Winter Olympics: Five to follow

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The Independent Online
Hermann Maier

Discarded from the Austrian ski programme at 15 because of a knee injury, Maier spent many years as a bricklayer before returning to the sport with the impact of a ton of bricks in 1996. He has spearheaded Austria's domination of the World Cup this season, and has golden prospects in at least three alpine events.

Michelle Kwan

This 17-year-old American skater has a vivacity and talent which leaves many observers swooning. After losing her national and world titles to the acrobatic endeavours of her young compatriot, Tara Lipinski, last year, she regained the US title last month in a fashion which has installed her as favourite for the Olympic gold.

Wayne Gretzky

At 37, this Canadian is a legendary figure in ice hockey. `The Great One', as he is known, has broken 62 scoring records in the National Hockey League, whose professionals will be allowed to contest the Olympics for the first time this year. Gretzky has scored more goals and points than anyone in the history of the game; and he has won everything in the game - except for an Olympic medal.

Deborah Compagnoni

Twice an Olympic champion, she displays the same aggressive approach to skiing as her Italian team-mate Alberto Tomba. Her displays in the giant slalom this season promise another gold. Aged 27, she is a celebrity in Italy and there are rumours that she is to marry the son of the clothing magnate, Luciano Benetton.

Masahiko Harada

Japan's world champion ski jumper has the burden of carrying the home nation's high expectations. At the last Winter Olympics he had only to produce an average performance in his last jump to secure the team gold for Japan, but he mistimed his take-off and landed short.