18 international stars to watch for PyeongChang 2018

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Eighteen of the most dominant and decorated international athletes with eyes on the PyeongChang Olympics in one year:

Marcel Hirscher, Austria, Alpine Skiing
En route this season to become the first man to win six World Cup overall titles, and he’s done it consecutively. Hirscher has won World Cup or world championships races in every discipline but downhill, but he’s set to end his career with a different distinction if he doesn’t deliver in PyeongChang — best skier never to win Olympic gold. Hirscher, a Sochi silver medalist, reportedly said he doesn’t plan to race to 2022.

Kaillie Humphries, Canada, Bobsled
Greatest female driver in history and two-time reigning Olympic champion. Humphries has taken a backseat to American rival and training partner Elana Meyers Taylor this winter, but remains in position to take a fourth World Cup season title in the last five years. Humphries’ collection of tattoos includes the date (2.24.10) of her first Olympic title on the side of her hand with the word “Believe.”

Mikael Kingsbury, Canada, Freestyle Skiing
The Québécois was the pre-Sochi favorite but took silver behind countryman Alexandre Bilodeau, who repeated as Olympic champion and then retired. Kingsbury, known to wear a lucky undershirt that states, “It’s Good to be the King,” took the defeat in stride, winning seven straight World Cup events in 2015 and 2016 and running his streak of World Cup season titles to five.

Mark McMorris, Canada, Snowboarding
The rare snowboarder from Saskatchewan earned the nickname “McRib” after breaking a rib in the 2014 Winter X Games, 12 days before Sochi, and losing his favorite status for slopestyle’s Olympic debut. He came back to snag bronze. This time around, McMorris is returning from breaking his right femur in an Air and Style big air crash last Feb. 21. He earned medals in slope and big air at X Games last month.

Marie-Philip Poulin, Canada, Hockey
The daughter of Quebec hospital workers was dubbed “the female Sidney Crosby” even before scoring both goals in the 2010 Olympic final against the U.S. Then she scored the golden goal in overtime of the 2014 Olympic final. In 2015, she was named captain of the national team at age 25.

Ester Ledecka, Czech Republic, Snowboarding/Skiing
Just 21 years old, poised to become the first athlete to qualify for an Olympics in both Alpine skiing and snowboarding. She leads the World Cup standings in Alpine snowboarding while also competing in Alpine skiing World Cup races with a best finish of 13th. Her grandfather won Olympic hockey silver and bronze for Czechoslovakia.

Martina Sablikova, Czech Republic, Speed Skating
The five-time Olympic medalist, with a spider-like, 5-foot-7, 117-pound frame, recently lost an international race of 3000m or longer for the first time since the start of 2015. Since Sochi, she won two more world allround titles and finished 12th in the 2015 World Road Cycling Championships time trial but was unable to race at the Rio Games due to a technicality.

Martin Fourcade, France, Biathlon
The three-time Sochi medalist is arguably the world’s most dominant winter sports athlete. Has won 10 of the 15 individual World Cup events this season. Came within 2.8 seconds of sweeping all four individual events at the 2016 World Championships. Fourcade is also vocal, threatening to boycott events if the Russian doping problem isn’t adequately addressed.

Marie Martinod, France, Freestyle Skiing
Took silver in Sochi after coming out of a five-year retirement (including childbirth). Has won both World Cups this season (going 11 years between wins), plus the Winter X Games for the first time.

Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan, Figure Skating
The standard of excellence in the sport, when he’s on. In 2015, Hanyu shattered the record for total points in a competition by 27.13. Two weeks later, he scored another 8.03 points higher to win the prestigious Grand Prix Final by 37.48 points. Inconsistency cost him at the last two world championships, where Spanish training partner Javier Fernandez overtook Hanyu’s short-program lead for gold.

Sara Takanashi, Japan, Ski Jumping
Takanashi may be the most towering 100-pound athlete on the planet. She has won 26 of her 35 World Cup starts in the last two years. The only drawback is her record at the Olympics and World Championships — a shocking fourth in Sochi and no golds in three individual worlds starts.

Sven Kramer, Netherlands, Speed Skating
Kramer may be best known to Americans for stepping into the wrong lane during the 2010 Olympic 10,000m (at the direction of his coach) and being disqualified despite skating four seconds faster than the Olympic record. But to the Dutch he is simply a winner, perhaps the greatest skater of all time. He hasn’t lost a major international 5000m in four years and, this season, showed his versatility by winning his first World Cup 1500m in eight years.  

Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, Norway, Biathlon
The Biathlon King broke the record for career Winter Olympic medals in Sochi by reaching 13. He could break a tie for gold medals (eight) with retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjorn Daehlie in PyeongChang, if he qualifies for a seventh Olympics at age 44. That appears likely, given he earned medals in three of four individual races at the 2016 Worlds and is the second-ranked Norwegian biathlete this season.

Kamil Stoch, Poland, Ski Jumping
Swept both individual golds in Sochi while wearing a military-green helmet in honor of the Polish Air Force. Plummeted to 22nd in the World Cup standings a season ago. Re-emerged this season by winning the prestigious Four Hills Tournament for the first time and winning four straight World Cups in January.

Yevgenia Medvedeva, Russia, Figure Skating
Medvedeva, who started competing on the senior international level in 2015, hasn’t lost since November 2015 and is the biggest gold-medal favorite in figure skating. She could go into PyeongChang riding a streak of dominance not seen since Katarina Witt.

Alexander Ovechkin, Russia, Hockey
Ovechkin’s commitment to his national team may be unrivaled in men’s hockey. The three-time Hart Trophy winner has already said he intends to play in PyeongChang regardless of if the NHL officially participates in the Winter Games. He took the same stance this time four years ago, while the NHL was deciding whether it would participate in Sochi. Still, Ovechkin has yet to win a medal in three Olympic appearances.

Javier Fernandez, Spain, Figure Skating
Fernandez has been so great that he’s kicked soccer off the front page of Spanish sports daily Marca with his conquests, including the last two world championships. He comes from a nation with maybe 20 ice rinks and was bullied growing up for being a figure skater. Now, Fernandez is tight with Real Madrid and receives letters from the Spanish royal family after victories. He should win Spain’s third-ever Winter Olympic medal and first since 1992.

Lara Gut, Switzerland, Alpine Skiing
Reigning World Cup overall champion as the best all-around female Alpine racer. At 17 years old, Gut took silver in the 2009 World Championships downhill behind Lindsey Vonn. Gut then missed the 2010 Olympics with a dislocated hip and didn’t fully realize her potential until the last few years, after co-starring in a 2012 Italian film. Gut is Vonn’s toughest foe in speed races and has over the years stoked the rivalry with quotes.

PYEONGCHANG 2018 COVERAGE
Storylines | 18 U.S. Stars | 18 Global Stars |
10 Unique Olympic Hopeful Stories
Oldest US Olympian? | Youngest US Olympian? | Venue Photo Gallery | North Korea

Michael Phelps still has ‘no desire’ to come back

AP
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Michael Phelps says he has “no desire” to return to competitive swimming, but he is eager to stay involved with the sport and cheer on those who follow in his enormous wake.

In an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press while promoting a healthy pet food campaign, Phelps said he is excited about the birth of his second child and numerous opportunities away from the pool.

It was around this time four years ago when Phelps got serious about ending his first retirement, but he now seems content with his decision to step away again after the Rio Olympics.

His wife, Nicole, is about four months pregnant. The couple already has a 16-month-old son, Boomer.

“I’ve got no desire, no desire to come back,” the 32-year-old Phelps said flatly.

Phelps has attended a handful of swimming meets since the Rio Games, where the winningest athlete in Olympic history added to his already massive career haul by claiming five gold medals plus a silver. A few months ago, he conceded to the AP that he was eager to see how he would feel about a possible comeback after this year’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Turns out, it had no impact.

Phelps said watching others compete “truly didn’t kick anything off or spike any more interest in coming out of retirement again.”

He is eager to follow the development of his heir apparent, Caeleb Dressel, who emerged as the sport’s newest star by winning seven gold medals at Budapest. The 21-year-old Floridian joined Phelps and Mark Spitz as the only swimmers to accomplish that feat at a major international meet.

“I’m happy Caeleb decided to go off this year instead of last year,” Phelps joked. “I’m kind of happy to see him swimming so well when I’m not there.”

With Dressel and Katie Ledecky now leading the American team, the U.S. is expected to remain the world’s dominant swimming country heading into the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Even without Phelps.

“It’s time to kind of move on,” he said, “and watch other people come into their own.”

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MORE: Michael Phelps: I’d give Conor McGregor a head start

Dutch cyclist returns from horrific Rio crash to win world title

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Dutch road cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten came back from this dramatic Rio Olympic crash to win her first world title on Tuesday, taking the time trial in Bergen, Norway.

“This one is really beautiful without the crash in Rio, but this makes the story really, really special,” an emotional van Vleuten said. “Actually, I still cannot believe it. … This season I’m surprising myself what I can do. To be world champion in the time trial, I never thought I’d be able of this.”

Van Vleuten, 34, covered the 13-mile course in 28 minutes, 50.35 seconds, topping countrywoman Anna ven der Breggen by 12 seconds.

Australian Katrin Garfoot took bronze, 19.02 seconds ahead of Chloe Dygert, a U.S. Olympic silver medalist in track cycling. American Amber Neben, the defending champion, was 11th.

Full results are here.

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title.

Van Vleuten wasn’t out long. She raced at last October’s world championships, placing a career-high fifth in the time trial. She then won La Course in France, a two-day race, in July.

“To be an athlete is to have really ups and downs,” van Vleuten said Tuesday. “Sometimes really downs, but the downs make the ups even more beautiful, I think.”

Van Vleuten’s first celebratory act Tuesday was to climb past two barriers and into her mother’s arms.

“Last year my mum watched the Rio race on television, it was her birthday and she was with lots of my family, so it was a really hard day for her,” Van Vleuten said in a news conference, according to Cyclingnews.com. “My father died in 2008, and so it was really special to have her here and celebrate the good things of cycling together. We’ve dealt with bad things together in the past, so it’s important to be really happy and proud to celebrate and to also remember my father.”

The world championships continue Wednesday with the men’s time trial at 7 a.m. ET on the Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBCSports.com/live.

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MORE: World Road Cycling Championships broadcast schedule