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20 Best Non-American Olympians Every American Should Know

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIFebruary 2, 2014

20 Best Non-American Olympians Every American Should Know

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    Slovenia's Tina Maze is one of many non-American Olympic stars descending on Sochi.
    Slovenia's Tina Maze is one of many non-American Olympic stars descending on Sochi.GEPA/USA TODAY Sports

    The Olympic stars will be out in Sochi, and many of them will be from countries not named the United States.

    Of the 2,500 athletes from 88 countries descending upon Sochi for the 2014 Olympic Games, 2,270 will be non-Americans displaying their skill, diversity and experience.

    From a teenage Japanese figure skating champ to a 40-year-old Italian luger nicknamed “The Cannibal,” a multitude of multi-champion, multi-medal, multi-talented skiers, skaters, snowboarders, biathletes and others will strut their stuff in the Russian winter wonderland.

    Last time around in Vancouver, the United States won the most medals, but both Germany and Canada won more golds. And did you know that Norway has won more medals in the Winter Olympics than any other country? It figures based on its location.

    The Winter Olympics brings together the greatest collection of international athletes every four years and a chance for Americans to view the wonderful array of talent beyond U.S. borders.

    Here are 20 of the best non-Americans athletes who will be looking to achieve Olympic glory.

Lizzy Yarnold, Skeleton

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Country: Great Britain

    Age: 25

    World Cup Medals: 2013—gold

    Why You Should Know Her: Lizzy Yarnold hopes to repeat gold for Great Britain, following Amy Williams' win four years ago in Vancouver. Yarnold has been nothing short of brilliant this past year and is the odds-on favorite to grab the gold.

    For the uninitiated, skeleton racers fly down the same frozen track as luge and bobsled but on a small sled experiencing forces up to five G.

Petter Northug, Cross-Country Skiing

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    Matthias Schrader/Associated Press

    Country: Norway

    Age: 28

    Olympic Medals: 2010—two gold, one silver and one bronze. 

    Why You Should Know Him: The showman is somewhat of a celebrity in Norway for his brash style and has built up an intense and playful rivalry with top Swedish skier Marcus Hellner. When he ran away from the pack to win the 2011 World Championships, he crossed the finish line sideways and was criticized for what many thought was a form of disrespect.

    Still, he remains the sport’s top achiever with 16 overall Olympic and World Championship medals—the most among active cross-country skiers.

Tora Berger, Biathlon

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    Vianney Thibaut/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Country: Norway

    Age: 32

    Olympic Medals: 2010—gold medal in individual racing

    Why You Should Know Her: Tora Berger has accumulated eight titles since her Olympic glory. A member of the Norwegian Olympic team since 1999, she did not achieve greatness until the 2011 season. The following year she dominated her sport by winning all five events in the World Championships.

    As the reigning World champion, she should be a shoe-in for another individual Olympic gold at Sochi and greatly aid Norway in the team events.

Evgeni Plushenko, Men’s Figure Skating

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    Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

    Country: Russia

    Age: 31

    Olympic Medals: gold in 2006; silver in 2002 and 2010.

    Why You Should Know Him: Three-time world champion Evgeni Plushenko epitomizes Olympic toughness. After coming off knee surgery in 2011, he won the European Championship in 2012, his seventh and the most in modern history.

    His score of 90.85 in the short program at the 2010 Games set a new Olympic record. At the time, he criticized the judges because he performed a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, which gold medalist Evan Lysacek did not include in his program.

Elisabeth Goergl, Alpine Skiing

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    Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Country: Austria

    Age: 32

    World Cup Medals: Six (two in giant slalom, two in super-G and two in downhill)

    Why You Should Know Her: Alpine racing runs in Elisabeth Goergl's family as she is the daughter of Traudl Hecher, a 1960s Austrian phenom who remains the youngest medalist in alpine skiing.

    Most recently, Goergl won the World Cup super-G, beating out overall leader Maria Hoefl-Riesch and setting the stage for a fantastic contest at Sochi.

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Biathlon

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    Vianney Thibaut/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Country: Norway

    Age: 40

    Olympic Medals: 2002—four gold medals

    Why You Should Know Her: The most decorated biathlete in major championships, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen will be competing in his sixth Olympics and has the pedigree to win big at Sochi. The Norwegian has won 50 medals at major biathlon championships, including six golds and 11 in total at the Olympics.

    For the relay competition, he will team with Emil Hegle Svendsen, who has won four World Cup events in 2013. His four gold medals in Salt Lake City made him the most successful athlete there.

Marcel Hirscher, Alpine Skiing

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    Paul Bussi-USA TODAY Sports

    Country: Austria

    Age: 24

    World Cup Medals: 2012/2013—two overall World Cup titles in the slalom and giant slalom

    Why You Should Know Him: Although Marcel Hirscher competed in the 2010 Games, he did not earn a medal, finishing just out of the money in the giant slalom and slalom events. But all of that could change at Sochi as Hirscher has been on a roll.

    He brings a lot of momentum to the Games, having finished 2013 as the top-ranked skier in the world, excelling in the slalom, giant slalom and combined disciplines.

Tina Maze, Alpine Skiing

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    Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Country: Slovenia

    Age: 30

    Olympic Medals: 2010—silver in the super-G and giant slalom.

    Why You Should Know Her: In one of the most competitive winter sports, Tina Maze may be the hottest skier on the slopes come the Olympics and should have an excellent shot at the coveted gold medal. She is one of three women to have won in all five disciplines in a single season. In fact, she is the only woman to be ranked first throughout the entire season, a feat only matched by American skier Bode Miller.

    She set a record by reaching the podium 24 times during the 2013 World Cup season, including 18 top-three finishes.

Sven Kramer, Speed Skater

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    Jim Urquhart-USA TODAY Sports

    Country: The Netherlands

    Age: 27

    Olympic Medals: 2010—gold in the 5,000 meter

    Why You Should Know Him: In 2010, after claiming gold, Kramer became the Richard Sherman of the games when he was asked by an NBC reporter his name, country and what he had won. “Are you stupid? Hell no, I am not going to do that,” he said. His comments went viral and reinforced the impact of social media on the Games.

    Currently unbeaten in both the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, the six-time European and world all-around champion will be shooting for three gold medals as he will also compete in the team event.

Sara Takanashi , Ski Jumping

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    Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

    Country: Japan

    Age: 17

    World Cup Medals: 17

    Why You Should Know Her: As women’s ski jumping makes its debut at Sochi, Sara Takanashi, who is considered one of the top three ski jumpers in the world, intends to leap beyond her competition.

    She will jump against USA star Sarah Hendrickson, who is coming off of knee surgery, and Lindsey Van, who is known globally as the pioneer for the sport and the reason it is featured in the Olympics this year.

Brad Jacobs, Curling

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    Trevor Hagan/Getty Images

    Country: Canada

    Age: 28

    Championships: 2013 Canadian and Olympic trials champion

    Why You Should Know Him: For Brad Jacobs, curling is a family affair. He is joined on the six-man team by his two brothers and two cousins and seems just about unbeatable in this classic winter Olympic sport.

    Canada has won medals in the last two Olympics, and Jacobs hopes to lead his team to gold this time around.

Alex Ovechkin, Ice Hockey

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Country: Russia

    Age: 28

    Accolades: Three-time Hart Trophy winner

    Why You Should Know Him: Russia has not won a gold medal since the fall of the Soviet Union, but Alex Ovechkin could help change that.

    Ovechkin is part of an elite corps of NHL players to win the Hart Trophy three times and the only player to be named to the NHL First All-Star Team in his first five seasons.

    He is the top scorer in the NHL and has has exceeded the 50-goal mark four times in his nine seasons. It looks like he will exceed that mark in 2013-14.

Marit Bjorgen, Cross-Country Skiing

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    Country: Norway

    Age: 33

    Olympic Medals: 2002—silver; 2006—silver; 2010—three gold, one silver and one bronze.

    Why You Should Know Her: Marit Bjørgen is a freak of nature who began her career as a sprinter and then moved into long-distance cross-country events.

    While she is the most successful sprinter in cross-country World Cup history with 25 wins and an Olympic gold medal, she won a silver and a bronze in long-distance events in 2010.

Kim Yuna, Figure Skating

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    Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

    Country: South Korea

    Age: 23

    Olympic Medals: 2010—gold

    Why You Should Know Her: With only 45 total medals in the Winter Olympics, South Korea hopes that Kim Yuna can gain another medal in Sochi.

    Known for a bent layover camel spin now called the “Yuna spin,” the 23-year-old employs a variety of highly technical moves in her program. She is one of the most famous people in South Korea. 

Armin Zoeggeler, Luge

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    MICHAEL SOHN/Associated Press

    Country: Italy

    Age: 40

    Olympic Medals: gold in 2002 and 2006; silver in 1998; bronze in 1994 and 2010

    Why You Should Know Him: For a guy who earns his medals lying on his back, Armin Zoeggeler is anything but laid back. In fact, his nickname, “The Cannibal “, seems more apt for someone who literally brutalizes his competition and has earned him a reputation as the greatest luger in history.

    Just this past season, the Italian cop went through his final competition in unbeaten fashion. His sixth medal, and most likely a gold, seems like only a formality. He holds the record for World Cup titles with 54.

Yuzuru Hanyu, Men’s Figure Skating

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Country: Japan

    Age: 19

    Championships: 2010 World Junior Champion and 2013 Grand Prix Final Champion 

    Why You Should Know Him: Yuzuru Hanyu makes his Olympic debut against world champion Patrick Chan of Canada in what should be one of the best competitions at Sochi. Hanyu holds the world record for the highest score ever recorded in the short program with 99.84 points at the 2013 Grand Prix final.

Iouri Podladtchikov, Snowboarding

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    JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT/Associated Press

    Country: Switzerland

    Age: 25

    Championships: 2013—FIS Snowboarding World Champion 

    Why You Should Know Him: A master of the half pipe, Iouri Podladtchikov (pronounced YOU-ree Pod-LAT-she-kawv) returns to his native Russia to make a run at the gold medal. He was born in Moscow and competed for Russia in the 2006 Games before switching to the Swiss team in 2010, when he finished fourth.

    He also may have the best nickname in the games: IPod. And, he thinks he has a way to beat USA star Shaun White. It’s a trick called the Yolo Flip, a double-cork 1440—four full twists packed inside of two flips.

Patrick Chan, Men’s Figure Skating

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Country: Canada

    Age: 23

    Championships: Three world championships

    Why You Should Know Him: With his fifth-place finish in Vancouver in 2010 and status as current world champion, Patrick Chan is considered the man to beat in Sochi.  

    If he wins gold, it will be the first in men's figure skating for Canada, whose previous stars, including Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko, never accomplished the feat.

Maria Hoefl-Riesch, Alpine Skiing

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    Armando Trovati/Associated Press

    Country: Germany

    Age: 29

    Olympic Medals: 2010—gold in super-combined and slalom 

    Why You Should Know Her: With USA star Lindsay Vonn out due to injury, current world champion Maria Hoefl-Riesch will vie with Tina Maze for the vaunted downhill gold in what should be an exciting run down the slopes.

    Hoefl-Riesch won the alpine ski World Cup downhill to provide her with serious momentum going into Sochi.

Aksel Lund Svindel, Alpine Skiing

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    Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    Country: Norway

    Age: 31

    Olympic Medals: 2010—gold in the super-G; silver in downhill; bronze in the giant slalom

    Why You Should Know Him: In a country where winter sports excellence translates into pop stardom, the five-time World champion in downhill, giant slalom, and super combined Aksel Lund Svindel is a supernova.

    Heading into Sochi he will look to extend his achievements by reaching for golds in four of the five events: downhill, super-G, super-combined and giant slalom. Look for some fireworks when he takes the slopes against Austrian super-skier Marcel Hirscher.

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