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Top Nine Olympians to watch

The XXII Olympic Winter Games kick off on February 6, with athletes from 88 countries - with locales ranging from the Arctic Circle to Oceania and everywhere in between - gunning for gold over in Sochi, Russia.

With 230 athletes, Team USA has the largest delegation at the Games, outnumbering the host country and Canada by just a few heads for the best mathematical chance to sit atop the medal table.

It's always in chic to root for Team USA, even if it's in the middle of the night - and we here at The Niner salute the nine athletes and/or entities below as the biggest reasons to forget the nine-hour time difference, set the alarm for 3 a.m., and have breakfast with the red, white, and blue.

  • TED LIGETY & BODE MILLER - SKIING
    Miller and Ligety are the faces of American men's skiing, each with a different storyline; Miller, at 36, could be in his last go-round, while 2006 men's combined gold medalist Ligety craves redemption after failing to medal in Vancouver. Hopefully he got his supply of DayQuil through airport security.
  • MIKAELA SHIFFRIN - SKIING
    With Lindsey Vonn out due to injury, America's women's skiing hopes fall on 18-year-old slalom prodigy Shiffrin, who won three of her first four World Cup events this winter while most girls her were sweating out college acceptance letters. No pressure, kid!
  • CHAS GULDEMOND & JAMIE ANDERSON - SLOPESTYLE SNOWBOARDING
    New events are always fun to watch, and slopestyle debuts this year, with four-time X Games gold medalist Anderson and four-time U.S. Grand Prix champ Guldemond among the favorites to win their respective gold medals.
  • SETH WESCOTT - SNOWBOARD CROSS
    Snowboard cross debuted as an Olympic event in 2006, and Wescott won gold in both Turin and Vancouver. There's debate as to whether Sochi is in Europe or Asia, but no matter what continent this event is held on, the only storyline is whether Wescott gets the three-peat or not.
  • SUSAN DUNKLEE - BIATHLON
    Like father, like daughter: Susan is the offspring of two-time Olympic cross-country skier Stan Dunklee. Unlike her dad, she's added marksmanship to her repertoire, and her fifth-place finish at the 2012 World Championships is tied for the highest-ever for an American woman.
  • LOLO JONES - BOBSLED
    Barely 18 months ago, hurdler Lolo Jones finished her second straight Summer Olympics without a medal - but she's not only switched events, she's switched Games completely. Jones is part of the USA Bobsled Team, a controversial appointment that she hopes finally brings some bling in Sochi.
  • ASHLEY WAGNER - FIGURE SKATING
    Like Jones, two-time U.S. champ Wagner also has some controversy to overcome; she finished third at 2010 Nationals to miss out on a spot in Vancouver and should have missed Sochi too after placing fourth at 2014 Nationals, but she was gifted a spot over bronze medalist (and 2010 Olympian) Mirai Nagasu.
  • JOHN DALY - SKELETON
    Long Island-born Daly is one of five American men or women competing in skeleton, which is basically head-first luge, and he may have the perfect daredevil attitude for it, telling Rolling Stone last month that "if anything goes bad, well, it's already happened."
  • BOTH ICE HOCKEY TEAMS
    Hockey is the centerpiece of the Winter Games, and in Sochi, it's a "redeem team" on both sides for the Americans. Canada topped the US to win both the men's and women's gold medals on their home turf in 2010, and that sweep is still very much fresh in the minds of those on either Team USA.
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