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  • 02/17/2009, 07:49AM ET

March Maddness Round 2: The 5 Best Non-American Winter Olymipc Atheletes of All Time.

LGP: Pensational! (47-9-0) vs Bigalke (142-42-16)
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This was not an easy one to research, but there was no way I was going against Bigalke in a cycling TD. That being said, here are my selections in no particular order.

1) Bjorn Daehlie-Cross Country Skiing-8 Gold 4 Silver

-Considered the grestest Cross counrty skiier of all time. He holds the record for most Golds and most medals for Winter Olympians.

2) Ole Einer Bjorndalen-Biathalon-5 Gold 3 Silver 1 Bronze

-Considered the greatest Biathelete of all time, he is the only biathlete to win every singles event in the same Games and just the 3rd Olympian to win four Gold medals in the same Games

3) Lydia Skoblikova-Speed Skating-6 Gold

-She was the first athelete, man or woman, to win six gold medals in Olympic competition and is still the only woman to win four gold medals in a single Games.

4) Claudia Pechstein-Speed Skating-5 Gold 2 Silver 2 Bronze

-First female athelete to win medals in 5 consecutive Olympics, tied for second for most medals won by a woman.

5) Clas Thunberg-Speed Skating-5 Gold 1 Silver 1 Bronze

-Dominated his sport in the 1920's, his record 5 Speed Skating Olympic Gold is matched only by Eric Heiden.

Good luck Bigalke


All great choices here... but I'm going to swap out a couple here:


Sonja Henie > Skoblikova

What Skoblikova did was by no means something to scoff at... but at the same time, she was dominating what was then a nascent Olympic sport. Further, her greater medal count derives from there being medals at various distances. Sonja Henie, on the other hand, swept the women's figure skating gold (the only gold in her discipline) in three straight Olympics (1928 St. Moritz; 1932 Lake Placid; 1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen). She could've easily swept more had World War II not stalled the Olympics for two cycles...


Alberto Tomba > Thunberg

Why Tomba? Because, in my mind, Claudia Pechstein is the best non-American speed skater in Olympic history... meaning we should diversify away from Thunberg, who was nonetheless an incredible talent -- albeit one who lost an edge at longer distances (never won 10,000m gold). Tomba was the best technical skier in Olympic history. He was the first Alpine skier (male or female) to win five Olympic medals (3 gold, 2 silver) and the first to medal in three Olympics (1988 Calgary; 1992 Albertville; 1994 Lillehammer)...


Fine choices as well Zach. I do, however, have some objections.

While Women's Speed Skating may have been a "nascent Olympic sport", it was in fact well established before Skoblikova began her dominance. The first official women's world record was set in 1929, 31 years before, and official competitions began in 1936, 24 years before Skoblikova's first Olympics.

"her greater medal count...medals at various distances."

Greater medal count, yes. But it also proves her dominance in that she won Gold in both sprints and distance events. Skaters usually specialize in one or the other.

Henie may have "easily swept more" were it not for WWII. Or maybe the fact that she gave Hitler a Nazi saulte during an exhibition and lunched with Hitler after the 1936 Olympics would have curtailed her ability to compete. We'll never know.

Thunberg definitely may have won more medals as well, but the defending World and Olympic Champion sat out the 1932 Olympics in protest when they changed the format to packstyle races.

Even with him sitting out, it took 52 years for Eric Heiden to match his record 5 Gold medals. He has as many Golds as Tomba does medals plus a Silver and a Bronze.


Just as we both agreed to stick to Olympic successes (omitting World Championships & whatnot) so too should we keep non-sporting events out of the debate. What Henie did with Hitler (& it's easy to shun in hindsight) has no bearing on the merit of her Olympic performance. What she did ON the ice -- from competing in 4 Olympiads (in 1924, @ age 11, Henie failed to medal) to maturing by fifteen to sweep 3 straight all-around gold medals (the only one in her discipline) -- speaks of a long-term dominance to which Skoblikova's 2-Olympiad reign just doesn't compare...

Now as for Thunberg, he left Chamonix with medals from 500 to 10,000 meters & the all-around. But in his follow-up in '28 @ St. Moritz, he only managed 2 medals -- gold, albeit, but a significant drop-off. Tomba, like Henie, showed a longevity beyond Thunberg's impressive though truncated Olympic career. He took 2 gold (slalom & GS) in Calgary '88. Though he couldn't duplicate slalom gold (taking silver by .28 sec) he repeated in GS in Albertville '92, becoming the first Alpine skier to defend gold in any discipline. And in '94, he rebounded from 1.84 sec down to come within .15 sec of taking gold...


Henie won Gold in '28, '32 and '36. Why is that important? The first 2 rotation jump, a double salchow, was FIRST landed in competition in '36 by Cecilia Colledge. Proof that figure skating was not nearly as physically demanding or challenging as it is today.

Henie won her first European Championship when she was 9 yrs old. 9!! Did the short bus bring her competitors to the rink? Did they just fall all over the ice? They got beat by a 9 year old!

Furthermore, figure skating is all about the Judges. Speed skating is all about the clock. Unlike Judges, the clock is NEVER biased.

Skoblikova is the first woman to win 6 Olympic Gold medals and remains the ONLY woman to win 4 Gold medals in a single Games!

"Thunberg...significant drop-off." And Tomba didn't?

Thunberg
'24-3 Gold, 1 Silver, 1 Bronze
'28-2 Gold

Tomba
'88-2 Gold
'92-1 Gold, 1 Silver
'94-1 Silver

Which is a bigger decline?

"showed a longevity beyond Thunberg's"

Again, Thunberg sat out the '32 Games in protest even though he was the defending World and Olympic Champion. While not guaranteed to medal, he surely would have been a favorite to add to his already more impressive medal total.


The number of maneuvers required is vastly greater in figure skating than speed skating -- even with the less-technical aerial maneuvers in Henie's day. Hell, can Skoblikova even EXECUTE a single-rotation jump?!

After all, this is a question that goes beyond merely the medal count. We're looking for the best athlete -- & Henie is simply it. (Even if it was the Norwegian championships she won in 1923, when she would've been TEN; she won the Euros for the first time in 1931 & swept through 1936, & was WORLD champ from 1927-1936 in addition to all that Olympic gold.)

But we're sticking to Olympic success, I thought... because Henie's successes beyond that FAR outweigh Skoblikova's...

While we're at it, Thunberg's rationalization for ditching the '32 Games is irrelevant -- he wasn't there, having competed in but two Olympiads. And in doing so, he did a LOT less. Tomba might not be as gilded, but he WAS far more resilient (as the aforementioned numbers attest). And as for the better athlete, Thunberg came to skating late in life after whooping it up as a degenerate smoker & drinker... Tomba was pure athlete all the way...


And that's that...

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