US athletes excited one year before Pyeongchang

Chloe Kim won superpipe gold medals at the 2015 and 2016 Winter X Games and took 2016 Winter Youth Olympics halfpipe and slopestyle titles (AFP Photo/Sean M. Haffey) (GETTY/AFP/File)

US athletes, including Korean-American teen halfpipe star Chloe Kim appearing in host South Korea, are already looking forward to the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics one year before they begin.

"I'm really excited to get that Olympic spirit going again," said Mikaela Shiffrin, who won 2014 Olympic slalom ski gold at age 18. "So much has happened between Sochi and now, I feel like I was a baby back then."

About 245 US athletes will visit Pyeongchang, where competition opens February 8, a day before the opening ceremony. In all, 2,800 athletes from 95 nations will compete in 102 medal events over 15 disciplines.

Among expected US stars will be 16-year-old snowboarder Kim, who will talk with Seoul college students Wednesday about overcoming challenges and work Friday in Pyeongchang with youth snowboarders from her parents' home country.

Kim won superpipe gold medals at the 2015 and 2016 Winter X Games and took 2016 Winter Youth Olympics halfpipe and slopestyle titles.

"She will be really popular. We're finding out she's already really popular. We think she will be a fantastic ambassador for us," said Alan Ashley, the US Olympic Committee sport performance chief and 2018 US chief of mission.

Ashley returned Saturday from a pre-Olympic examination of 2018 Olympic venues and housing.

"Overall, I would say the venues and the villages are really coming together well. Things look good," he said. "The venues in particular are in very great shape. I think these will be exciting Games that will be well watched."

Americans topped the overall medal table at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics with 37 medals, nine of them gold.

They managed 28 medals with nine golds at Sochi in 2014, second overall to host Russia, whose major doping program was revealed, leading to some athletes being banned from last year's Rio Summer Olympics.

Still-undecided issues include how many Russians will compete and how the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will ensure better anti-doping measures.

- 'Concerned' about US team -

"The IOC and IPC are addressing this pretty head-on right now. We don't have a firm answer on what the status will be of the Russian team in Pyeongchang," Ashley said.

"I have to be concerned about the US team. We want the best team we can have at Pyeongchang and that's my focus right now."

Americans learned from August's efforts in other sports at Rio.

"We picked up a few things we learned in the runup to Rio. We're trying to focus on recovery," Ashley said.

"We can get caught up in a lot of new ideas and innovation but when it comes right down to it, being really good at the fundamentals and executing them is really important."

Olympic big air snowboarding, mixed doubles curling, mass start speedskating and alpine team skiing events will debut in 2018. Ashley has strong expectations in the new events.

"We have great athletes in most of those disciplines," he said. "Good overall for the Winter Games to get some more high-action sports that attract a wide variety of clientele and some young people."

US bobsled pilot Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic medalist and 2015 world champion, has won four consecutive World Cup races ahead of the world championships later this month. She wants to see a four-woman bobsled event in future Olympics.

"Every four years, we have less than four minutes to go out there and perform to try and get a medal," she said. "It's a huge move in the right direction for our sport. Hopefully, we will have it coming in for 2022."