Ten men who could be breakout stars at the Winter Olympics


By David Wharton - Los Angeles Times



PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (McCLATCHY) — Wondering which athletes will become stars at the 2018 Winter Olympics? Here are 10 to keep an eye on in the men’s competitions.

Nathan Chen, figure skating, United States

Chen is a two-time national champion who made history by landing five quadruple jumps during his long program at the 2017 U.S. championships. He did it again this year to remain undefeated for the season. Do the math and it adds up to a potential gold medal in Pyeongchang, where the 18-year-old who lives and trains in Southern California will try to wow judges with his athleticism.

Marcel Hirscher, alpine skiing, Austria

The first man to win six overall World Cup titles in a row is nearing the end of an epic career and racing to avoid a less-pleasant legacy — best skier never to win gold at the Games. Hirscher, who earned silver in Sochi, has insisted the Olympics will not define him, but he warmed up for Pyeongchang by claiming his 55th World Cup victory in a recent giant slalom in Germany.

Ilya Kovalchuk, men’s hockey, Olympic Athlete from Russia

Kovalchuk left the NHL in 2013 after 11 seasons that saw him record 138 goals and a total of 417 points. The 34-year-old winger is still playing top-notch hockey in his native Russia, leading the KHL in points this season. With the NHL choosing to skip the Olympics this time around, he will headline an OAR team that also has former Detroit Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk and is favored to win gold in South Korea.

Yuzuru Hanyu, figure skating, Japan

It might sound funny to say the defending Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion has something to prove, but Hanyu can’t be entirely satisfied with his last performance in Pyeongchang, where he lost to Chen in the 2017 Four Continents Championships. One more thing — the 23-year-old has been struggling with an ankle injury. Gracenote, a sports analytics firm that predicts medal winners, has him taking the silver.

Shaun White, snowboarding, United States

The Michael Jordan of his sport, White dominated the halfpipe with gold medals in 2006 and 2010. His fourth-place finish at the Sochi Olympics four years ago left some wondering if the sport had passed him by. Now the 31-year-old from San Diego has qualified for his fourth Games — and announced his presence with authority — by scoring a perfect 100 at the recent U.S. Grand Prix.

Mikael Kingsbury, freestyle moguls, Canada

The silver medal that Kingsbury won in Sochi was merely a jumping-off point — since then he has become the most dominant man in moguls history. Before a recent second-place finish, he had gone undefeated on the World Cup circuit for a full year. Now the Quebec native, who always competes in a T-shirt with the logo “It’s good to be the king,” figures to start a new winning streak in Pyeongchang.

Kamil Stoch, ski jumping, Poland

Only two men in the history of ski jumping have swept the prestigious Four Hills tournament with victories in all four events. Stoch is one of them, having completed the rare feat in Bischofshofen, Austria, last month. That puts the 30-year-old in good shape to defend both the normal and large hill events that he won in Sochi four years ago. Back-to-back doubles would put him in the company of Switzerland’s renowned Simon Ammann.

Sven Kramer, speed skating, Netherlands

Despite his impressive resume, this seven-time Olympic medalist has a score to settle in the 10,000 meters. A two-time defending champion in the 5,000, Kramer finished second at the longer distance in Sochi four years ago. It was even worse at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where he crossed the finish line with the fastest time but was disqualified for skating into the wrong lane when a coach gave him bad directions.

Gus Kenworthy, freestyle slopestyle, United States

Kenworthy made headlines by coming out in 2015. Before that, he went viral by adopting puppies off the streets of Sochi. None of this should overshadow his talent in the slopestyle event in which, since taking silver at the last Winter Olympics, he has reached the podium at the X Games and the 2017 world championships. He secured his spot in Pyeongchang by medaling in two of the five qualifying events.

Johannes Lochner, bobsled, Germany

A strong month of January has nudged Lochner into the lead in the World Cup season standings and has made him a favorite for gold in the four-man bobsled. But he’s only a slight favorite — countryman Francesco Friedrich should provide tough competition. They split the 2017 world championship with identical 3:14.10 clockings after four runs down the track in Koenigssee, Germany.

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By David Wharton

Los Angeles Times