Justin Wadsworth: Wadsworth, 33, gutted out the best U.S. men's result in nearly two decades last January at Soldier Hollow when he finished eighth in a World Cup race despite intense stomach pain. The Bend, Ore., resident thinks he can repeat the performance on the same course during the Olympics.
On skis at 4, Wadsworth began cross country skiing at 12. In the summers, he competed with the U.S. junior rowing team until he decided to focus on ski racing.
A string of injuries hampered his progress from 1989 to 1994, when he competed in the Olympics at Lillehammer. Wadsworth also competed in the Nagano Games and several World Championship races in the ensuing years. A five-time U.S. champion, Wadsworth is one of the most consistent U.S. racers.
Carl Swenson: Currently the top ranked U.S. men's cross country skier, Swenson recently finished 18th in a World Cup race in Italy. The top 20 finish was one of Swenson's best performances in international competition and a good sign that he will be one of the top cross country racers for Team USA during the Olympics.
Swenson, 31, captained Dartmouth's ski team twice and made the 1994 Olympic team before taking a break from skiing to focus on mountain biking. He still spends the spring and summer biking with his older brother, but he says the competition prepares him for skiing.
An avid reader, the Boulder, Colo., resident also savors good coffee.
Marcus Nash: Born in England, Nash hopes to bounce back this year from injuries that turned a promising season into a disappointment last year when he broke a bone in his left shoulder.
Nash, a U.S. citizen since he turned 18 who now calls Maine home, made the 1994 Olympic squad and won gold in the 1998 Gold Cup and the 2000 Goodwill Games.
Nash, 30, graduated from the University of Utah in 1995 and earned his pilot's license this spring. He and teammate Justin Wadsworth enjoy jamming on the guitar after ski races, sometimes with European racers.
Nina Kemppel: Kemppel holds the record for most U.S. cross country titles, male or female, with 15. Kemppel, in her 13th season on the U.S. ski team, is coming off her best season ever with her first top 15 finish at the 2002 Olympic trials.
When Kemppel competes at Soldier Hollow, she will become the first U.S. woman cross country skier to race in four Olympics. She has finished in the top 35 in 13 World Championship races.
Kemppel graduated from Dartmouth in 1992 in government studies and may attend law school when she finishes racing. She climbed Mount McKinley with her father in 1995 and has worked as a ranger on the Alaskan mountain. She once rescued two men who were stranded on the mountain. Kemppel, 31, is from Anchorage, Alaska.
Wendy Wagner: All of the U.S. athletes will compete in front of a hometown crowd, but Wagner will race in her back yard. Born in Salt Lake City, Wagner now lives in Park City, just minutes from Soldier Hollow.
Wagner, 28, was racing by the seventh grade and finished fifth in 2001 in an international race in Sweden. She finished in the top 25 at last year's World Championships and won gold in the1998 U.S. 5 KM Classic race.
Sometimes called Wags, she also enjoys playing guitar, especially Tom Petty and Bob Dylan songs.
Per Elofsson— Sweden: The defending World Cup overall champion and top-ranked cross country skier in the world is favored to win multiple medals at Soldier Hollow in 2002. Elofsson is so fast his coach laments no one on the team can train with him.
Elofsson's World Cup crown last year was especially impressive because he entered only half the scheduled events, placing first six times and second once. No other racer had more than three victories.
The 24-year-old Swede won two gold medals at last year's World Championships and finished 10th at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. This year, Elofsson again leads in World Cup points. He has placed in the top three in his last four races.
Elofsson is known for his rigid off-season training regimen, which includes running through muddy swamps.
Thomas Alsgaard— Norway: One thing can be certain about the cross country medals ceremony in Salt Lake: Norwegians will be on the stand.
The Norwegians have four racers ranked in the top 10, and all have a shot at taking gold.
Alsgaard, 29, won three gold medals in the 1998 Olympics and beat legendary Bjorn Daehlie, perhaps the greatest cross country skier ever, in 1994 to win his first Olympic gold medal.
As a child, Alsgaard played on skis all winter long with his friends. His mother carried him inside for lunch with skis still on his feet.
Other Norwegians who could medal include Frode Estil, currently ranked No. 3 in the world, and Anders Aukland, who is second in World Cup points this year and has already won two races.
Bente Skari — Norway: Skari, a bronze medalist in the 1998 Winter Games, is already off to a fast start in this year's World Cup campaign. She has won three races and is the world's top ranked skier. Skari won one gold medal at the World Championships in 1999 and two golds at last year's world championships. She is the defending World Cup champion.
Skari, 29, says she prefers Burger King to McDonald's and U2 to Britney Spears.
Julija Tchepalova— Russia: If anyone can stop Skari, it's Tchepalova, a Russian who won gold in Nagano and the 2001 overall World Cup title.
Tchepalova, 25, excels in the freestyle (skating) technique but has improved her classic technique. At last year's World Championships she won a silver and a bronze in the sprint events.
She is coached by her father, who reportedly sold all his assets several years ago, including a second-hand car, to finance his daughter's career. Tchepalova wears a half-dozen earrings in her right ear and is known for her rebellious attitude.
Russian women dominate cross country — at Nagano they won all the cross country gold medals. Since 1988, Russian women have won 14 of 19 Olympic cross country titles and have finished at least second in all but one event. They have also won all four relays.