(BEIJING) — It’s only been six months since the festivities wrapped up at Tokyo’s Summer Olympics, but it’s time to learn who will be stealing nightly headlines at the Beijing Winter Games.
If you’re a sports fan who’s been more focused on Patrick Mahomes and Ja Morant than monobob or moguls in the past few months, let this be a guide to the big names from the 223 athletes the U.S. is sending to China.
Two of these athletes (Jamie Anderson and David Wise) are going for three-peats, which would tie them for the most consecutive Winter Olympic golds in the same event. Speedskater Bonnie Blair is the only American to accomplish the feat, winning the 500 meters, albeit in a shortened timeframe from 1988 to 1994. (Six Summer Olympians, including Michael Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley, have won four in a row in the same event.)
Shaun White meanwhile is going for four total golds, which would be a first for a Winter Olympian in the same individual event. He’ll also be one of four Americans attending their fifth Olympics (White, Lindsey Jacobellis, John Shuster and Katie Uhlaender).
Here’s a look at who will be hunting hardware in Beijing:
Jamie Anderson, 31, Snowboarding
Anytime you get to watch the best of all time in their sport, it’s worth tuning in. No woman has had more success in snowboarding than Jamie Anderson, a seven-time X Games gold medalist and the two-time defending Olympic champion in slopestyle. Anderson won the sport’s debut in 2014 and followed that up with gold in Pyeongchang. She’s been remarkably consistent in a sport that often comes down to who can stay upright for a “full pull.”
The California native will bring her megawatt smile and trademark blond locks to a third Olympics in Beijing, hoping to fend off a new generation she inspired. One of those women, 20-year-old Zoi Sadowski Synnott of New Zealand, edged out Anderson at last month’s X Games and the 2021 world championships (and already has a bronze as a 16-year-old competing in big air at the Pyeongchang Games). Australia’s Tess Coady, 21, and Japan’s Kokomo Murase, 17, will also be tough competition for Anderson.
Brittany Bowe, 33, Long-track speedskating
Brittany Bowe is among the recent spate of U.S. speedskating stars to make the transition from inline skates to blades. She had a disappointing 2014 Games and won just a bronze in team pursuit in 2018, but expects more individual success in 2022. Since Pyeongchang, Bowe set a world record in the 1,000 meters that’s stood for three years. Bowe currently leads the world cup standings in the 1,000 with two individual wins and is second in the 1,500 with one event win. She’ll be a medal favorite at both distances with a host of Japanese rivals in each distance.
Nao Kodaira and Miho Takagi have both bested Bowe in individual world stops at 1,000 meters, while Takagi has won three of four stops at 1,500.
Not only is Bowe a tremendous athlete, she is also a tremendous person. When Erin Jackson, the current world No. 1 in the 500 meters this year, caught her edge and finished third at the U.S. trials — meaning she would not qualify — Bowe, who won the distance in the trials, graciously passed her spot to her friend and countrywoman Jackson.
Nathan Chen, 22, Figure skating
Chen’s trip to Pyeongchang was supposed to end with a medal. Instead, the teenage prodigy fell apart in the short program and stood in 17th after night one. He showed just how brilliant he could be in the free skate, finishing first and landing six quads — four rotations in midair — including the first quadruple flip in Olympic history. The astonishing night two skate propelled him to fifth overall — off the medal stand but a portent of things to come.
He’s failed to win only one competition in the last four years, including gold medals at the last three world championships. (The championships were canceled due to COVID in 2020.) That includes a dominating win at the 2018 world championships a month after failing in Pyeongchang.
Chen will be a big favorite in Beijing, with familiar rivals from Japan as his main challengers: Yuma Kagiyama, just 18, who won silver at last year’s world championships, and two-time defending Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, who led after the short program at the 2021 world championships before literally stumbling in the free skate. But Chen’s biggest competition may be the demons of what happened in Pyeongchang.
Jessie Diggins, 30, Cross-country skiing
Jessie Diggins immortalized herself in U.S. Olympics history in Pyeongchang when she out-sprinted the competition down the stretch in dramatic fashion in the women’s team sprint to win America’s first cross-country skiing gold alongside Kikkan Randall. Diggins is back in Beijing after four successful years between games proved 2018 was no fluke. She had a tremendous 2020-2021 season, becoming the first American man or woman to win the Tour de Ski, a cross-country skiing event modeled after cycling’s Tour de France, and finished atop the world cup rankings as well — the first American woman ever. She currently stands in third place in this year’s world cup standings and has two individual wins so far.
Diggins’ compatriot in 2018 — Randall — will not be competing in Beijing. She’ll be a strong contender in the individual events though, especially the sprints. It’s cross-country skiing, so you know Scandinavia will be her top competition. Sweden’s Maja Dahlqvist currently stands atop the world cup sprint standings while fellow Swede Frida Karlsson leads in the distance standings. Russian Natalia Nepryaeva, who is talented at both distance and sprint races — like Diggins — is on top of the overall standings.
Chloe Kim, 21, Snowboarding
Were there no age requirements in snowboarding, Chloe Kim would likely be going for a three-peat in Beijing. Kim was already beating the best in the halfpipe snowboarding world in 2014, but the minimum age to compete in the Olympics is 15. So, instead, the Princeton student will be going for a repeat of her gold medal win when she was just 17.
Her win in Pyeongchang launched her, well, higher than a Chloe Kim frontside air, into the ranks of most marketable athletes. She’s been made into a Barbie doll, appeared alongside Serena Williams and Simone Biles in a Nike ad, competed on “The Masked Singer” and been named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People. And when she wasn’t attending college classes, taking time off in 2019 and 2020, she’s continued to dominate in the halfpipe. She won gold at the X Games and world championships in 2021 and was last year’s Dew Tour champ.
In Kim’s last tuneup for the Olympics, she won the world cup tour stop in Switzerland on Jan. 15 needing just her first run. She’ll certainly be the favorite at the 2022 Games, but the home country’s Xuetong Cai and veteran Queralt Castellet of Spain will be medal contenders. Fellow American Maddie Mastro will also threaten the podium.
Elana Meyers Taylor, 37, Bobsled
Elana Meyers Taylor is no newcomer to the Olympics. In fact, this will be her fourth games. But her sport will be making its debut. Meyers Taylor made the transition from two-person bobsled — long in the Winter Games — to the monobob as it is contested at the Olympics for the first time in Beijing. In the two-person sport, the person in front is the driver and the one in the back — largely there for their pushing ability at the start — controls the brake. All of that is left to the sole athlete in monobob. It’s a discipline that has been dominated by the American leading up to the 2022 Games. She wrapped up the world cup title in the monobob Jan. 15 and will be the favorite in Beijing. In fact, her top competition is likely fellow American Kaillie Humphries, who won the world cup title last year.
Meyers Taylor is looking to get the monkey off her back when it comes to winning Olympic gold. In the two-women competition, she holds two silvers — in 2014 and 2018 — and a bronze from Vancouver in 2010. But an added hurdle was thrown into Meyers Taylor’s quest when she tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Beijing. She said she’s asymptomatic and is “optimistic” she’ll recover in time for her event, which doesn’t come until the second week.
Kai Owens, 17, Freestyle skiing
Kai Owens’ journey has come full circle with a trip to Beijing and the 2022 Olympics. Owens was abandoned in a town square as an infant in China and sent to an orphanage in Anhui province, west of Shanghai, where she was adopted by an American couple at 1 year old. She grew up in Vail, Colorado, and took to moguls skiing, where she’s a rising star on the international circuit.
Owens competed in her first world cup event at just 15 and was named rookie of the year on the FIS Freestyle Skiing World Cup tour in 2021. While she’s not a medal favorite, just the journey may be impressive enough.
Mikaela Shiffrin, 26, Alpine skiing
If there’s a face of the Olympic Games, at least for Americans, it’s Mikaela Shiffrin. Shiffrin is one medal away from tying Julia Mancuso for most medals by a female American Alpine skier (four). A particularly successful games — two golds — would tie Shiffrin for most golds ever by a female Alpine skier (four) and three medals of any color would tie her for the overall lead (six). Both of those records are held by Croatian legend Janica Kostelic. Not only would six medals make her the winningest female Alpine skier of all time, it would tie her with Bode Miller for most medals by an American man or woman.
One thing is for sure: Shiffrin will have plenty of chances to move up the all-time leaderboards. She said she hopes to ski in all five individual Alpine events in the Olympics: downhill, super G, giant slalom, slalom and Alpine combined. Shiffrin was atop the world cup standings through 21 of 35 events and though she’s not No. 1 in any of the individual disciplines, she’s second in both giant slalom and slalom and fifth in both downhill and super G. And that combination of skills both in slalom and downhill makes her a big favorite in the Alpine combined.
Shaun White, 35, Snowboarding
Snowboarding, like its sibling skateboarding, is notoriously a young person’s game. But don’t tell that to Shaun White, who is about old enough to be the father of some of his competitors in Beijing. The 35-year-old is going to his fifth Olympics in 2022, a far cry from the “Flying Tomato” who won gold as a 19-year-old in Torino. (Danny Kass, the American who won silver in 2006, hasn’t competed in over a decade despite being only a few years older than White.)
A three-time gold medalist (2006, 2010, 2018), White is a long shot to win a fourth in Beijing. He’s become a part-time competitor on the international level, saving himself for Olympic years. For someone who was the face of the Winter X Games for a decade, winning 15 total gold medals, he hasn’t won gold since 2013 and has only competed twice in the last nine years. In his bid to qualify for Beijing, he just snuck onto the U.S. team with a third place finish Jan. 15 in Laax, Switzerland.
The favorite to win in Beijing will be Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, who earned silver in 2018 and has won the last two world cup stops, including in Laax. He’s also the only snowboarder to ever land a triple cork (that’s three off-axis rotations) in competition. Australia’s Scotty James, the reigning bronze medalist, and Japan’s 19-year-old Ruka Hirano, no relation to Ayumu, are other top competitors. James managed to edge Ayumu Hirano and Ayumu’s brother, Kaishu, at this year’s X Games. Win or lose, the greatest halfpipe snowboarder of all time — and probably the most famous winter athlete period — is worth a watch one last time in the Olympics.
David Wise, 31, Freestyle skiing
He doesn’t have the profile of Shaun White, but David Wise is a two-time defending gold medalist in the halfpipe. He just does it on skis. Like White, he’ll be fending off a slew of younger challengers after a few shaky years of world competition. His last win in world competition came in February 2019 and he hasn’t won X Games gold since 2018. But he took bronze at the X Games this year and stands fourth in the current world cup standings, so he’s still capable of winning a third straight Olympic gold.
While many of the top U.S. competitors in other sports — like White and Chloe Kim — sat out the X Games two weeks ago, the men’s ski halfpipe competition featured most of the top contenders in Beijing. New Zealand’s Nico Porteous, who earned bronze in 2018 at just 16 years old, won gold at last month’s X Games and will be tough to beat in Beijing. Gus Kenworthy, though he couldn’t put together a clean run in Aspen, will be a sentimental favorite since he will retire following the Olympics. Kenworthy earned silver in slopestyle in Sochi, won hearts by saving several stray dogs at those games and publicly came out as gay a year later. The five-time X Games medalist will be competing for Great Britain to honor his mother after competing for the U.S. at the last two games. Canadian Brendan MacKay and Wise’s fellow American Alex Ferreira did not compete at the X Games but are also contenders.
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