February 10, 2014 12:00 PM

SARAH HENDRICKSON

Age 19

SKI JUMPER

Men’s ski jumping has been an Olympic sport since 1924. Women’s ski jumping? Not until now. “It’s a historical moment,” says Hendrickson. “It’s pretty cool.” The self-described “mountain girl” from Park City, Utah, fell in love with “the challenge, fear and exhilaration” of her sport at age 7. Currently the reigning world champ, she injured her knee last August in a crash while landing a 486-ft. jump, her personal best. She joined Team U.S.A. at the last minute, only after doctors and coaches felt she was strong enough to compete. Nerves? Nope. Flying at 60 mph, she says, is “the best feeling in the world. All your worries go away.”

EDDY ALVAREZ

Age 24

SPEED SKATER

“This is a tropical place; people don’t really know what speed skating is,” says Miami native Alvarez, a son of Cuban immigrants, who grew up in-line roller- skating and later trained in Salt Lake City. For the uninitiated, he describes short track as “NASCAR on ice. It’s the fastest human-propelled sport,” with speeds of 40 mph. In 2012 Alvarez tore tendons in both knees; doctors said he would likely “never skate again.” Recovery was “a long, difficult road,” but he medaled at the 2013 Worlds. Still, after Sochi he plans to hang up his skates – to play baseball. A college all-star who attracted MLB scouts, Alvarez says, “I’m confident I can go pro.”

ARIELLE GOLD

Age 17

SNOWBOARDER

“Hopefully I won’t have to do too much homework there,” says Gold, a Steamboat Springs, Colo., high school senior. If few Olympians are toting text books, fewer have a competing sibling in tow: Arielle’s brother Taylor, 20, is on the men’s team. “There’s no rivalry. I wouldn’t be here without his help,” says Gold, who started snowboarding at age 7 after watching Taylor and last year won gold on the half-pipe at Worlds. “He told me, ‘Fear does not exist in the present.’ That’s something I think about before a scary trick.” Off her board her goal for Sochi is simple: “to watch as many events as I can. I want to have fun.”

ASHLEY WAGNER

Age 22

FIGURE SKATER

Growing up as a “tomboy,” Wagner remembers her mom offering a choice: skating or ballet. “I like food too much to be a ballerina!” Wagner now says. She started skating as an Army brat in Alaska and set the Olympics as her goal while watching Tara Lipinski win in 1998: “She made it all seem attainable.” Wagner narrowly missed going to Vancouver in 2010 (“devastating”) but then won back-to-back National titles. She made the team this time – controversially over Mirai Nagasu, who placed third to Wagner’s fourth at Nationals. “It became real when I saw my name written in Russian on my credentials. It’s tangible, and I’m so ecstatic.”

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