As the Olympic torch travels closer and closer to Sochi, the Games of the XXII Winter Olympiad are now less than two weeks away. The United States is sending a record 230 athletes to Sochi, but its is not the only country with top competitors looking to etch their names in history and Olympic glory. Here are some of the best athletes from across the globe to keep an eye on at the 2014 Winter Olympics – some you may know, some whose names you may be hearing for the first time.
Country: South Korea
Sport: Ladies figure skating
Scouting report: Kim is looking to become the third woman to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles, joining Katarina Witt and Sonja Henie. She took a long hiatus following her victory in Vancouver, but came back in 2013 to win her second World Championship (her first was in 2009).
Kim won two World Championship medals as a junior, as she took silver in 2005 and gold in 2006. She has never finished off the podium in any competition in her career.
Her biggest threat to defending her Olympic title will be Japan’s Mao Asada, who took silver in Vancouver and won the World Championship later in 2010.
Jamaican bobsled team
Scouting report: Everyone’s favorite underdog is back for what some are calling “Cool Runnings 2.0.’’ The Jamaican two-man bobsled team, led by driver Winston Watts (not pictured), qualified for the Olympics like any other team, then raised the funds to actually go once their story got out on the Internet. Watts, who also competed in the 1994, 1998, and 2002 Olympics, came out of retirement to revive the team. He’s joined by brakeman Marvin Dixon (center), reserve crew Wayne Blackwood (left) and coach Wayne Thomas (right).
Watts is ranked No. 40 in the 2-man world rankings.
Sport: Men’s figure skating
Scouting report: Chan is the defending Olympic silver medalist, and looks to make his way to the top of the podium after 2010 gold medalists Evan Lysacek was forced to sit out the 2014 Games with a hip injury.
Chan is the three-time defending world champion, six-time defending Canadian champion, and also won two Grand Prix Finals in 2010 and 2011. In 2008 at 17 years old, Chan became the youngest Canadian champion in history when he defeated Jeffrey Buttle, who later that year won the world championship. Chan has medaled in each of the past two Grand Prix Finals, taking bronze in 2012 and silver in 2013. His major competition is Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, who took Olympic bronze in 2010.
Scouting report: Holcomb (far right) is returning to the Olympics to help bring back the glory that US bobsledding found in Vancouver, when Holcomb and his “Night Train’’ four-man sled won the first gold medal for the US in men’s bobsled for the first time since 1948.
His crew includes his teammate from 2010 Curt Tomasevicz (second from right); his two-man brakeman from 2010 Steve Langton (second from left) as a pushman; and Chris Fogt (far left). Holcomb’s four-man sleds have won medals at the past three world championships: gold in 2012 and bronze in 2011 and 2013. He also led the two-man sled of himself and Langton to a world championship in 2012.
Norway men’s curling team
Scouting report: The Norwegian men’s curling team won the 2010 Olympic silver medal and are bringing their own sense of flare back to the Games in 2014. Remembered by many for the funky pants they made famous in Vancouver, the squad led by Thomas Ulsrud has at least four different patterns of the pants for this year’s Olympics.
The team has been incredibly successful and consistent over the past decade on the international stage, winning gold at the European championships in 2010 and 2011; silver in 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2013; and bronze in 2002 and 2009. They have also won three bronze medals at the world championships – in 2006, 2008, and 2009. Norway’s team includes Ulsrud, Torger Nergard, Christoffer Svae, and Havard Vad Petersson.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Sport: Ice Dancing
Scouting report: Davis and White head into the Olympics having won their record sixth straight US championship after their dominating performance at the 2014 US Figure Skating Championships in Boston. The pair have won two of the last three World Championships (2011 and 2013). They have also won two world silver medals – 2010 and 2012 – and are looking to improve from their silver medal performance in Vancouver in 2010. The biggest competition is Canadian ice dancing pair Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who are the defending Olympic gold medalists.
Scouting report: Bright won the gold medal in the halfpipe at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and is out to defend her title in Sochi. Bright will also be competing in two other snowboarding events in Sochi: slopestyle and snowboardcross. She has won four X Games superpipe medals in her career: silver in 2006 and 2008, and gold in 2007 and 2009.
Bright won bronze in slopestyle at the 2013 FIS Snowboarding World Championships. In preparation for the 2014 Olympics, she won the halfpipe title at the 2014 iON Mountain Championships, beating out 2002 Olympic gold medalist Kelly Clark of the US.
Sport: Short track speed skating
Scouting report: Viktor Ahn is an interesting athlete not just because he is returning to the Olympics after missing 2010 due to injuries that kept him from qualifying, but because he is returning for a different nation. He competed in 2006 for South Korea under the name Ahn Hyun-Soo, winning three gold medals in the 1,000m, 1,500m, and 5,000m events. But Ahn, deciding his best career option was to change allegiances, became a Russian citizen in 2011 and adopted the name Viktor. Since relocating, Ahn won the 2012 Russian national titles in the 1,000m and 3,000m. He most recently helped his relay team win the 5,000m relay at the 2014 European Championships.
Scouting report: Ricker will be heading to her fourth Winter Olympics, having previously competed at three of the last four Winter Olympics in Nagano, Turin, and Vancouver (she missed Salt Lake City due to a knee injury.) Ricker just missed the Olympic podium in 2006, when she finished fourth after crashing during the Big Final that left her with a concussion and torn muscles in her back and neck.
She is the defending gold medalist in slopestyle, finishing first in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and Big Final races. She won the 2013 FIS World Championship and has won four X Games medals in slopestyle: gold in 1999 and 2006, and bronze in 2007 and 2012.
Scouting report: With his incredible tricks and long, bright red hair, Shaun White went from child prodigy to a household name in the US when he captured back-to-back Winter Olympic gold medals in halfpipe snowboarding in 2006 and 2010. White is an eight-time Winter X Games superpipe champion and five-time Winter X Games slopestyle champion.
He has won four US Open titles, is a three-time World Cup gold medalist, and was the US Snowboarding Grand Prix overall champion in 2006. The Carlsbad, Calif. native will also be competing in slopestyle at the 2014 Winter Olympics, hoping to add two more gold medals to his impressive career resume.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov
Sport: Pairs figure skating
Scouting report: Volosozhar and Trankov are the defending world champions in pairs figure skating heading into the Winter Olympics. They became a pair after each skated with different partners at Vancouver 2010, and they won their third straight European championship in January, winning by just 12.4 points over fellow Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov.
Before winning the world championship in 2013, Volosozhar and Trankov won back-to-back world championship silver medals in 2011 and 2012 and were the 2012 Grand Prix Final champions. Their biggest competition comes from German pair Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who were forced to withdraw from the 2014 European championships due to Savchenko’s illness.
Scouting report: German Natalie Geisenberger looks ready to make the leap from Olympic medalist to Olympic champion. The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist is the athlete to beat in women’s luge, having captured medals at each of the past three world championships: gold in 2013, bronze in 2012, and silver in 2011.
Geisenberger won six straight World Cup events this past year to win the 2013-14 World Cup championship. She also finished in first place in the 2012-13 World Cup standings after four straight seasons of finishing in second. Her primary competition is her teammate, Tatjana Huefner, who took Olympic gold at the 2010 Winter Games.
Scouting report: McMorris comes into Sochi 2014 with the best chance of denying the US’s Shaun White of a double gold. The slopestyle specialist will be making his first appearance at the Olympics in the first year that slopestyle will be a contested event. McMorris won slopestyle on the 2013 Dew Tour, took silver at the 2013 Winter X Games, and second at the 2013 Burton European Open.
He has won three Winter X Games gold medals over the past two years and won silver at the 2012 Euro Winter X Games and the 2011 Winter X Games. McMorris will be going to Sochi at less than 100 percent, however, as a crash in the 2014 Winter X Games slopestyle left him with a broken rib. Despite the broken rib, McMorris took silver in the event.
Sport: Alpine skiing
Scouting report: Maze is returning to the Olympics looking for the elusive gold medal she could not capture in Vancouver in 2010. She won two silver medals in Vancouver – in giant slalom and super G – but she is an odds-on favorite to win gold in Sochi.
She has won gold at two of the last three world championships, in giant slalom in 2011 and in the super G in 2013. Maze has also won four silver medals at the World Championships: giant slalom in 2009; super combined in 2011; and super combined and giant slalom in 2013. She is also the defending overall World Cup champion
Sport: Alpine skiing
Scouting report: Marcel Hirscher is heading to Sochi looking to continue the enormous success he had in 2013. Hirscher has won the past two World Cup titles, won gold at the 2013 world championships, and had six victories and 18 podium finishes in 2013.
He was an Olympian in 2010, placing fourth in the giant slalom and fifth in the slalom. In 2012, Hirscher had nine victories and 14 podium finishes, leading the World Cup overall and in giant slalom titles. His biggest competition comes from the US’s Ted Ligety, who won the giant slalom gold medal at Turin in 2006.
Scouting report: With his gold-medal performance in Vancouver at age 20, Loch became the youngest Olympic luge champion. Loch has dominated the international luge circuit for the past half-decade, winning gold medals at the world Cchampionships in 2008, 2009, 2012, and 2013 while taking silver in 2011.
In 2012 and 2013, he finished in first place in the overall World Cup standings. Loch’s biggest competition comes from 40-year-old Armin Zoeggeler of Italy, who won gold in 2002 and 2006 and is trying to become the first person to win six Olympic luge medals.
Sport: Speed skating
Scouting report: Shani Davis is the two-time defending gold medalist in the 1,000m speed skate, and is looking to become the first American to win the same event at three Olympic Games. In addition to his two golds, Davis has also won two Olympic silver medals: in the 1,500m in 2006 and 2010, and came in second overall at the 2014 world sprint championships. He finished first in the 2011 and 2012 World Cup standings, while taking second in the 2013 standings. Davis also set two world records in 2009 in the 1,000m and the 1,500m.
Sport: Speed skating
Scouting report: Sven Kramer is the defending gold medalist in the 5,000m speed skate and was a coach’s error away from also taking the title in the 10,000m. During the event, Kramer’s coach directed him into the wrong lane during a routine crossover on the backstretch that resulted in Kramer’s disqualification.
Sven also won an Olympic silver medal in the 5,000m in Turin in 2006. In 2012-13, he was the world single distances champion in the 5,000m and finished third in the overall World Cup standings. In 2012, he finished second in the overall World Cup standings in the 5,000m and 10,000m. Kramer is the odds-on favorite to win both Olympic titles.
Sport: Cross country skiing
Scouting report: Bjorgen has been one of the most dominant cross country skiers in the world over the past half-decade. A three-time gold medalist in Vancouver, she has also won four other Olympic medals: three silver and one bronze. She is the reigning Olympic champion in the individual sprint, individual pursuit, and as a member of the 4x5k relay team.
Bjorgen is competing in her fourth Olympic games. Outside the Games, she won four gold medals and one silver in Oslo at the 2011 FIS Nordic Ski World Championships.