You might have noticed something during the kickoff to the 2018 Winter Games — the U.S. Olympics opening ceremony delegation is so big. In fact, it's actually the largest U.S. Olympic delegation in the history of the Winter Games. And the records don't stop there — at 242 athletes, the U.S. delegation to the 2018 PyeongChang Games is the largest delegation that any country has ever sent to any Winter Olympics in history.
Of these 242 athletes, 107 are women and 135 are men. They represent each of the 15 disciplines of the seven general sports at the games, and at least one American will compete in all but five of the 102 medal events.
According to the official 2018 PyeongChang Games website, this year's huge delegation is due to the success of programs supporting athletes in winter sports. "We continue to see a spike in excellence from Americans competing in winter sports as the sport program expands to include more opportunities for our athletes," said Alan Ashley, U.S. chef de mission and USOC chief of sport performance. "We are primed and ready for another strong showing from our athletes, who have made a long-time commitment to represent us as the best in the U.S. at these Games, and we look forward to cheering for each member of Team USA on the world's greatest stage."
Within the U.S. delegation, there's a healthy mix of first-timers and athletes for whom going to the Olympics is basically part of their routine. About half of the U.S. delegation is comprised of first-time Olympians. The other half, though, has some serious experience: Shani Davis is the first speedskater to represent his country at five different Winter Olympics, hoping to add to his collection of two gold and two silver medals. Snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall will be the first American women competing at five different Winter Olympics.
The American team also sports a pretty wide age range of athletes, with 17-year-old figure skating sensation Vincent Zhou at one end and 39 year-old veteran hockey player Brian Gionta at the other. Gionta won't be joined by most of the NHL players who he spent the bulk of his career competing against, however; the NHL did not allow its players to compete in PyeongChang. Gionta was able to come as he's an unsigned free agent.
The United States isn't alone in sending an extraordinarily large delegation to PyeongChang. Canada's delegation, at 225 athletes, is also its largest-ever Winter Games group. And by sending 10 athletes to PyeongChang with the hope of winning their first medal in the Olympic Games, Israel is also sending its largest-ever delegation. China, with 82 athletes in PyeongChang, put together its largest-ever Winter Olympics delegation as well.
On the flip side, there are plenty of countries who sent few athletes — including some that only sent a single athlete to compete in PyeongChang. Tongan taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua, who managed to qualify for PyeongChang in cross-country skiing, was the only one representing his Pacific island nation. Azerbaijan, Bermuda, and San Marino are three of the other countries who only sent one athlete to this year's games.
While many of those athletes were thrilled just to qualify, the American Olympic federation is hoping for its athletes to win more medals than ever. The United States finished the 2014 Sochi Olympics second in the medal count, but they've since crept up to first place after numerous Russian athletes had their medals stripped. The American delegation often finishes Olympic games as the outright winner in the medal count — and with this huge delegation, they'll be looking to do that in 2018 as well.