clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The American Olympic Hero Rankings

A look at the members of Team USA who generated the most hyperbolic buzz in Pyeongchang, and who could keep the spotlight moving forward

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The Winter Olympics are over. We’re finally done with the whirlwind of sports we typically don’t watch, athletes we’d never heard of, and NBC packages convincing us to care deeply about both.

The United States underperformed in the overall medal count—Americans won just 23 medals, our fewest as a nation since 1998, when there were significantly fewer events. (Meanwhile Norway broke the record Team USA set in 2010 for most medals in a Winter Olympics, winning 39.) But it feels like Team USA had a great Olympics. I think it’s because the U.S.’s gold medal count didn’t dip, as Team USA won exactly nine golds for the fourth straight Winter Olympics, and because those wins felt meaningful: They came in dramatic fashion, like Jessie Diggins’s finish-line surge to win the first cross-country-skiing gold medal in American history, or in cool events, like men’s curling. Team USA’s gold-medal shootout victory over Canada in the best women’s hockey rivalry the world has ever known was an incredibly dramatic win in one of the Olympics’ best sports. That counts for like, 16 medals, so suck it, Norway.

The United States didn’t have the best Olympics, but a lot of Americans had great Olympics. As a nation, we discovered a fine crop of Olympic heroes. But of these, who is our greatest hero? Whose Olympic story will launch the most spec scripts? Who has enough name recognition to get invited on Dancing With the Stars? Who will be featured in the most incessant ad campaigns during the next Winter Olympics? Who will convince us to pay attention to their sport for the next three years and 50 weeks?

To find our greatest American Olympic Hero, we examined two things:

—How great was this athlete’s actual athletic accomplishment? Was it dramatic? Was it in a sport Americans like? Did this athlete win gold, or are they a pathetic lump of human refuse who managed to be only the second- or third-best in the world at something?

—What did they do off the ice/snow? Are they charismatic? They need to be charismatic.

10. Shaun White

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: White’s gold-medal run in the snowboarding halfpipe was one of the highlights of the Olympics: It seemed like White had been beaten by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, but White uncorked back-to-back 1440s on his final run to take gold:

It was White’s third Olympic gold, and his most impressive—snowboarding naturally progresses, with riders landing more and more difficult tricks every year. This was the run of his life.

Non-Sports Stuff: After winning gold, White had to speak publicly about the sexual harassment suit he settled with his band’s drummer last year, and did an awful job, dismissing the suit as “gossip.” He later backtracked, apologizing for using that word and for his past behavior.

Verdict: It’s noteworthy that White entered the games as America’s best-known Winter Olympian, won a gold medal in the most thrilling fashion possible, resulting in the most talked-about moment of the games per social metrics, and yet remained out of the forefront for most of the Olympics. He wasn’t in any ad campaigns I can think of, before or during the games. White has had over a decade of fame and success both in and out of his sport, and has sealed his place as the greatest snowboarder ever, but he’s not the American sports hero for the #MeToo moment.

9. Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: The Shib Sibs were America’s lone individual figure skating medalists, as Team USA failed to crack the podium in the men’s, women’s, and pairs skating events. The Shibutanis won bronze in ice dancing and were arguably the most important factor in Team USA’s bronze in the figure skating team event, placing second in both their short program and free skate. They are legitimately great at twizzling. If twizzling was its own event, the Shibutanis would be Olympic champions.

Non-Sports Stuff: They have great taste in podcasts and forced NBC commentators to say the word “vlogging.”

Overall: One thing I have discovered over the past two weeks is that, for many, the most captivating aspect of pairs figure skating and ice dancing is the wild speculation about whether or not the two dancers are romantically linked. But America’s best pairs skaters, Alexa and Chris Knierim, are married, and the Shib Sibs are, well, siblings, rendering speculation either unnecessary or horrifying. The Shibutanis are undeniably fun, and they know how to Internet, but we will not have an American superstar figure skating duo until we find one with sexual tension.

8. Chris Mazdzer

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: The United States had taken medals in doubles luge, and Erin Hamlin had won bronze in women’s luge, but the U.S. had never won a singles men’s luge medal before Mazdzer won silver in Pyeongchang.

Non-sports stuff: Here is Chris Mazdzer:

Verdict: Do you guys know the impact a single hot Olympian can have on a sport? Literally dozens of people might become interested in luge now, doubling its American fan base.

7. Mikaela Shiffrin

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: Shiffrin had a great Olympics by normal human standards, winning gold in the giant slalom and silver in the Alpine combined event. But she had to drop out of two events due to a wind-altered schedule, and, in a stunning development, failed to even reach the podium in the slalom, her best event. She had medaled in 25 of the past 26 World Cup events, winning six of eight World Cup slalom races this year. Before the games, Shiffrin had dreamed of winning gold in all five of the alpine skiing disciplines; afterward, she admitted that three was a more reasonable goal, and said that five is probably impossible.

Non-Sports Stuff: The only thing I know about Mikaela Shiffrin outside of her skiing is that she is coached by her mom.

Verdict: Shiffrin is easily the greatest female skier on the planet and is almost certainly America’s most talented Winter Olympian. At age 22, she already has won as many Olympic medals as Lindsey Vonn did in her now-finished career. We should be celebrating her more. Unfortunately, Shiffrin didn’t win quite as much as she should have in Pyeongchang, which might keep her out of the spotlight for a bit. Luckily, Shiffrin should have three or so more Olympiads left in her.

6. Red Gerard

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: The 17-year-old threw down the best run of his Olympics in the final run of the snowboard slopestyle competition to become the first Winter Olympic medalist born in the 2000s. It was a bit of a surprise—his best finish in three X Games appearances was fourth.

Non-Sports Stuff: Gerard perfectly played the role of Unimpressed Teen: He hadn’t realized people thought the Olympics were a big deal before he won gold, and explained that he’d overslept the morning of his event and forgot his jacket in his room because of an ill-timed Netflix binge session. But the true stars of the show were his beer-slamming family, who showed up in Korea ready to party even if Red didn’t win gold. Unfortunately, Red has extremely bad taste in hats.

Verdict: I cannot wait for Red’s Rowdy Family to debut on whichever reality TV network pays the most money.

5. Adam Rippon

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: Rippon became the first openly gay American man to win a Winter Olympic medal by contributing to the U.S. team that won bronze in figure skating. He didn’t contend for any individual medal, but it was still quite an Olympic debut for the guy who sat on a roof eating burgers during the last Olympics.

Non-Sports Stuff: Rippon’s routines didn’t have a high-enough degree of difficulty to put him in medal contention, but he attempted a quintuple lutz on every response to every question asked of him for two weeks.

Rippon—who used to look like this, and now looks like this—is relentlessly funny, even in situations when he is being thoughtful:

We don’t even need to dedicate space to Rippon dunking on Mike Pence.

Verdict: Rippon didn’t need to win an individual medal to become the biggest star of these Olympics. He turned down a gig as an NBC correspondent during the games after realizing doing so would force him to leave the Olympic Village and skip the closing ceremonies, but more opportunities will surely come.

4. Jessie Diggins

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: I have watched Diggins’s last-ditch, gold-winning dash to the finish line probably 25 times, and I’ve gotten goosebumps every time:

Somehow, Diggins managed to find some leftover energy in a body that must have been 80 percent lactic acid, powering past Sweden’s Stina Nilsson to win gold for America in the team sprint—America’s first cross-country skiing gold, and its second cross-country medal ever. She split the gold with Kikkan Randall, Team USA’s lone mom, but Diggins is the one whose frenzied sprint got the medal. Diggins was named flag bearer for the closing ceremony.

Non-Sports Stuff: Diggins is known for being infectiously happy at all times. She puts glitter on her cheeks in all her races, which explains why America’s first cross-country skiing gold medalist was so sparkly on the podium.

Verdict: Diggins has done two things I previously thought were impossible: I never thought an American would beat out Scandinavia’s strongest skiers in cross-country, and I never thought it was possible for a cross-country skier to smile. I thought smiling didn’t happen much because the whole gist of the sport was enduring massive amounts of pain. But if Diggins can do those two things, who knows what else she’s capable of.

3. The Lamoureux Twins

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: Monique Lamoureux-Morando tied the gold-medal game against Canada for Team USA; Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the brilliant shootout goal that eventually won the game for the Americans.

Any way I break it down, this was the best moment of the Olympics. The winning goal was a whirling dervish of dekes that would have been highlight-reel material in any game, but it happened to come in the decisive moment of an all-important matchup between two bitter rivals. There aren’t really many bitter rivals in the Olympics—everybody seems to be friends, for the most part—but Team USA and Team Canada really don’t seem to get along. And the Canadians had won four straight gold medals, three over the Americans, the last one in excruciating fashion, before Lamoureux-Davidson dangled the dynasty to death.

Non-Sports Stuff: Why are hockey siblings the best sports siblings? Nobody will ever know.

Verdict: I don’t think we’ll fully know how important Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson’s goal was for a while. Women’s hockey is teetering on the edge of professional sustainability. Last year, the American national team went on strike to demand a livable wage before eventually winning the World Championships; there is a fledgling pro league that paid athletes a pittance, eventually cutting back from that to a smaller pittance. But many players on this edition of Team USA mentioned that they were inspired to play hockey by the 1998 gold medal–winning team. If those players brought women’s hockey here, where will it go now after such a spectacular moment?

2. John Shuster

Actual Sporting Accomplishment: After starting the Olympics 2-4, it seemed like Shuster was Shuster-ing again: He’d attained notoriety for horrific performances at each of the past three Olympics, shooting him to social media infamy. He was benched during the 2010 Olympics en route to a last-place finish and wasn’t invited to USA Curling’s High Performance Program after a 2-7 showing at the 2014 Olympics. Then, he lost 30 pounds and formed his own team, entirely comprised of people rejected by USA Curling.

And in Pyeongchang, with his back against the wall, Shuster curled better than ever before. His team won five straight games, including two over the Canadian squad that had won the past three gold medals. He capped the run with Team USA’s first curling gold medal, beating Sweden with a massive five-point end:

Shuster’s redemption story is special. He actually wept while being interviewed after Team USA’s first win against Canada, although he got past his tears to be downright giddy on the medal podium.

Non-Sports Stuff: Shuster’s appeal is that in an event for world-class athletes who maintain peak physical form year-round, Shuster is just a normal guy who happens to have an incredible talent that puts him on an international stage every four years. Even after losing 30 pounds, he looks like he could house a 12-pack with little trouble. He has worked as his curling club’s bartender.

Verdict: America loves nothing more than an average-looking person who achieves greatness. There definitely needs to be a John Shuster movie. He will be played by Jason Segel. Some beer company needs to sponsor Shuster’s entire team. Every four years, Americans see curling on TV and half-heartedly say “Hey, we should go try that.” Shuster’s victory ensures some people might actually follow through.

1. Chloe Kim

Actual Sports Accomplishments: The 17-year-old was flawless in the women’s halfpipe. Her first-run 93.75 had already won her a gold medal when it was time for her final run; she improved upon that with a preposterous 98.25, landing back-to-back 1080s:

Non-Sports Stuff: Kim didn’t just win gold; she won gold while tweeting about food in between runs.

Like Gerard, she is 17. She made the most recent cover of Sports Illustrated with her extremely good dog:

Verdict: The teens are taking over. They are winning at sports; they are changing the world; they are roasting everybody who gets on their bad side. Chloe Kim is our most talented and perhaps most benevolent teen. May she rip halfpipes and reign gracefully for years to come.