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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 09:55 GMT
Winter Olympics: Six to watch
Fritz StroblJanica KostelicIrina SlutskayaArmin ZoeggelerAnni FriesingerOle Einer Bjoerndalen

There will be 84 gold medals up for grabs in 15 sports at the 2006 Winter Olympics, being held in Turin in Italy.

We profile some of the best international medal chances at the Games which start on Friday.


Fritz Strobl
DOB: 24.08.72
Nation: Austria
Games competed in: 2, 1998 and 2002
Olympic medals: Gold, downhill (2002)

Strobl is the defending Olympic downhill champion and has been in great form this season.

He had not finished outside the top five in any of his World Cup races until the Kitzbuehel downhill in January where he crashed and fractured his hand.

But the tough Austrian competed a week later in Garmisch in Germany, finishing joint 10th, and has vowed to defend his Olympic title even if he has to ski with a brace on.

Outside the ski season, Strobl is a police officer and he also enjoys flying model airplanes. He is married with two sons.

Main rivals: Austrian team-mates Michael Walchhofer and Hermann Maier and Americans Daron Rahlves and Bode Miller.

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Janica Kostelic
DOB: 05.01.82
Nation: Croatia
Games competed in: 2, 1998 and 2002
Olympic medals: Gold (slalom, giant slalom and combined, 2002), silver, super-G (2002)

Skiers are renowned for being tough cookies and Kostelic is no different having battled back from health and injury problems.

She has had 11 knee operations and missed the entire 2003-04 season after undergoing thyroid gland surgery having been diagnosed with Graves' disease.

But Kostelic keeps coming back and this season has recorded four World Cup wins, in giant slalom, downhill, super-G and combined and looks to be in top form ahead of the Winter Olympics.

In 2001 she became the first Croatian sports personality to have her own postage stamp.

Main rivals: In downhill, Austria's Michaela Dormeister and Renate Goetschl, in slalom and giant slalom, Sweden's Anja Paerson.

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Irina Slutskaya
DOB: 09.02.79
Nation: Russia
Games competed in: 2, 1998, 2002
Olympic medals: Silver (2002)

A gold medal in Turin bodes well for Slutskaya as the reigning world champion (which she is) has won the Olympic title in four out of the last five Games.

Slutskaya would become the first Russian woman to win the ladies singles title.

She has recently been crowned European Champion for the seventh time becoming the most successful skater ever and overhauling Norwegian legend Sonja Henie's and Germany's Katarina Witt's six titles.

Slutskaya has suffered health problems in the last few years - she was diagnosed with vasculitis, a group of diseases involving inflammation in the blood vessels, and has to take medication every day.

She married fitness instructor Sergei Mikheyev in 1999.

Main rivals: Americans Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen.

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Armin Zoeggeler
Nation: Italy
Games competed in: 3, 1994, 1998, 2002
Olympic medals: Gold (2002), silver (1998), bronze (1994)

Zoeggeler is the reigning Olympic champion after beating three-time gold medallist Georg Hackl at the Salt Lake City Games.

He won his fifth World Cup title in January this year after winning four of the season's first seven races.

Zoeggeler puts his good fortune down to his lucky facial hair. Just before the Nagano Games in 1998 he fashioned the strip of stubble from his lip to his chin and has kept it ever since.

Although he hails from Italy, Zoeggeler's native tongue is German as he was brought up in the South Tyrol, a region of northern Italy near Austria.

Main rivals: Germany's Georg Hackl and the United States' Tony Benshoof.

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Anni Friesinger
DOB: 11.01.77
Nation: Germany
Games competed in: 2, 1998, 2002
Olympic medals: Gold 1500m (2002), bronze 3000m (1998)

At the Salt Lake City Games in 2002, Friesinger won her 1500m gold in world record time.

At the 2005 World Single Distance Championships in her hometown of Inzell, Germany, Friesinger won gold in the 5000m to give her 12 career world titles.

In a freak training accident at the beginning of the year she slashed her right leg near the Achilles with one of her own blades.

Friesinger was forced to miss January's European Championships and the World Sprint Championships because of fears her wound could get infected.

Away from speed skating, she is an interior decorator and also a part-time model. She has posed for underwear ads and was photographed nearly nude in a German magazine.

Her autobiography, published in 2004, was called My life, My sport, My best fitness tips.

Main rivals: Her Germany team-mate Claudia Pechstein and Canada's Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes.

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Ole Einar Bjoerndalen
Nation: Norway
Games competed in: 3, 1994, 1998, 2002
Olympic medals: Gold, (four 2002, one 1998), silver 1998.

Four years ago Bjoerndalen dominated the men's biathlon winning four gold medals, one of only three winter Olympians to achieve the feat in one Games.

There will be five biathlon events in Turin which means Bjoerndalen could become the most successful Winter Olympian in history.

Bjoerndalen is a national hero in Norway, the spiritual home of the biathlon - a poll in December 2005 revealed it remains the country's most popular sport.

He was brought up on a farm near the Norwegian town of Simostranda and began training for cross-country and biathlon aged 10. He decided to focus on biathlon when he was 17.

His long-term partner is Italian biathlete Nathalie Santer.

Main rivals: France's Raphael Poiree and Germany's Sven Fischer.

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