first two races of 2013 before the next downhill (Vonn's specialty event) on Jan. 12. She's already 505 points behind Slovenian singing star Tina Maze, and that margin will of course grow while Vonn is sidelined. If Vonn comes back Jan. 12 and puts up similar results to last season, she'll reach about 1,500 points. Maze is already at 919 with more than half the season to go. Vonn will not go into next season, the Olympic season, as the unquestioned best all-around skier in the world.
2. The U.S. will only qualify two women's figure skaters for the 2014 Olympics.
Results from the world championships (in London, Ontario) in March determine how many skaters each nation qualifies for the 2014 Olympics. The two U.S. female skaters' placements at worlds must add up to 13 or fewer to earn three U.S. spots at next year's Olympics (so, first and 12th places or sixth and seventh places would be good enough).
The class of the American women is Ashley Wagner -- runner-up at the Grand Prix Final, the biggest event so far this season. If the U.S. sent Wagner alone to worlds, and Wagner placed in the top two, the U.S. would get three Olympic spots. It's an interesting idea given the drop-off from Wagner to the next best U.S. woman. Wagner was fourth at last year's worlds. Her teammate, Alissa Czisny, was 22nd. The U.S. does have young talent -- Gracie Gold, Christina Gao and Agnes Zawadzki -- but none have competed at senior worlds before. Whoever joins Wagner in Ontario needs to shoot for the top 10 to get the U.S. a third spot. It's a nail-biting expectation given the return of Olympic champion Kim Yu-na, Japan and Russia sending three skaters each, all capable of top 10s, as well as Italy's Carolina Kostner and Finland's Kiira Korpi.
3. ... and only two men, making it the smallest Olympic figure skating singles team in 20 years.
The U.S. men, needing the same requirement of their places at worlds totaling 13, are weaker. Olympic champion Evan Lysacek's comeback has suffered setback after setback, the latest being hernia surgery in November. That leaves Jeremy Abbott as the only healthy American who can claim to be among the world's top 10. If the U.S. settles for two men's and women's spots each, it will mark the first time since 1994 that it does not total at least five Olympic singles entries. It's a sign the sport has gone cold for the only nation to win a figure skating medal at every Winter Games since World War II.
4. Lolo Jones stays in the discussion for the 2014 Olympic team.
If Jones remains committed to bobsled, there's no doubt she has a shot at Sochi based on the early returns. The U.S. will likely get three two-woman sleds at the Olympics, and Jones is one of five push athletes rotating among the three sleds on this season's World Cup tour. Two of the five, veterans Katie Eberling and Emily Azevedo, have distinguished themselves above the rest with recent podium finishes. But Jones is a solid third so far, getting second place in her debut followed by two more top 10s. Watch and see if Jones is selected for the world championships team in St. Moritz, Switzerland, beginning Jan. 25. It's not worth much, but the roster for the 2009 world championships matched the 2010 Olympic roster.
5. Shaun White's hair will grow back, and he'll turn back the clock.
A bevy of events are being added to the 2014 Olympic program, including slopestyle, in which riders take to a course and perform tricks over rails and jumps. The men's event will draw a heavy share of the attention because of White, the two-time Olympic halfpipe champion. White owned the slopestyle event at the Winter X Games from 2003 to 2006, though he pulled out of it last year with an ankle injury and finished 13th the year before. He's made slopestyle a priority in this last year before the Olympics, and he's certainly focused on becoming the first snowboarder to win multiple gold medals at an Olympic Games. White's first halfpipe-slopestyle double attempt of the year should come at January's Winter X Games. He hasn't swept them at a Winter X since 2009.
6. The Missy Franklin of 2013 will be an Alpine skier. The Gabby Douglas of 2013 could be a hockey player.
In the year before the 2012 Olympics, we saw Franklin blossom into the teen star of USA Swimming, while Douglas begin a slower ascent toward gymnastics fame. The winter version of Franklin, the already arrived future of her sport, is Mikaela Shiffrin. Franklin and Shiffrin were born within two months and live within a two-hour drive of each other in Colorado. Just last week, Shiffrin, 17, became the third-youngest U.S. woman to win a World Cup ski race. She leads the World Cup slalom standings and will catapult closer to Vonn status if she can win a world title in February in Austria.
Predicting the winter Douglas is much tougher. Remember, Douglas was the youngest member of the 2011 world gymnastics championships team, a role player. I'll go even younger for her equivalent -- women's hockey defenseman Jincy Dunne, born May 15, 1997. Dunne is the only player on the U.S. under-18 world championships team born after September 1996. She could be the youngest U.S. medalist at the 2014 Olympics, though likely needs a few injuries or lapses in form from veterans in front of her to make the team.
7. Usain Bolt doubles up in Moscow.
Four years ago, Bolt blew everyone away at the track and field world championships held in Berlin with world records in the 100 (9.58) and 200 meters (19.19), securing the rare non-Olympics Sports Illustrated cover for a sprinter. I doubt we'll see anything better at 2013 worlds in August, as silly as it is to make track and field predictions for the year after the Olympics before the season even starts.
What we should see is two more showdowns between Bolt and banana-boosted training partner Yohan Blake. Blake, three years Bolt's junior, won the 100 meters and 200 meters at the Jamaican trials only to take double silver behind Bolt in London. At some point Bolt will cede his throne to Blake (or perhaps an even younger Jamaican), but I don't see it happening quite yet. If Bolt sweeps the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay, he'll match Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson for the most world golds won by a man (eight).
8. Ryan Lochte wins five gold medals at the swimming world championships.
Lochte will clean up at the first swimming worlds without Michael Phelps since 1998, but he will win fewer individual events than his quartet at the 2011 world championships. Like Phelps in 2009, Lochte is expected to drop the grueling 400, individual medley from his program. He'll defend his titles in the 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. I see Lochte entering the 100m butterfly (won by Phelps at the last three Olympics) and settling for a minor medal. He'll win two more golds in the 4x200m free and medley relays, but I'll take Australia coming back to win the always dramatic 4x100m free.
9. More turnover in U.S. gymnastics.
"Like it or not, this is a little girl's sport, not a women's sport," John Geddert, Jordyn Wieber's coach, told USA Today after the Olympics. Results back it up -- the last nine years have produced nine different top U.S. women all-arounders. Olympic champion Gabby Douglas, 16, said she's taking 2013 off. World champion Jordyn Wieber, 17, said she's competing in 2013, but I expect an even younger teen to take the U.S. lead at worlds in Antwerp, Belgium, in October, where only individual titles are at stake. It could be Kyla Ross, 16, the youngest member of the Fierce Five. More likely, I'd favor two rising juniors -- Lexie Priessman and Katelyn Ohashi, both 15. Keep this in mind: The U.S. went one-two in the all-around at the 2009 world championships, and neither gymnast made the 2012 Olympic team.
10. The 2020 Olympics go to Istanbul.
This is a pure gut prediction. The International Olympic Committee selects the host city for the 2020 Games in September. Four years ago, Rio de Janeiro won the 2016 Olympics over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo. The U.S. did not bid this time. America is in the middle of its longest stretch between hosting Games in more than a half-century. Madrid and favored Tokyo are back, but Istanbul is intriguing. Turkey has never hosted an Olympics. Istanbul welcomed the WTA Championships, short-course swimming worlds and a high-stakes event called the World Golf Finals that included Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the last few months. Tokyo seems the safer choice, but many thought Paris would win 2012 and Chicago 2016.
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