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#pounditFriday, March 24, 2023

10 breakout stars of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Chloe Kim

The Olympics are a great generator of breakout stars. The athletes generally only gain major attention every four years, meaning new potential stars are coming onto the scene all the time. Even older athletes are finding success in the Olympics after battling obscurity and other obstacles earlier in their careers.

Here are 10 star athletes whose presence at the PyeongChang Olympics have gained them newfound fame and support.

1) Chloe Kim

It takes more than dominance in your sport to become a true Olympic breakout star — you must have a personality, too. Chloe Kim, gold medalist in the women’s snowboard halfpipe, has both in spades. Kim flew to gold in the halfpipe event, then tweeted her way into our hearts with a series of extremely relatable food tweets. That personality should serve her well, and given that she’s just 17 years old, we should be seeing her at future Winter Olympics for years to come.

2) Maddie Rooney

Maddie Rooney became one of the heroes of the US women’s hockey team when she made 29 saves to defeat Canada 3-2 in a shootout. After teammate Jocelyne Lamoureux scored in the sixth round of the shootout, Rooney stopped Canada’s Meghan Agosta despite allowing a goal to her earlier in the shootout. That save gave the US the gold medal. The 20-year-old goalie got a very appropriate Wikipedia update and instantly became an American hero. She even said that there will be a day named after her in her hometown of Andova, Minn.

3) Adam Rippon

Rippon’s only medal in these games came as part of the team skating event, and he finished tenth in the men’s singles event. It hardly mattered. Rippon wasn’t the most talented skater at these games — he didn’t attempt quads, for instance — but what he lacked there, he easily made up for in personality. His skate routine was filled with passion and drama, and he quickly won over the crowd. Combine that with his excellent interviews, and it’s easy to see why so many people took to him.

4) Robert Johansson

You may not even recognize Johansson’s name. His face, however, will perhaps ring a bell, as he became well known thanks to his mustache. A Norwegian ski jumper, Johansson is a three-time medalist at these Olympics, including a gold in team large hill. He also has a mustache that appears to have come out of the 18th century. Naturally, that was all it took for him to become a viral star, resulting in interviews in which he cited several mustache idols. Long may it grow.

5) Ester Ledecka

Ledecka is pretty much the perfect underdog story. She’s primarily known for her snowboarding exploits, but entered the women’s super-G event, too. All she did was win the gold medal in a field that included Lindsey Vonn, and she did so while wearing Mikaela Shiffrin’s skis. Nobody was more stunned than Ledecka was over the win. The Czech athlete promptly made things even better by downing some fast food to celebrate her win — out of view of her coaches, of course.

6) Red Gerard

17-year-old Gerard was an early gold medalist for the United States in the slopestyle event. Previously unheralded, he was the first Olympic gold medalist from any country born in the 2000s. What really endeared him was his great reaction upon learning how his third and decisive run graded out. Yeah, that was basically how any of us would react. Then after winning, Gerard flew back home to the US to do a media tour to capitalize on his newfound fame. Young, talented, and charismatic is a good combination — we should be hearing about Gerard for years to come.

7) Shibutani siblings

The Shib sibs, as they are known, are a brother-sister ice dancing team that gained quite a few fans during their Olympic run. This wasn’t their first Games as they competed in 2014 but didn’t make much of an impression. That changed here; they claimed a very impressive bronze medal in the ice dancing event, and the fact that they are siblings gained them some unique attention and new fans. The elder Shibutani, Alex, is still just 26, so it’s not inconceivable that another Olympic bid is in their future.

8) Yun Sung-bin

Yun gained attention here, but nothing compares to how he’s revered in his native South Korea. Known as “Iron Man” due to his distinctive helmet, Yun became the country’s first men’s skeleton champion, as he blew away all the competition in that event, besting silver medalist Nikita Tregubov by a full 1.63 seconds. South Korea promptly responded by crowning him as their “skeleton emperor.” It’s a fair title — few, if any, Olympic athletes have so thoroughly dominated their competition at these Games.

9) Anastasia Bryzgalova

Curling is always something of a novelty at the Olympic games, but some fans were given another reason to tune in through Russia’s Anastasia Bryzgalova. Bryzgalova is, without a doubt, easy on the eyes. But she’s pretty talented, too — Bryzgalova was a bronze medalist in the mixed doubles event. She came in third along with partner Alexander Krushelnitskiy, who — sorry, gentlemen — is also her husband. The two unfortunately had their medals rescinded after he tested positive for a banned substance.

10) Ted-Jan Bloemen

Bloemen is pretty much the definition of a late bloomer. The 31-year-old Dutch-born speed skater had struggled to make an impression for his country of birth, finishing 15th at the European Championships in 2014. He promptly moved to Canada, where his father was born, and entered their speed skating program. Subsequently, he’s set two world records and became one of just two non-Dutch winners of a men’s individual speed skating event so far, setting an Olympic record in the process in a remarkable photo finish. Bloemen certainly could’ve given up a few years back, but he didn’t, and now he’s dominating for Canada.


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