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Olympic athletes to watch

On Behalf of | Jan 24, 2022 | Current Events |

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games in China officially begin February 4. It is not as massive as the summer Games, but it still features 2,900 athletes from 85 countries competing in 15 disciplines. There will be thrills and spills (but hopefully no serious injuries). The U.S. team will include about 200 members, but there are stars from other countries. Here is a shortlist of some of the sports and major players. Click here for a list of the remaining categories.

Alpine Skiing: Mikaela Shiffrin is one of the most decorated skiers ever and remains a frontrunner for technical disciplines like slalom and giant slalom. She’ll be pushed by Petra Vlhova of Slovakia, Lara Gut-Behrami and Michelle Gisin of Switzerland. In the speed events, American Breezy Johnson is a potential medalist also. France’s Alexis Pinturault is the reigning World Cup champ and could get his first gold medal. American men to watch include Bryce Bennett, Ryan Cochran-Siegle and River Radamus.

Curling: Who knew that sliding granite rocks across the ice with the help of a broom could be so compelling to American audiences, but Team U.S.A.’s gold-medal run in 2018 was must-see T.V. The Swedish men and Swiss women are favorites, but don’t count out the U.S. and Canadian teams.

Figure Skating: Women figure skaters are always the belles of the Winter Olympic ball. Russians currently dominate the women’s competition. On the men’s side, American hopes are carried by frontrunner Nathan Chen, who will be challenged by 2014 and 2018 gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu. China could also be a coming-out party for 16-year-old Alysa Liu, who has already won the U.S. championships twice. Liu tested positive for COVID at nationals and had to withdraw. Still, she nonetheless goes to China on a team with Mariah Bell (the current champion) and Karen Chen (who was second). There are also pairs skating and ice dancing that are both Russian strengths.

Snowboarding: No longer a fringe outsider sport, snowboarding is a premier event at the Olympics. Shaun White returns for his fifth Olympics to get his fourth gold. American halfpiper Chloe Kim won gold in 2018 as a teen phenom and looks to repeat after winning her first event back from a sabbatical. Whereas Americans once were a dominant force in snowboarding, gold medal-level competitors come from across the globe. There are 11 categories, including big air, halfpipe, slopestyle, snowboard cross (think steeplechase) and even a head-to-head giant slalom around ski-style gates.

Speed Skating: This includes long-track categories dominated by the Dutch, but the U.S. features world champions Joey Mantia and Brittany Bowe, who could bring home the first golds since 2010. There is also short-track skating, which seems more like roller derby on ice (complete with collisions). The U.S. has not won short-track gold since Apolo Ohno was dominant in 2002 and 2006. There are 23 categories, including the exciting mass start event in long track.

And who are the top countries?

Medal domination looks very different during the winter Games. For instance, Norway rarely medals in the summer but dominates in the winter and looks to do so again. Other strong contenders are Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Canada, Netherlands, France, and the Russian athletes competing as the R.O.C. Team U.S.A. looks to have some big nights in women’s hockey, hopefully figure skating, snowboarding and speed skating. Along with the established stars listed above, unexpected breakout stars in less popular events are also part of the fun.