Everyone knows the Winter Olympic Games are where we watch the best athletes in the world go head-to-head on an international stage. What you may not know is that the first Winter Games were an afterthought. They were initially called International Winter Sports Week, and were so successful that afterwards they were renamed the Winter Olympics and scheduled to be held every four years.

Though the Games have evolved and grown, the key element to the Olympics has always been the athletes; the most universal sports event would be nothing without its competitors. Every Olympics, the athletes are recognized at the opening ceremony and a select few are elevated to the podium. Here are the 50 greatest Winter Olympians of all time.

To compile the top 50, we enlisted the help of five Olympic experts who are among the best in their field. They each ranked the athletes they thought were the best in Olympic history and we scored their picks using a range of criteria. The formula weighed the following factors: number of times an athlete was nominated, medal count and type, and subjective factors (for example, the 1980 USA men's hockey team ranked high on our list despite earning only one medal because of the remarkable story). We also gave additional credit to athletes who placed number one on our panelists’ original lists of nominees.

For the complete list of the 50 Greatest Winter Olympians Of All Time, go to TheActiveTimes.com.

More Stories from The Active Times:
-- 12 New Olympic Events Debuting Sochi
-- 13 Unlikely Countries in the Winter Olympics
-- The 10 Most Popular Winter Olympic Sports
-- 10 Sports Too Extreme for the Winter Olympics

Meet our panelists:
Brian Pinelli is a journalist covering his fifth Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Based in Prague, Czech Republic, he has contributed to the International Herald Tribune, Around the Rings, New York Times, FISAlpine.com, Ski Racing, Snow Magazine, USAHockey.com, Universal Sports, CBS Sports, CNN World Sport and USA Today. While he immensely enjoys the rewards and challenges of his craft, he prefers to be skiing. Find him on Twitter @Brian_Pinelli.

Pj Kwong is a coach, author and an expert in all things figure skating. She has more than 25 years of coaching experience and has been part of Canada’s CBC Sports' network figure skating broadcast team as a commentator and writer since 2007. She is the author of Taking the Ice: Success Stories from Canadian Figure Skating and is currently in Sochi as an Olympic P.A. announcer for the sixth time. Find Pj at her website: pjkwong.com.

Tom Ecker is the go-to source on early Olympic history. In his youth, he was a track and field star so successful that he went on to coach Swedish Olympic track and field teams. He has been lecturing on Olympic history since 1968 and he was a professor at California State University, teaching courses on the Olympics. His most recent book, Olympic Facts and Fables is backed by 31 years of research and first-hand experience. Find Tom at his website: tomecker.com.

Bill Mallon is a co-founder and past-president of the International Society of Olympic Historians (ISOH). He was an Editor of the Journal of Olympic History, and he has since published more than 20 books on the subject of the Olympic Games. He is an orthopedic surgeon, a former professional golfer and a recipient of the Olympic Order award, which is a high honor granted by the International Olympic Committee. He and two of his colleagues at ISOH each earned Silver in 2001 for their substantial contributions to the Olympic Movement.

Anthony Th. Bijkerk is the Secretary-General of ISOH and has been a member of the executive committee since its founding more than 20 years ago. He was an Editor of the Journal of Olympic History and a co-author of the book The 1920 Olympic Games. He received the Silver Olympic Order award in 2001, from the hands of Judo icon Anton Geesink, for substantial contributions to the Olympic Movement.


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