10 American Athletes Worth Following At The Winter Olympics [SLIDESHOW]

The wait is finally over. The 2018 Winter Olympics officially open Friday, and if that doesn’t fire you up, you need to seek help.

Seriously, what is better than the best athletes in the world (NHL players excluded … *sigh*) competing for their countries on a global stage? Not only that, but it’s the rare period of time where we as Americans can put our political differences aside and focus on what really matters: sports.

There are several compelling story lines to keep an eye on over the next two weeks. The most notable are the highly anticipated return of Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White battling through a gruesome injury sustained just a few months ago.

The United States had an impressive showing last go-round in Sochi, and will look to improve on their 28 medals (9 gold, 7 silver, and 12 bronze) earned there. As the opening ceremony nears, here is a list of 10 athletes donning the red, white, and blue that you absolutely need to tune in to see this February.

Click an image below for larger version.
  • Shaun White #2 celebrates his score of his final run in the Men's Snowboard Halfpipe final during the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix on January 13, 2018 in Snowmass, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
  • Mikaela Shiffrin, slalom skier ---
Shiffrin won the gold last time around and is favored to repeat this year. The most impressive aspect of her victory last year was that she was the youngest Olympian ever to win the event at a mere 18 years old. Many are saying she is the best skier in the world right now, and some contend she is the best ever. (Photo: Getty)
  • Lowell Bailey, biathlete --- The 36-year-old is looking to do what no other American has ever done: win Olympic gold in the biathlon. He became the first American to win the World Cup in the 20 Kilometer event and the oldest athlete to win a world championship. It appears as though Bailey is primed to make a run at the podium this year. (Photo: Getty)
  • Lindsey Vonn, alpine skier --- Vonn is making her highly anticipated return to the Olympics after a torn ACL kept her out of the 2014 games in Sochi. Vonn took home the gold in the 2010 downhill competition and is the favorite to do the same this year. She is one of the most decorated alpine skiers in history and hopes to add some hardware to her trophy case in the coming weeks. (Photo: Getty)
  • Nathan Chen, Figure skater - The 18-year-old prodigy is taking the figure skating world by storm.  Despite his young age, Chen holds the record for the most quadruple jumps in one performance with five. It is also important to note that each jump was performed in a different style, which no one else has ever done. Chen is the clear favorite to take home the gold. (Photo: Getty)
  • Maame Biney, speed skater --- 18-year-old Biney was born in Ghana, but moved to the United States after visiting her father. She decided she liked the U.S. better than Ghana and wanted to move here permanently. She began figure skating lessons at the age of six but later switched to speed skating per her coach’s recommendation. She will become just the second African-born athlete to compete for the United States in the Winter Olympics. (Photo: Getty)
  • Chloe Kim, snowboarder --- Kim is competing in her first Olympics at the ripe age of 17. She won 3 gold medals at the winter X Games before her 16th birthday and would have competed in Sochi but was not old enough (13 at the time). If she medals, she will be the youngest American to win an Olympic medal in snowboarding. Even more exciting is the fact that her parents emigrated from South Korea to the United States. As fate would have it, she will get to compete in her first Olympics on her parents’ home turf. She will surely put on a good show. (Photo: Getty)
  • Elana Meyers, bobsledder --- Meyers began Bobsledding in 2007. When she first started, the then 23-year-old ironically, didn’t even own a winter coat. She earned the silver medal in two different events in Sochi, but never the gold. Meyers was devastated by her shortcoming in 2014 and looks to use the memory of that to fuel her in South Korea. (Photo: Getty)
  • Maddie Bowman, skier --- Bowman absolutely ripped it up in Sochi, earning her the gold in skiing halfpipe at just 20 years old. Despite a deeper field this go-round, she is still the favorite to bring home the gold once again. (Photo: Getty)
  • Alex and Maia Shibutani, ice dancers --- Alex and Maia are a rare brother and sister duo that will be competing together in the Olympics. They teamed up in 2004 and have been crushing it ever since. They have medaled in, and even won the world championships several times. They had a rough start to their Olympic career, finishing ninth. Don’t be surprised if they bounce back in a big way. (Photo: Getty)
  • Shaun White, snowboarder -- This one goes without saying. Anytime the “Flying Tomato” is on a board of any kind, it is must see TV. Adding even more drama to the mix is the horrific injury he sustained in October while training to qualify for these very games. His Olympic hopes were almost crushed when he slammed into the side of a halfpipe while training in New Zealand. Fortunately for all of us, he will be back and ready to blow our minds once again. (Photo: Getty)