Pyeongchang (AFP) – About 3,000 competitors will take part in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea from February 9-25. AFP Sport takes a look at some of the big names expected to shine.
The 18-year-old quadruple jump prodigy has positioned himself among the favourites for gold after winning his first Grand Prix Final title. The US champion has shown he can line up five four-rotation quad jumps in a four-and-a-half-minute routine. But the son of Chinese immigrants knows that the quad jump alone will not land him Olympic gold and has worked to improve his artistry and skating skills to challenge reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. From October to December, Chen won three Grand Prix competitions and defeated Hanyu, who has been out injured since November but is back to defend his title at Pyeongchang.
In her first Olympics, 19-year-old Choi is South Korea’s potential golden girl and the favourite over three distances in short-track speed skating – 500m, 1,000m and 1,500m. A fourth gold is not out of reach on home soil if she can help the host nation win the 3,000m relay. The Chinese women will hope to stand in her way.
The 29-year-old brings to Pyeongchang all the credentials for achieving more success. An 11-time world champion and six-time overall World Cup winner, Fourcade won two golds and a silver at Sochi 2014 having also claimed silver in 2010. The French army officer has been in imperious form this season, but so has Norwegian Johannes Boe, the only man capable of stopping his golden charge. It all makes for a thrilling showdown in South Korea.
Reigning champion Hanyu – the first Japanese man to win Olympic figure-skating gold – started the season as favourite to become the first man since American Dick Button in 1952 to win back-to-back titles. However, the 23-year-old damaged right ankle ligaments attempting a quadruple lutz in training in November and although he is back on the ice, his form is in doubt. Widely considered to be the greatest skater ever, Hanyu has the complete package, combining immense technical skill with emotional and interpretive performances which have earned him world-record marks for the short programme, free skate and total score. But the crown of the “Ice Prince” could slip if he isn’t in top form against America’s Chen.
The Austrian is a record six-time winner of the overall World Cup crystal globe and looks well set to extend that after notching up a string of victories this season. The 28-year-old has 54 World Cup wins, equal to legendary compatriot Hermann Maier and bettered only by one man – the great Ingemar Stenmark of Sweden. Hirscher has not enjoyed the same success on the Olympic stage, a slalom silver medal to his name from Sochi being his sole medal. He finished a heart-breaking fourth twice in the giant slaloms in 2010 and 2014, and fifth in the Vancouver slalom. But now, Hirscher looks in the form of his life in Pyeongchang, where a first individual gold beckons.
The Norwegian heads up a powerful national team also boasting the likes of speed king Aksel Lund Svindal and slalom expert Henrik Kristoffersen. Jansrud won super-G gold and downhill bronze in Sochi in 2014 and giant slalom silver in 2010. His versatility is legendary and he has history in South Korea, having won the downhill on the Olympic course in February last year.
Aged just 17, Chloe Kim is tipped by many to become the breakout star of the Winter Olympics in Korea, her parents’ homeland. Too young to compete in Sochi four years ago, she’s a halfpipe snowboard specialist who has racked up some impressive performances over the past few months. She is a four-times Winter X Games champion and was America’s flag-bearer at the 2016 Winter Youth Olympics, where she won the halfpipe and slopestyle titles.
The sensational 15-year-old could become a household name at Pyeongchang. She arrived in South Korea as European champion after beating two-time world and European champion Evgenia Medvedeva in January in Moscow. Zagitova has lutzed and axeled her way into contention for Olympic glory after a breathtaking debut season on the senior circuit. However the 18-year-old Medvedeva will still be a major obstacle. Returning after time off to recover from a broken foot, she was only narrowly eclipsed by her training partner and close friend Zagitova, and is keen for revenge in Korea.
The Colorado native, 22, has already racked up 41 wins on the World Cup circuit, but this year has seen Shiffrin add a further string to her bow as she branches out into the speed disciplines. She streaked to a first downhill victory in Lake Louise and given Pyeongchang’s favourable schedule, Shiffrin could realistically medal.
The 33-year-old American has won four World Cup overall championships as well as an Olympic gold in the downhill at the 2010 Games. Despite missing the 2014 Games through injury she has become one of the most recognisable sportswomen in the world. She has 81 World Cup wins to her name, closing down on Ingemar Stenmark’s record of 86, and is aiming for a last Olympic hurrah in South Korea.