20 International athletes to watch at the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang

Sports: 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang

From South Korean skaters to ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’: A snapshot look at some of the top medal prospects from outside of Canada at the Winter Games in South Korea

By Bev Wake

1. MARIT BJOERGEN, Cross-Country

Marit Bjoergen/FIS

Country: Norway

Born: March 21, 1980

Why you should watch: Already the most successful female athlete in Winter Olympic history — with 10 medals, including five gold — she’ll try to add to her collection in PyeongChang. She won three medals in Sochi, all gold, and despite missing time after those games to have a baby, there’s little indication she’s slowed down. She left the 2017 world championships with four medals, all gold, in the 10-km classic, 7.5km + 7.5km double pursuit, 4x5km relay and 30km freestyle. She is within three medals of Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen’s 13 for most Winter Olympic medals all-time by an athlete, male or female.

2. CHOI MIN JEONG, Short Track

Choi Min Jeong

Country: South Korea

Born: Sept. 9, 1998

Why you should watch: Short track is the most popular Winter Olympic sport in South Korea and it’s the event where they’ve enjoyed their most success: 42 of their 53 medals have come in that sport. As such, they’re hoping for big things on home ice and Choi Min Jeong is their best hope for multiple gold medals. She’s ranked No. 1 on the World Cup circuit in all three distances — 500, 1,000 and 1,500 metres — and is also part of the top-ranked women’s relay team. She’ll be looking for redemption after failing to reach the podium in any of the events at the 2017 world championships. Among her biggest challengers will be Canadians Marianne St-Gelais and Kim Boutin.

3. LAURA DAHLMEIER, Biathlon

Laura Dahlmeier/IBU

Country: Germany

Born: Aug. 22, 1993

Why you should watch: It’s one of the most challenging sports of the Winter Olympics, forcing athletes to ski at full speed and then lower their heart rates enough to excel at shooting. Since the Sochi Olympics, Dahlmeier has become one of the best in the world at it. She won a record five gold medals at the 2017 world championships, plus a silver, giving her 13 medals over the last three years.

4. MARTIN DUKURS, Skeleton

Martin Dukurs/IBSF

Country: Latvia

Born: March 31, 1984

Why you should watch: He’s won everything except Olympic gold, settling for silver in Vancouver and Sochi. He heads to South Korea with nine-straight European and three-straight world titles under his belt, and is currently ranked No. 4 on the World Cup circuit. In eight events this season, he had two wins and three second-place finishes. Among his biggest challengers is South Korean Yun Sungbin, who won five World Cup gold and two silver this season to secure the overall title. South Korea has never won an Olympic medal in skeleton.

5. MARTIN FOURCADE, Biathlon

Martin Fourcade

Country: France

Born: Sept. 14, 1988

Why you should watch: Ranked No. 1 in the world in his sport, he’s one of only two biathletes to win six overall World Cup titles and the only one to do it six times in a row (with a seventh possible this year). He’s also the only man to win the sport’s five Crystal Globes — awarded to the overall World Cup champion in each discipline — three times. He won five medals at the 2017 world championships, including gold in the 12.5km pursuit, and will try to add to his four Olympic medals won in Sochi and Vancouver.

6. YUZURU HANYU, Men’s Figure Skating

Yuzuru Hanyu

Country: Japan

Born: Dec. 7, 1994

Why you should watch: He’s attempting to become the first man since Dick Button in 1952 to win back-to-back Olympic titles in men’s singles, and he heads to PyeongChang as the word-record holder in the short program, free skate and combined. The world No. 1 had won four-straight Grand Prix Final titles before an ankle injury kept him out of the 2017 event. He’s said he will skip the Olympic team event in Korea in order to rest the ankle and better prepare for the men’s competition. He has a strong connection to Canada, as he spends time training in Toronto and is coached by Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson. He also works with Canadian choreographers Jeffrey Buttle, Shae-Lynn Bourne and David Wilson. Orser also coaches one of Hanyu’s biggest competitors: Javier Fernandez of Spain, who’s third in the ISU world standings.
He’s attempting to become the first man since Dick Button in 1952 to win back-to-back Olympic titles in men’s singles, and he heads to PyeongChang as the word-record holder in the short program, free skate and combined.

7. MARCEL HIRSCHER, Alpine Skiing

Marcel Hirscher/FIS

Country: Austria

Born: March 2, 1989

Why you should watch: He tops the World Cup leaderboard in slalom, giant slalom and overall and he won three medals at the 2017 world championships: gold in slalom and giant slalom and silver in combined. On the World Cup circuit, he has 120 podiums — and 55 wins — in 219 starts. He has 10 wins this season in slalom and giant slalom and has only missed the podium once in either discipline, finishing 17th at the World Cup season-opener. He won silver in slalom at the Sochi Olympics (after finishing fifth in the event in 2010) and was fourth in giant slalom for the second-straight Games.

8. LINDSEY JACOBELLIS, Snowboard Cross

Lindsey Jacobellis/FIS

Country: U.S.A.

Born: Aug. 19, 1985

Why you should watch: After winning silver in 2006 when the sport made its Olympic debut in Torino, Jacobellis has struggled at the Olympics with a DQ in the semifinal in Vancouver (to finish fifth) and a crash in the Sochi semifinal (to finish seventh). That’s what happens in this fantastically entertaining sport, where four athletes race down the same course, jockeying for position while they navigate turns and jumps. She’ll be one of the most experienced and decorated athletes competing in PyeongChang, with five world titles — including the 2017 championships — and 10 Winter X-Games gold medals.

9. SCOTTY JAMES, Snowboard Halfpipe

Scotty James

Country: Australia

Born: July 6, 1994

Why you should watch: He’s been called the most popular Australian athlete in the United States, and it’s easy to see why. Since he made his Olympic debut as a 15-year-old in Vancouver (where he finished 15th), he’s become a star in the gravity-defying sport of snowboard halfpipe. He’s the two-time reigning world champion and he took silver at the 2018 Winter X Games last month, after winning gold in 2017. He was named Australia’s male athlete of the year for 2017.

10. SVEN KRAMER, Speed Skating

Sven Kramer

Country: Netherlands

Born: April 23, 1986

Why you should watch: Netherlands won a ridiculous 23 of the 32 speed skating medals it could win in Sochi, a return of 72 per cent. They swept four of the 10 podiums and took gold in both the men’s and women’s team pursuit, where they could only win one medal. A leader, through this, was the veteran Kramer, who will be competing at his fourth Olympics in PyeongChang. He won two gold (5,000 metres, team pursuit) and a silver (10,000) in Sochi, giving him seven Olympic medals for his career, plus the one that got away: he was disqualified after recording the fastest time in the 10,000-metre race in 2010 because his coach directed him into the wrong lane late in the race. He won both the 5,000- and 10,000-metre races at the 2017 world championships and is the three-time reigning world all-around champion. He heads to South Korea ranked second in the world at both distances behind a Canadian who originally competed for Netherlands: Ted-Jan Bloeman.

11. ESTER LEDECKA, Snowboarding and Alpine Skiing

Ester Ledecka

Country: Czech Republic

Born: March 23, 1995

Why you should watch: It’s not entirely uncommon for Olympic athletes to transition from one sport to another: athletics to bobsleigh, for example, or speed skating to cycling. What is unusual is to see an athlete compete in two different sports at the same Olympic Games. The most typical combinations are cross-country skiing and Nordic combined (a combination of cross-country and ski jumping) and swimming and water polo (where the biggest name is Johnny Weissmuller, who won three gold medals in swimming and a bronze in water polo at the 1924 Olympics and went on to star as Tarzan in a series of movies). More unusual combinations include boxing and soccer: American Joe Lydon won silver on the pitch and bronze in the rings at the 1904 Olympics. Ledecka falls somewhere in the middle. In PyeongChang, she’ll compete on skis in downhill, combined and Super-G — she finished top 30 in each of the disciplines at the 2017 world championships — and she’ll compete on her snowboard in parallel giant slalom, where she’s the reigning world champion. She’s No. 1 in the PGS World Cup standings and No. 23 in the World Cup downhill standings.

12. FELIX LOCH, Luge

Felix Loch

Country: Germany

Born: July 24, 1989

Why you should watch: Germans dominate luge like the Dutch dominate speed skating, and Loch is one of the best in the world at his sport. Just 28, he already has three Olympic medals on his resume — back-to-back gold in the men’s event, plus gold in team relay when the sport debuted in Sochi — and 12 world titles, including five in men’s singles. He won the World Cup overall title this season, with four gold, two silver and two bronze medals, and is a six-time overall champion. The German relay team is ranked No. 1 in the world.

14. MAREN LUNDBY, Ski Jumping

Maren Lundby/Norges Skiforbund

Country: Sweden

Born: Sept. 7, 1994

Why you should watch: Women’s ski jumping has come a long way since it made its Olympic debut four years ago in Sochi and it’s anybody’s guess who will win gold in PyeongChang. The reigning world and Olympic champion, Carina Vogt of Germany, has made just one World Cup podium this season and is ranked No. 6 in the World Cup standings. The most consistent jumper by far has been Sweden’s Maren Lundby. She has not missed the World Cup podium this season, winning seven gold and four silver. The big question is how she’ll perform on the big stage. At five world championships, she’s only reached the podium once, winning silver in the team event in 2015. Her best individual finish was fourth in 2017.
She has not missed the World Cup podium this season, winning seven gold and four silver. The big question is how she’ll perform on the big stage.

14. MARTINA SABLIKOVA, Speed Skating

Martina Sablikova

Country: Czech Republic

Born: May 27, 1987

Why you should watch: She dominates the sport’s distance events, winning the last two Olympic titles and the last nine world titles over 5,000 metres. She’s also won gold or silver in 3,000 metres at the last seven single distance world championships. In the Olympic 3,000-metre event, she won gold in Vancouver and silver in Sochi. She was second in both distances on the World Cup circuit this season to Canadian Ivanie Blondin.

15. MIKAELA SHIFFRIN, Alpine Skiing

Mikaela Shiffrin/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Country: U.S.A.

Born: March 13, 1995

Why you should watch: Lindsey Vonn may be the biggest name in American alpine skiing, but Shiffrin should be right up there with her. The Olympic slalom champion in Sochi, she’s also the three-time reigning world champion in the event and the reigning World Cup champion. Ranked No. 1 on the World Cup circuit this season in slalom, third in giant slalom and fifth in downhill, she leads the overall standings by a huge margin: 1,513 points to 842 over Switzerland’s Wendy Holdener. She’s made the podium in six of her seven World Cup slalom races this season, winning five, and four of her seven giant slalom races.

16. KAMIL STOCH, Ski Jumping

Kamil Stock/FIS

Country: Poland

Born: May 25, 1987

Why you should watch: Poland doesn’t win a lot of medals at the Winter Olympics — only 20 all-time. Olympic prognosticator Gracenotes is predicting three medals for Poland in PyeongChang and this ski jumper is expected to be involved in all of them. The reigning Olympic champion on both the large and normal hills, he led Poland to gold in the team event at the 2017 world championships. No. 2 overall on the World Cup circuit this season behind Germany’s Richard Freitag, he has seven podium appearances in 14 individual events, with four-straight wins between Dec. 30 and Jan. 6.

17. LINDSEY VONN, Alpine Skiing

Lindsey Vonn/U.S. Ski & Snowboard

Country: United States

Born: Oct. 18, 1984

Why you should watch: She’s the most dominant female skier in history, with 80 World Cup wins — more than any woman and behind only Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 — and 20 season titles (eight in downhill, five in super-G, four overall and three combined). But she’s had some bad luck at the Olympics. After failing to reach the Olympic podium in 2002 or 2006, she won gold in downhill and bronze in super G in 2010, but did not finish her other three events. She was unable to compete at the Sochi Olympics, and her participation in PyeongChang was in doubt after she injured her back in December. But if we’ve learned anything during Vonn’s career, it’s that we should never doubt her resolve. She’s won her last two World Cup downhill races and finished second in another, while putting up a fourth in combined and a sixth in Super G. She’s ranked No. 2 in the downhill World Cup standings.
She’s the most dominant female skier in history, with 80 World Cup wins — more than any woman and behind only Ingemar Stenmark’s 86.

18. DAVID WISE, Freestyle Halfpipe

David Wise/USOC

Country: U.S.A.

Born: June 30, 1990

Why you should watch: He heads to PyeongChang with gold medals in every major competition: Olympics (2014), world (2013) and Winter X Games (2018, 2014, 2013, 2012). Ranked No. 2 on the World Cup circuit behind American teammate Alex Ferreira, he’s also on a roll: in addition to X Games gold last month, he has two wins in his last three World Cup events. He was part of an American medal sweep at the X Games.

19. XU MENGTAO, Aerials

Xu Mengtao

Country: China

Born: July 12, 1990

Why you should watch: It’s always fun to watch people twist and turn 20 metres above the snow after launching themselves off a jump, and the Chinese are particularly good it, winning six medals over the last three Olympics. Xu Mengtao will be hoping to upgrade the silver medal she won in Sochi and she heads to South Korea ranked No. 1 on the World Cup circuit. She has two gold, two silver and a fifth on the World Cup circuit this season and won gold at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang in February 2017. She has never finished off the podium at the world championships, winning one gold (2013), two silver (2011, 2009) and two bronze (2017, 2015).

20. ALINA ZAGITOVA, Figure Skating

Alina Zagitova

Country: Olympic athlete from Russia

Born: May 18, 2002

Why you should watch: Russian medal projections are lower than ever in PyeongChang, as part of the fallout from the doping scandal uncovered after the Sochi Olympics. One sport where they are expected to do well and where athletes have mostly avoided the fallout of the scandal: figure skating. Their women’s team is particularly strong, with Gracenote Sports projecting two medals in women’s singles and a third in the team event. Zagitova is just 15 but in the absence of two-time reigning world champion Evgenia Medvedeva — who will compete in South Korea, but cracked a bone in her foot and hasn’t competed since November — she has shone. She won gold at the the Grand Prix Final and the European championships.
THE EX-PRESS, February 5, 2018

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