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30 Fun Facts To Help You Pick The Male Olympic Athlete Of The Year

By Clay Latimer | Nov. 11, 2015, 1:14 p.m. (ET)

(L-R) Jordan Burroughs, Ashton Eaton, Vincent Hancock, Ted Ligety and Auston Matthews are nominated for Male Olympic Athlete of the Year.

Five accomplished athletes are up for Male Olympic Athlete of the Year. Fan voting at TeamUSA.org/Awards accounts for 50 percent of the final tally.

So who to vote for? How can one possibly decide?

We get it.

That’s why we’ve dug into the archives to find six facts you probably didn’t know about each nominee. Take a look, and make sure to tune into the Team USA Awards, presented by Dow, on NBCSN on Dec. 27. The Male Olympic Athlete of the Year is one of six fan-voted honors that will be presented at the awards show in Philadelphia.

Jordan Burroughs (freestyle wrestling) claimed his third world title in 2015, going undefeated in the process. He also went undefeated to win gold at the Pan American Games and Freestyle World Cup. Burroughs’ career record now stands at 114-2. Vote for Burroughs.

Six things you might not know about Burroughs:

  • He has lived up to his Twitter handle: @alliseeisgold.
  • His motto is tattooed on his chest: “Dream it, do it.” Burroughs also has a tattoo of a lighthouse beaming with a light in honor of his son’s name, Beacon.
  • Burroughs went three and a half years without a loss before having his 69-match win streak broken in February 2014. It was the longest winning streak in U.S. history on the senior level.
  • Talk about tough, he competed in the 2013 world championships less than a month after breaking his ankle in training.
  • Of all his international titles, Burroughs says none compares with the feeling he experienced after winning his first — and only — high school championship.
  • He’s a big fan of McDonald’s breakfasts.

Ashton Eaton (track and field) improved his decathlon world record to 9,045 points and broke a 40-year-old world decathlon record in the 400-meter to win the gold medal at the 2015 IAAF World Championships by more than 300 points. Vote for Eaton.

Six things you might not know about Eaton:

  • Roslyn, his mother, says he had a non-sports hero at age 5: Donatello, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
  • Eaton’s interest in the Ninja Turtles initially led him to pursue taekwondo.
  • Ever the gentleman, Eaton created a mix CD and bought roses for Brianne Theisen before taking her to Olive Garden for their first date, on Valentine’s Day 2008. The couple married in 2013, one year after both competed at the London Games. Ashton won the decathlon while Brianne competed in heptathlon for Team Canada.
  • Though Eaton won Oregon state high school championships in the 400-meter run and long jump, he’d never heard of the decathlon before his senior year. 
  • World-class athlete or not, he has a thing for macaroni and cheese and fettuccini Alfredo.
  • When he isn’t working out, Eaton unwinds has playing video games like “Call of Duty.”

Vincent Hancock (shooting) became the third man to win three world championship titles in skeet shooting and the first to post a perfect world-record score of 157 straight targets since the new skeet rules were implemented after the London 2012 Olympic Games. Vote for Hancock.

Six things you might not know about Hancock:

  • He played baseball as a boy but decided early that team sports weren’t his style.
  • When Hancock was 12, his father built a skeet range in the family’s backyard. He taught Vincent to block out distractions by running sprinklers and letting the family dogs bark during father-son training sessions.
  • By his own admission, Hancock is a nervous person who simply cannot keep still in competition. He learned to keep his cool under pressure with the help of a sports psychologist.
  • Hancock joined the Army in June 2006 and completed basic training the same year at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He’s earned the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and Distinguished International Shooter Badge, among others. He left the Army in November 2012.
  • The two-time gold medalist wears his 2012 Olympic ring as a constant reminder of the effort it took to earn a second Olympic gold medal and, he says, to remind himself of all those who doubted he could do it again.
  • To unwind after a big event, Hancock plays golf, goes fishing and shoots sporting clays.

Ted Ligety (skiing) became the second-most decorated U.S. skier in world championship history with seven medals after winning his third straight giant slalom title and adding a bronze in the combined. He also finished third in the final FIS World Cup giant slalom standings. Vote for Ligety.

Six things you might not know about Ligety:

  • He didn’t make his local ski team as a 9-year-old and didn’t make the A team until he was in high school. After graduation, his parents gave him one year to chase his dream of a ski career. If he failed, he’d head straight to college.
  • In his younger years, Ligety needed some shin guards for ski racing. Instead of buying a pair, he went to Home Depot, got some sheet medal and made his own shin guards.
  • Following the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, Ligety founded a company named SHRED. The firm started with goggles but now makes helmets, sunglasses, gloves and outerwear. 
  • His nicknames include “Teddy Ball Game” for his cool under pressure, “Shred” for his talent at carving up a course, and “Mr. GS,” for his domination in the giant slalom.
  • In a TV spot for Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project, Ligety played straight man to a bummed-out, animated snowflake. It was part of CRP’s “I Am Pro Snow” campaign featuring winter sports stars.
  • He counts tennis, Formula One racing, water skiing and backyard badminton as favorite non-skiing activities.

Auston Matthews (ice hockey) led Team USA to the 2015 IIHF Under-18 World Championship gold medal as the tournament’s best forward and surpassed Patrick Kane’s single-season National Team Development Program records for goals (55) and points (117). Vote for Matthews.

Six things you might not know about Matthews:

  • He grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona, and was a regular at Coyotes game as a toddler. His favorite moments were the Zamboni and the ticket drop, when radio-controlled devices would float above the seats and drop prizes during intermissions.
  • When he was younger, Matthews’ dad gave him the choice of playing two sports. Auston chose baseball and hockey.
  • Unlucky timing: If Matthews had been born 48 hours earlier, he would have been eligible for the 2015 NHL draft.
  • While waiting for the next NHL draft — during which he’s expected to be the first overall pick — Matthews is playing professionally in Switzerland and living with his mom and big sister. “Mom makes me breakfast and cooks dinner, but I’m on my own for the rest of the time for the most part. I still have to put away my dishes and clean up after myself,” he told Sports Illustrated.
  • His mother, a native of Mexico, worked two jobs to help pay his hockey expenses.
  • He made history when he joined the U.S. national team for an exhibition game against Austria at the 2015 world championships. He was the first player to suit up before reaching draft eligibility.

Clay Latimer is a Denver-based writer who covered four Olympic Games, in addition to other sports, over 28 years with the Rocky Mountain News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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