The Women We'll Be Watching At The Sochi Games

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Ashley Wagner, figure skating, U.S.
Everyone's eyes will already be on Ashley Wagner, after she fell twice at U.S. Nationals, and placed fourth, but was still named to the team instead of Mirai Nagasu. Some say it was racism that lost Nagasu the spot, but others say it's because Wagner simply had a terrible performance on the day of National's. She's a two-time national champion, and she's the reason that we even have three spots on the women's figure skating team for the Olympics (she won fifth place at World's, which allots those countries to put up an additional athlete).

But other than that, we just like Ashley Wagner's attitude. As far as we know, she's the only figure skater — male or female — on Team USA who has the ovaries to say that Russia's anti-LGBT law is terrible. While most in the figure skating world have stayed quiet about the law in Russia, Ashley Wagner says she feels uncomfortable not talking about it. "It's an issue I feel so strongly about just because my life is really surrounded by the LGBT community," Wagner said. "I've talked to so many athletes who agree with what I've said and who think it's a horrible thing for the LGBT community in Russia."

Here's her controversial Free Skate at Nationals:


And her Short Program at Nationals

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Lindsey Van, Ski Jumping, U.S.
This will be the first year that women will be allowed to ski jump at the Winter Olympic games. Interestingly, women were not allowed because "experts" thought all that jumping would make a woman's ovaries fall out — true story.
Lindsey Van is proving all the whackos wrong, and she's been doing it for years. In fact, she was one of the most significant guiding forces in getting women's ski jumping off the ground at the Olympics. In 2013 alone, Van finished 10 World Cup events in the top 10, on top of the fact that she's a 15-time U.S. champion. Yeah, you read that right. FIFTEEN.


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(Elana Meyers)


U.S. Women's Bobsledding
Make all the Cool Runnings jokes you want (well don't, they wouldn't be appropriate or accurate), but most of the U.S. bobsledding team is made of women of color. Who says we don't do winter sports?

Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones, who you might remember as Olympic track and field stars, have reinvented themselves as pushers. Some balked at the fact that these track stars-turned-bobsledders made the team based on their celebrity, but most of the female bobsledders (Emily Azevedo, Aja Evans, Jazmine Fenlator, Jamie Greubel, and Kristi Koplin — all but Elana Meyers and Katie Eberling) have a track and field background. So it's not really so far-fetched.

Meyers, stands out as a leader among the women, and is also an LGBT ally who seems to know what she's talking about. While condemning Sochi's anti-LGBT laws, Meyers reiterated that the U.S. has a lot of work to do, too.

"I love this country. I love being a citizen. I believe we are the greatest country in the world," she told EPSN earlier this year. "But we do have a lot of problems with [the lack of rights for] our gay and lesbian community and transgender community," Meyers said. "There are a third of the states in this country that don't have laws against discrimination of the gay and transgender athletes, or gay and transgender people in general. There are still states in this country where they can't get married."


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Women's Hockey: U.S. and Canada -

Ah, goodness, there's nothing like a good Olympic rivalry. No doubt, there will be plenty of decent competition in women's ice hockey, but we all know the big one, which I'm deeming the NAFTA Championship: Team USA versus Team Canada. Our neighbors to the north are three-time consecutive Olympic champions, shutting out the U.S. in the gold medal round in 2002 and 2010 (Team USA won bronze in 2006).

"The passion behind the rivalry with Canada is something that just fuels all of us," team captain Meghan Duggan told reporters. "Regardless of the outcome they are always incredible games. They are fierce competitors and so are we."

And, just for an extra bit of awesome, U.S. coach Katey Stone is the first female head coach of America's Olympic hockey team.

"It's certainly an honor [to be the first female coach] but it's not something you can get caught up in," Stone also told reporters. "I look at it as a tremendous responsibility, and as I've said many times I hope I'm not the last because I think to be in this position is an incredible privilege and hopefully others will follow."


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Team LGBT -

Mathematically, we know there are definitely more LGBT athletes heading to Sochi, Russia, than there are on this list. But we've only been able to identify these six women who will be out at the games (by the way, none are male, and none are Americans). Anyway, here they are, clockwise from top left:

- Cheryl Maas, snowboarding, Netherlands - This wife and mother has been the toast of dutch snowboarding for a decade. She started shredding on an artificial slope in Holland and has become one of the best female snowboarders in the sport. After years of representing her country in the halfpipe, Maas is going to focus on slopestyle competition in Sochi.
And not to be outdone, her wife, Norwegian snowboarder Stine Brun Kjeldaas, won a silver medal in halfpipe snowboarding at the Nagano Games. At the last Olympic games, she provided commentary for the BBC. 

- Belle Brockhoff, snowboarding, Australia - When Russia banned LGBT "propaganda," 20-year-old Australian snowboarding prodigy Belle Brockhoff leaped out of the closet. "I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I've done to get into the Olympics and not have to deal with this law," Brockhoff said last year. Since then she said the Australian Olympic Committee has supported her journey to the games, though she said they didn't recommend she wave around a rainbow flag. Even as she's gearing up for Sochi, Brockhoff recently said, "After I compete, I'm willing to rip on [Putin's] ass. I'm not happy and there's a bunch of other Olympians who are not happy either."

- Anastasia Bucsis, speed skating, Canada - Bucsis was out at the last Winter Olympic games in Vancouver, but only a few months after Russia passed its antigay law, she reiterated that she was "proud to be gay." She added, "I could never promote that message of concealing who you are with all of this going on in Russia. I’m kind of happy that I did it on my own terms." Bucsis, who competed in the 2010 Vancouver Games, grew up in Calgary, the site of the 1988 Winter Olympic games. She said growing up in the wake of the Calgary Olympics inspired her, spurring her parents to get her to begin speed skating. Being closeted and not knowing any other speed skaters affected her performance in 2010, where she competed in the 500-meter event. She came out with the support of teammate Kaylin Irvine and now looks forward to Sochi's Olympic games. She's on the Canadian national team and has set a personal record this year.

- Ireen Wust, speed skating, Netherlands - Speed skater Ireen Wüst won the gold for the Netherlands in 2010 in the women's 1,500-meter race at age 23, and four years earlier she won her first gold medal in the 3,000-meter speed skating event at the 2006 Olympic games in Torino, Italy. Now she's ready to hit the ice again for Team Orange in five events.

- Barbara Jezeršek, cross-country ski, Slovenia - At the 2010 Winter Olympics, cross-country skier Barbara Jezeršek competed in the 10-kilometer and 15-kilometer races, as well as the 4x5-kilometer relay. She will be in Sochi representing Slovenia on the slopes.

- Sanne van Kerkhof, speed skating, Netherlands - Short track competitor Sanne Van Kerkhof, has been on the Dutch national team, and competed in 2010 in the women's relay. Since Vancouver, Van Kerkhof seems to have hit her stride as a member of the relay team, as the Dutch women have won gold at the European Championships four years in a row since 2011 as well as the World Championships last year. She is part of the Dutch team that will be tackling the 3,000-meter relay.

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Hannah Teter, snowboarding, U.S.
“I think that’s crazy,” she said about Russia's law, according to Time. "I think we should we be way beyond that whole thing going down there. I mean, it seems very inhumane to me, in a way. And to support Russia by going to the Olympics is kind of hard because of their views on that subject. So I mean, I think almost in a way, it should be boycotted. To show an example, like, we aren’t going to support, you know, going to the biggest event in the world if you’re going to have these laws in place when we get there, that are totally wrong. I mean, it would be hard to organize something like that so late, but if somebody did I would definitely be a part of it.”



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Kikkan Randall, cross-country ski, U.S.

Randall said boycotting the games would not have been a good idea, but told that she does not support Russia's laws or the ideals behind them. “With several family members in the LGBT community, this issue is particularly important to me as I am concerned about their safety to attend the Games to watch me compete. I feel strongly that discrimination of any kind does not belong in sport. I have always thought of the Olympics as an arena and event where politics have no place. Therefore, I am saddened and disappointed that Russia, a host of the upcoming Olympic Games, is bringing their politics into the spotlight [and that they are being allowed to] by threatening to impress their political views on the participants and spectators of the Games.”