Winter Olympics: The Gold Prospectors

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The Independent Online

Eric Bergoust, US (Freestyle skiing, aerials)

The undisputed showman of the slopes, Bergoust is equal to his bravado. At Lillehammer '94 he completed two quad-twisting triple flips, but the judges were not all that impressed, placing him seventh. He attempted the same routine four years later at the Nagano Olympiad and won. Bergoust then became the top men's aerialist on the World Cup tour in 2000-01. At the 2001 Worlds he led after the first jump, but in the second round lost it on the landing. This was in contrast to his effort at the 1999 Worlds, where he won and had a perfect score on one jump. Injured in training in Nagano, with bruised ribs he executed a full-double full-full (yes!) for a world record. It's a risky business, but Bergoust loves living on the edge.

Anni Friesinger, Germany (Speed skating)

The gene pool told us Friesinger was not going to be another Steffi Graf. Both parents were speed skaters, and she was first handed a pair of skates at three. Included on her cv is the 1999 European All-Around Championships title; the 2000-01 World Cup 1,500m title; the 2001 World All-Around Championships; and gold in the 1,500 and silver in the 3,000 at the 2001 World Single Distance Championships. At 17 she missed a place on the German team at Lillehammer '94, but made her Olympic debut at Nagano '98 and was part of the German 1-2-3 in the 3,000, winning bronze. She is likely to be a familiar visitor to the medals rostrum in Salt Lake.

Magdalena Forsberg, Sweden (Biathlon, 15km ind)

Motivation was never going to be a problem for Forsberg in the Salt Lake City build-up. The dominant biathlete for the past five seasons, she has never won a Winter Olympics medal. After emerging as a greenhorn in 1992, when she finished 26th in her first cross-country skiing event, she improved rapidly, but immediate ambitions were dulled when an Achilles injury forced her to miss Lillehammer '94. The Swede then devoted herself to biathlon and by '98 was a strong medal prospect for Nagano. However, she fell short of expectations because of poor shooting. Away from the Olympic spotlight she has won five consecutive World Cup titles from 1997.

Anja Paerson, Sweden (Slalom)

Last year, aged 19, Paerson became the youngest gold medallist of the 2001 World Championships, in the slalom. Two days later, she won her second medal, in the giant slalom. The performances were impressive considering that in 1999, at her only previous Worlds, she failed to finish a single run. She then completed a slalom hat-trick and seized the overall women's World Cup lead with victory in Slovenia, where she beat US Olympic medal hope Kristina Koznick by 1.19sec. One of the sport's most consistent acts, Paerson regards her World Cup victory at Mammoth in 1999, when 17, as her finest memory. Salt Lake may change all that.

Georg Hackl, Germany (Luge)

There's always one, isn't there? In this case it's Hackl, who continues to defy the ageing process, wear and tear and the younger generation. Having claimed his place in history by being the first luge slider to win four individual Olympic medals (silver in 1988, gold in 1992, '94 and '98), he goes in pursuit of a fourth successive gold. Not quite Redgrave-esque, but still a mighty achievement – only Carl Lewis, Al Oerter and Paul Elvstrom have completed the individual feat. Now 35, Hack had his finest moment at Nagano '98, but his form took a dip in 1999. In 2000 Hackl had more problems, but last year he finished second in the World Championships and second in the World Cup standings.

Apolo Anton Ohno, US (Short-track speed skating)

His name might cause a stumble, but his ability is worth talking about. Having only started short-track speed skating in 1995, Ohno had a memorable 2000-2001 season, winning the World Cup title at 500, 1,000 and 1,500m. Ironically, having claimed 12 victories in the year, he disappointed at the 2001 Worlds, winning one silver (1,000m) and one gold (3,000m). Nicknamed "Chunky", after missing out on Nagano due to problems with his weight he will make his presence felt in more important ways in Salt Lake.

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