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Olympic Hopefuls to Watch This Winter

Looking for someone to root for? Here are the female athletes we're looking out for in the 2014 Winter Olympics.

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Sarah Hendrickson
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
Getty Images
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Sarah Hendrickson

At 19 years old, Hendrickson has 22 World Cup medals in ski jumping. But this is the first year women's ski jumping will be included as an Olympic sport, so now the Utah resident has another in mind: Sochi gold. Hendrickson has a few hurdles to overcome -- namely, a knee injury suffered during offseason training in August, which resulted in surgery. However, with such a decorated resume at such a young age, this rising star is one to definitely watch fly -- literally.

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Gretchen Bleiler

You could say it's a comeback: Gretchen Bleiler, the American half-pipe snowboarder from Ohio is a seasoned X Games vet and also silver medalist from the Turin Games. She unfortunately suffered a crushing training injury in 2006, leaving her with a broken right eye socket and the possibility that she might not see out of that eye again. Since then, Bleiler has worked hard to heal her body and reestablish her snowboard game, coming out third in the half-pipe at the New Zealand Winter Games this past August. Sochi? We'll be looking out for her.

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Lolo Jones

Lolo Jones should be a familiar name when it comes to premier athletes -- she not only competes in the summer Games as a track and field athlete, but also in the Winter games in bobsled. Jones was a favorite to medal in the 100m hurdles in both the 2008 and 2012 summer Olympics, but fell just short both times, placing 7th and 4th, respectively. However, that hasn't stopped Jones -- instead, after failing to medal in 2008, she began training for bobsledding and joined the U.S. team three years later. Now, as a brakeman and push athlete, Jones took gold with her team at this year's World Championships.

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Julia Mancuso

While veteran Lindsey Vonn is arguably the most recognized named in alpine skiing, make no mistake: Julia Mancuso is actually the top Olympic medaling female skier. This year, the three-peat Games athlete -- whose nickname amongst teammates is Super Jules -- will be looking to add a fourth to her collection.

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Meryl Davis

Along with partner Charlie White, Meryl Davis is one to look out for in the figure skating rink. The duo has been dancing together since 1997, snagging a silver medal in 2010, but also 13 consecutive Grand Prix events, making them the reigning world champions. Though the U.S. has never won an Olympic ice dancing gold medal, this year, with Davis and White at the helm, there's a strong chance they'll be making history.

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Hannah Kearney

A U.S. skier who took gold at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Hannah Kearney is one American athlete who will be defending her title on the slopes in Sochi. The 27-year-old Vermont native is on a hot streak, losing out in Turin in the '06 Games, but then coming back hard, logging 16 consecutive wins in 2011-12, surpassing alpine legend Ingemar Stenmark's record for the longest FIS World Cup victory streak in all disciplines.

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Noelle Pikus-Pace

As the first woman ever to win the Overall World Cup title in skeleton, Noelle Pikus-Pace, a 31-year-old racer hailing from Utah, had already gone into retirement after Vancouver. But now Pikus-Pace is back for more, winning the World Cup skeleton race just this past December, and looking to be a serious podium contender this year.

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Ashley Wagner

Two-time U.S. National Champion (2012 and 2013) and two-time U.S. bronze medalist Ashley Wagner's gunning for gold this year. Born into a military family, Wagner was born on a U.S. Army base in Germany, but picked up ice skating as her family moved around the States. Now residing in Southern California, the 22-year-old describes herself as an "ice cream enthusiast" on her Twitter bio. Consider us fans.

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Heather Richardson

This will be just the second time long track speed skater Heather Richardson will be heading to the Olympics (she placed 6th in 2010). The 23-year-old from Utah is coming fresh off a win at the World Spring Championships, setting a new world record to boot. We're excited to see if she has the momentum to keep it going in Sochi.

Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, January 2014.

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