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German Athletes to Watch in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

A Look at Five Hopefuls for Olympic Gold at Sochi from Germany

Yahoo Contributor Network

Despite a fractured history, in which over 100 medals were won under the East German flag, the country of Germany is arguably the most successful nation in Winter Olympics history.

By capturing 30 total medals during the 2010 Vancouver games -- including 10 golds -- the European country trailed only the United States in the overall medal count. With many of its Olympic champions returning in top form for Sochi, the German team appears poised for continued success at the winter games. In fact, Germany has impressively medaled in 13 of 15 Olympic disciplines, and only seeks its first podium in the relatively newer pursuits of curling and short track speed skating.

Here is a look at five German hopefuls for Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi games:

Viktoria Rebensburg

This gold medalist made a glorious debut at the Vancouver Olympics and her dynamic run of success in alpine skiing has not since slowed down. Despite demonstrating great promise, Rebensurg was only 20 years-old when she triumphed in giant slalom in 2010, defeating heavily-favored American, Lindsey Vonn, as well as alpine veteran and silver medalist Tina Maze of Slovenia. Since Vancouver, Rebensburg has additionally matured into an improved all-around skier, and may even be a threat in the speed-based events of Super-G and combined.

The 24 year-old's specialty remains giant slalom and she will be a favorite to retain her gold medal in the event. Since the 2010 games, Rebensburg has grabbed ten World Cup victories, including a pair of wins in Super-G competition. Furthermore, the successful athlete was World Cup overall titlist in giant slalom for both 2011 and 2012. The German team will send multiple top participants to Sochi in alpine skiing, including two-time gold medalist Maria Hofl-Riesch, but the affable Rebensburg may emerge as the country's brightest Olympic star.

Felix Loch

After becoming the youngest Olympian ever to earn gold in luge competition in 2010, this 24 year-old seeks to become an all-time great in his sport at Sochi. Loch was somewhat of a surprise winner four years ago, when he triumphed in men's singles at Vancouver with a combined time that exceeded silver medalist, and fellow German, David Moller by just over six-tenths of a second. Though Loch already enjoyed substantial success in junior competition, his tender age and lack of experience were limits to overcome, as was a developing rivalry with Italian legend, Armin Zoggeler, who took bronze.

Vancouver was obviously marked by the tragic death of Nodar Kumaritashvili during a practice run prior to the start of luge competition. Loch was additionally mindful that he suffered a shoulder injury in a 2008 crash on the same venue at the Whistler Sliding Center. The ability to triumph in light of such adversity is certainly an indication of toughness. Loch has captured four World Championship titles and his father is a former Olympian and the current president of Germany's National Luge Federation. Keep a close eye on this reigning champion, as he attempts to repeat previous glory in Sochi.

Felix Neureuther

Though "felix" literally derives from the Latin word for lucky, this Olympian has not enjoyed the kind of success his name suggests. Neureuther will be competing in his third winter games at Sochi and is still looking for a first podium finish. The 29 year-old has long been one of Germany's top alpine skiers and specializes in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom. Despite seven World Cup victories, and a 2005 gold medal in the team event at the World Championships, Neureuther has skied out of three of four of his Olympic runs and finished eighth in giant slalom in 2010.

Past disappointment should not be reason to dismiss the German's chances at Sochi, since this could be the perfect opportunity for Neureuther to change his luck. Winning three World Cup events in the past year, and finishing 2013 as the second-ranked athlete in slalom competition, the skier enters the winter games with substantial momentum from the best run of performances of his career. Such success even runs in the family, as Neureuther's mother Rosi Mittermaier captured a pair of gold medals for Germany in downhill and slalom at 1976 Innsbruck.

Natalie Geisenberger

Here is another German competitor in ideal position to capture her first gold medal at the Sochi games. Geisenberger is only 25 years-old and brings the experience of making her luge debut at 2010 Vancouver, where she earned a bronze medal in the women's singles event. To make the next leap as ca hampion, she must overcome Olympic veteran and teammate, Tatjana Hufner, who was gold medalist in the individual event at the Whistler Sliding Center in 2010, but has since encountered injuries and sub-par results.

In contrast, Geisenberger's recent performances indicate she is more than capable of doing just that and a luge-crazed German nation will strongly support her. In the final tune-up for Sochi at an event in her home country earlier this month, the Munich native triumphed in women's luge World Championships for the second straight year. Indeed, Geisenberger has accumulated a series of medals during World Cup competition since Vancouver, and is widely considered a favorite to return to the podium at Sochi. The luge participant could even finish with multiple medals, since the games will introduce a new mixed team relay event.

Stephanie Beckert

While German men generally struggle to keep pace with dominant speed skaters from countries like the United States, South Korea, and the Netherlands, Germany's women posted a strong showing at the Vancouver games. Specializing in long-distance racing, this 25 year-old competitor was a big reason for that success. Beckert took home a pair of silver medals in women's 3000m and 5000m in 2010 and enters Sochi with hope of repeating such success. Yet, in order to better those results and capture individual gold, the German must overcome rival Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic, who was 2010 champion in both events.

Skating six laps as part of the entertaining team pursuit competition in Vancouver, Beckert did claim gold as part of the victorious German team in that event. The 2013 season was unfortunately not a strong one for the German athlete, but she did enjoy post-Olympic success in 2011-2012 with multiple podium finishes in World Cup opportunities. Beckert likely remains a greater threat in the 5000m event, but must hope earlier back problems do not prevent a resurgence at Sochi. Beckert definitely comes from a skating family, as her brother Patrick is also a member of Germany's Olympic speed skating team.

Jeff Briscoe is a longtime fan of Olympic competition and a regular contributor to the Yahoo Contributor Network. He will be talking Sochi 2014 on The Sports Train radio show in Southwest Florida.

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