Few nations are more closely linked with the history of the Winter Olympics than Austria.
Not only has the country hosted the Games two times, but Austria is also one of the world's leading medal winners, and it is the planet's superpower in the fast-paced sport of alpine skiing. Indeed, the small county nestled in the middle of Europe has made productive use of its mountainous terrain to produce a continuous history of talent in the art of skiing.
Population: 8.4 million
President: Heinz Fischer
All-Time Medal Count: Austria is one of the most decorated nations in the history of the Winter Olympics. The landlocked country in the European Alps has earned a total of 201 medals, including 55 gold medals, 70 silver medals, and 76 bronze medals.
Best Sports: Over half of Austria's medals have come in the discipline of alpine skiing, in which it is the most successful country in Olympic history. Austria has earned 105 total medals in alpine skiing, including 31 golds, 35 silvers, and 39 bronzes. Other sports that have brought great success include figure skating (20 medals, 7 gold), ski jumping (23 medals, 6 gold) and luge (18 medals, 5 gold).
Austria has sent athletes to every Winter Games since the initial Olympics in Chamonix in 1924. Even in the very first Games, where Austria only provided four figure skating participants, the successful country still brought home four medals. Austria has earned a medal in every Olympic Games since and only two times has the tiny nation ever failed to capture at least one gold.
Though never leading the medal count at a single Olympics, Austria has won the second-most medals on two separate occasions. With the recent expansion of many favorable skiing events, the country continues to thrive in modern competition. Indeed, Austria finished in fourth place in the medal count at the 2006 Games with 23 total medals in Turin, including an impressive nine golds.
Long considered one of the world's epicenters of winter sports, the country has hosted the Olympics two times, when both the 1964 and 1976 Games were held in the mountain resort city of Innsbruck. With the Alps as a picturesque backdrop, Innsbruck possesses a great location in western Austria, halfway between the nearby municipalities of Munich, Germany to the north and Verona, Italy to the south.
With the sport fittingly named after its very mountains, Austria reigns supreme as the global leader in alpine skiing. Not only are the country's 105 total alpine medals more than any other nation, but Austria also holds more medals in this discipline than all other events combined. The country did struggle somewhat at 2010 Vancouver, however, as its men's team failed to medal in five events, while the women's squad more typically earned four total medals.
Top Olympic Medal Winners:
Felix Gottwald: Nordic combined, 7 medals -- 3 gold, 1 silver, 3 gold, 5-time Olympian (1994-2010)
Thomas Morganstern: Ski jumping, 3 medals -- 3 gold, 2-time Olympian (2006-2010)
Anton "Toni" Sailer: Alpine skiing, 3 medals -- 3 gold, 1-time Olympian (1956)
Hermann Maier: Alpine skiing, 4 medals -- 2 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze, 2-time Olympican (1998, 2006)
Benjamin Raich: Alpine skiing, 4 medals -- 2 gold, 2 bronze, 3-time Olympian (2002-2010)
Stephan Eberharter: Alpine skiing, 4 medals -- 1 gold, 2 silver, 1 bronze, 2-time Olympian (1998-2002)
Athletes to Watch in Sochi:
Gregor Schlierenzauer: This popular Austrian ski jumper made a strong impression during his first Olympic Games in 2010 where he captured three total medals, including a gold for the large hill team event. Known to fans as "Schlieri," the 24-year-old certainly benefits from being part of a dominant team, in which he is paired with Thomas Morganstern. Yet, Schlierenzauer did win gold in the individual large hill event in the 2011 Nordic World Ski Championships and is capable of doing so in Sochi.
Andrea Fischbacher: This cousin of the legendary Hermann Maier was the sole Austrian to claim gold in an alpine skiing event at Vancouver. After failing to earn a win in 2006 Turin, Fischbacher won the women's Super-G event in the 2010 games. The 28-year-old from Salzburg is a versatile all-around skier and has an excellent chance of adding to her resume at Sochi.
Marlies Schild: Competing in her fourth consecutive Olympics, this is likely the last chance for a gold medal for this Austrian skiing giant. Schild has captured two silvers and a bronze in the previous two Winter Games, but has yet to attain the highest honor in her sport. The 31-year-old Schild specializes in the technical events of slalom and giant slalom. She is engaged to fellow Austrian alpine skiier Bejamin Raich.
Bernhard Gruber: With his country's excellence in ski jumping, it is unsurprising that Austria likewise is a leading contender in the related field of Nordic combined. Gruber has served as the nation's strongest participant for the past three Games and finally reached the podium two times in Vancouver with gold in the 4 x 5-km team event and bronze in the 10-km individual large hill event. The 31-year-old is expected to compete for a win in the same events in Sochi.
Christoph Sumann: Coming to the sport from the required disciple of cross-country skiing, Sumann has become the leading biathlete from Austria in recent times. The 38-year-old captured at least a share of the only two Austrian biathlon medals at Vancouver, with a silver in the individual pursuit 12.5-km event and another silver for his part in the 4 x 7.5-km team relay.
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.
- Sports & Recreation
- Winter Olympics
- alpine skiing