They have made us smile, feel surges of national pride, and forced us from our seats to stand and cheer. The following athletes are the best of the best, excelling at the highest level of their respective mountain sports on the world’s biggest stage: the pressure-packed Winter Olympics.
Putting medals in context — this is not simply a medal count contest, but rather a combination of their Olympic achievements and the impact it had. Results on one side of the ledger, and on the other side, the impact and circumstances surrounding a podium performance.
The Winter Olympics has often been the site of huge upsets. No names become household names overnight. The Olympics are a place, however, where it is much more difficult to execute and succeed as the odds-on favorite. Personal pressure is one thing, but having an entire nation expecting, demanding greatness can hinder a competitor’s freedom to perform at his or her best. To pull off an upset is indeed impressive, but to win a medal as the favorite while navigating a wave of fevered patriotism is a much bigger feat.
We elicited insight from countless insiders and experts. Talking with so many impassioned folks, one thing became abundantly clear: agreement and consensus would appear infrequently. And why not? It’s difficult to compare sports that are so wildly different. How does a gold medal in downhill compare to one in parallel giant slalom? To the parallel giant slalomer, favorably I’m sure. How about medaling in halfpipe snowboarding, a sport birthed in America and dominated by Americans, with medaling in Nordic combined, a sport which had seen no U.S. medals in its 86-year history until Johnny Spillane ended the drought in February?
Alpine, freestyle, Nordic, snowboarders, ski jumpers — who do you remember long after they stepped off the Olympic podium? Some were historic, the first Americans to win a medal in a particular discipline, while others wowed us with a stunning performance.
Our list transcends centuries, as it features Gretchen Fraser, who was the first American to win a gold medal in skiing and Andrea Mead Lawrence, the first alpine racer to win two Olympic gold medals. It also includes more contemporary champions like snowboarders Shaun White and Hannah Teter, ski racers such as Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, and Bill Demong, who, in Vancouver, became the first American to win a gold medal in a Nordic event.
So without any further ado, The Ski Channel presents the 50 Greatest Olympians of Mountain Sports. Enjoy reading and reminiscing about these great athletes who ascended to the top of their sport and made us proud to be American.