Team USA is casting its widest medal-catching net to date. Two hundred and forty-two athletes will be representing the United States in Pyeongchang, the largest delegation any country has ever sent to the Winter Olympics.
They cover 97 of the 102 medal events, throwing America’s hat in the ring wherever possible. But despite the sheer size of Team USA, the 22-year gap between its oldest and youngest athletes is the smallest since the 2002 winter games in Park City.
Ice hockey's Brian Gionta, at 39 years old, leads the roster in years. The NHL’s refusal to let current professional hockey players compete in the Olympics pulled Gionta out of retirement, making him captain of a squad whose average age is 10 years younger than he is.
His last Olympic appearance was in Turin in 2006, when he posted four goals but the US Men’s Ice Hockey team finished eighth after a 5-0 blowout loss to Finland.
Gionta, a Boston College graduate and 14-year veteran of the NHL, had just begun to settle into his role as a full-time father when he got the call from USA Hockey. He hung up his skates in July of 2017 after his final season with the Sabres, choosing to retire to keep his family in one place and spend more time with his children.
Once he was tasked with leading a team that includes the best of college hockey, minor leaguers, NHL retirees, and European league players, Gionta had to get right back on the ice, training with the Rochester Americans of the AHL to prepare him for February.
Thirty-nine may be old for a hockey player, but it’s relatively young as far as the oldest Olympians go. Gionta is the youngest oldest member of Team USA since 1994, and is dwarfed in Pyeongchang by 51-year-old curler Cheryl Bernard of Canada.
Set your alarm to catch the USA men’s ice hockey team play Slovenia in the first round on Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 7:10 a.m.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Vincent Zhou, who turned 17 in October, holds court as the youngest member of Team USA. A figure skater from Palo Alto, California, Zhou has been competing at the senior level for only two years, but an impressive showing at the US National Figure Skating Championships, earned him a ticket to Pyeongchang.
Zhou’s resume may be short, but it does more than justify his selection to Team USA. He won silver at US Nationals in 2017 and bronze in 2018. In 2017, he was also the Bavarian Open and World Junior champion.
Zhou earns a spot on a historic men’s figure skating roster alongside 18-year-old Nathan Chen, a gold-medal favorite, and Adam Rippon, the first openly gay US athlete to qualify for the winter games. Rippon is now joined by Gus Kenworthy, a freestyle skier whose selection in late January makes the pair the first openly gay athletes to compete for Team USA since 2004.
Men’s figure skating competition kicks off Thursday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m. with the short program.
Vincent Zhou isn’t the only member of the team who can’t vote. Snowboarders Chloe Kim and Hailey Langland also clock in at 17, just a few months older than the figure skater. Pyeongchang is the first Olympiad where the United States didn’t send anyone younger than 17 since 1988. The youngest competitor overall is China’s Wu Meng, who is competing in ski halfpipe at 15.
Kim, who is one of the four US Olympians who speak Korean, is currently the top woman in the world in snowboard halfpipe. Four years ago, the 13-year-old Kim earned the scores to qualify for Sochi, but was ineligible because of her age.
Even at 17, she’s one of the youngest athletes and definitely one of the most threatening. She won gold at the 2015 and 2016 X-Games, beating her idol and 3-time Olympic medalist Kelly Clark, one of two female Olympians who are returning to the games for the fifth time this winter.
Kim is joined by fellow Southern California native Hailey Langland, just four months younger. Langland has been making a name for herself on the X-Games circuit in big air competition, landing her first double cork in 2017 to bring home the gold. She is currently second in the world in big air and fifth in slopestyle.
If either Kim or Langland secure a medal in Pyeongchang, they would be the youngest American snowboarder to do so, knocking off Kelly Clark after she won gold in 2002, at age 18.