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Diverse and talented, USA fields largest team in its history for the Winter Olympics

Fueled by joy, 17-year-old speedskater Maame Biney races from Ghana to Virginia to Utah and soon to Pyeongchang. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton.1 / 3
Freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy poses for a portrait during the Team USA media summit for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic athletes in Park City, Utah, in September 2017. Must credit: Washington Post photo by Toni L. Sandys2 / 3
Lindsey Vonn of the U.S. in action Jan. 26, 2018, in the ladies' alpine combined at the Alpine Skiing World Cup in Switzerland. REUTERS / Stefano Rellandini3 / 3

The American contingent that starts pouring into South Korea for February's Pyeongchang Olympics will feature seasoned veterans and past champions, familiar names such as snowboarder Shaun White, skier Lindsey Vonn and speedskater Shani Davis. The U.S. team will also include promising young talent, phenoms such as 17-year-old snowboarder Chloe Kim, 17-year-old short track speedskater Maame Biney and 18-year-old figure skater Nathan Chen.

And somewhere in the middle is an Alpine skier who might prove to be Team USA's brightest star of all, Mikaela Shiffrin, entering the prime of her career with an Olympic title already in her trophy case and space in her carry-on luggage to bring back a couple of more medals from South Korea.

The U.S. Olympic Committee announced its full roster of Olympians headed to Pyeongchang, 242 men and women in all, the largest team that any nation has ever sent to a Winter Games. The previous mark was set by the U.S. squad four years ago, a 230-person Olympic roster.

The Americans will be trying to top their 2014 medal haul, which included nine gold medals and 28 overall (though that number will increase to 29 when American Katie Uhlaender's fourth-place skeleton finish is upgraded after Russia forfeited a gold due to doping). Four years earlier, the Americans won a record 37 medals in Vancouver, including nine gold.

The Opening Ceremonies are scheduled for Friday, Feb. 9.

This year's American squad ranges in age from 17 to 39 and features a mix of familiar faces and promising newcomers. The average age is 26 1/2, a half-year older than four years ago, but the group also includes six 17-year-olds.

A total of 103 athletes are veteran Olympians, including 37 returning medalists. Davis, snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall will all be competing at their fifth Winter Games.

Vonn, the most decorated female Alpine skier of all time, is headed to her fourth Olympics, having missed the Sochi Games because of a knee injury. "It's been pretty brutal to wait for another Olympics," she said.

Vonn will be racing the downhill, super-G and combined in Pyeongchang and hopes to improve on her Vancouver medal haul, which included a gold and a bronze.

"I feel like in Vancouver, I finally figured out how to approach the Olympics, how to deal with pressure, how to perform under the highest amount of pressure possible. And I want another chance," she said during an online event announcing the team Friday. "I think my accomplishments on the World Cup have been more than I ever could have hoped for. But I think the exclamation point on my career - getting another Olympic medal - would be icing on the cake."

Vonn made her Olympic debut at the 2002 Games. Chen was 3 years old then and just learning how to skate. He's now a two-time U.S. men's figure-skating champion and is considered a serious medal threat in Pyeongchang.

"When I was 10 years old, I knew exactly that's where my goal was at, that's where my dream was at. It's crazy to think that eight years later, here I am," he said. "I made that dream happen. Ultimately, I'm just so excited that this is happening. I'm pretty confident going into these Games, knowing that I can do what I need to do."

The U.S. Olympic Committee says this year's squad is also its most diverse for a Winter Games. It includes the first two African-American Olympic female speedskaters (Biney and Erin Jackson), the first African-American hockey player (Jordan Greenway) and the first two openly gay male athletes (freeskier Gus Kenworthy and figure skater Adam Rippon).

The United States will be sending hockey teams to compete in both the men's and women's Olympic tournaments, albeit very different squads. The women's team is a largely veteran group that has won the past three world championships and has been training together since August. Without the benefit of having NHL players, the men's team is a ragtag bunch of minor leaguers, college players and Americans from leagues overseas. They won't skate as a group until they land in Pyeongchang, practicing together all of four days before games begin.

As usual, the bulk of Team USA comes from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association: 22 Alpine skiers, 29 freestyle skiers and 26 snowboarders.

"More this year I've noticed of all the teams I've been on - I've been on quite a few world championship teams - for some reason when it was named yesterday I had this crazy feeling that this was the best team we've had," said Resi Stiegler, who will be skiing at her third Olympics.

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