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Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics: Top 15 athletes to watch

By Sana Noor Haq, CNN

The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics is the second Games to take place during the coronavirus pandemic, after Tokyo 2020 last summer.

But even a global pandemic hasn’t stumped the ambitions of the nearly 3,000 Olympic hopefuls who are scheduled to compete this year. Athletes from about 91 nations are set to participate in 109 events across seven sports, where we’ll no doubt see nail-biting stories of gold glory — and tear-jerking tales of loss.

From record-holding veterans to newcomers who are full of promise, here are 15 athletes to look out for at Beijing 2022.

Eileen Gu, People’s Republic of China

Hailing from San Francisco, Eileen Gu chose to compete for China rather than the US — it is unclear whether Gu renounced her American citizenship, usually a requirement for Chinese naturalization, since China does not allow dual citizenship — at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.

Between being offered a place at Stanford University to becoming the first Chinese athlete to win the superpipe and slopestyle events at the X Games in 2021, the 18-year-old freestyle skier is one of the teen prodigies hoping to claim gold for hosts China at this year’s Winter Games.

She’ll be competing in the women’s freeski halfpipe, women’s freeski slopestyle and the women’s freeski big air events.

Kamila Valieva, Russian Olympic Committee

At the age of 15, figure skater Kamila Valieva has already broken her own world record. She became the first women’s athlete to smash the 90-point barrier in the short program at the European Figure Skating Championships in January. “Gliding on the ice and the speed are awesome,” she said of figure skating, according to the Olympics website.

Valieva is scheduled to participate in the women’s single skating event, and has already been in action in the team event, with the 15-year-old winning the women’s short program in qualification with 90.18 points.
After the second day of the three-day competition, the ROC have 45 points, three ahead of the USA team, which had led on Saturday.

“I was a little nervous going into the competition, but once I got to the ice, I skated well. I was in control of my program and showed the result I wanted,” said Valieva after the women’s short program.
“I had so much energy going into the end of this short program. I’m skating for my grandmother (who) passed away.”

Mikaël Kingsbury, Canada

Nicknamed the King of Moguls, Canadian Mikaël Kingsbury enjoys golfing, surfing, ice hockey and skateboarding when he’s not breaking freestyle skiing records, according to the Olympics website.

Aside from clinching gold in the men’s moguls event at PyeongChang 2018, Kingsbury has won the most medals of any male participant ever at the Freestyle World Championships.

He’s set to compete in the men’s moguls event at Beijing 2022.

Chloe Kim, United States

It seems Chloe Kim was destined for Olympic glory, having started snowboarding at the age of four.

The story goes that her father immigrated from South Korea to the US with $800 in hand, later giving up his job to support his daughter’s snowboarding ambitions.

“My parents put everything into me and my career, I guess, and it worked out, and I’m so thankful every day,” she told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell last year.

Kim was 17 years old when she won the women’s halfpipe event at PyeongChang 2018, making her the youngest woman to earn an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding.

She’s scheduled to compete in the women’s halfpipe event at this year’s Games.

Ireen Wüst, Netherlands

A legend of speed skating, Ireen Wüst has revealed her plans to retire from the sport after Beijing 2022, making this year’s competition her fifth and final Winter Games, according to the Olympics website.

She’s the most decorated speed skater in history, having won 11 medals throughout her career. Wüst could add to her stellar tally in the women’s 1,000m, women’s 1,500m and women’s 3,000m speed skating events this year.

Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan

Having won successive gold medals at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu has won over the hearts and minds of Olympics fans.

Hanyu isn’t just going for gold at Beijing 2022 — where he’ll be competing in the men’s single skating event and the team event — he also wants to perform the quad axel.

It’s a jump that involves four-and-a-half rotations in the air and has never been completed on competitive ice, according to the Olympics website.

“The people are fascinated by his personality, his performance and his charm,” Yasuo Saito, vice president of the Japan Olympic Committee at the time, told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire in 2018.

Erin Jackson, United States

World No. 1 speed skater Erin Jackson’s hopes of competing at Beijing 2022 were nearly dashed when she failed to qualify for the 500m during the US Trials in January.

However Jackson received a spot after compatriot Brittany Bowe renounced her place, saying at the time, “No one’s more deserving than her to get an opportunity to bring Team USA home a medal.”

But in a fortuitous twist, Bowe will still be able to compete in the 500m after the US picked up an extra spot when some countries returned quota slots for the event.

Bowe will also participate in the women’s 1,000m and 1,500m events. Even though Jackson has only been speed skating for five years, she’s a favorite for gold in the women’s 500m and women’s 1,000m events.

Benjamin Alexander, Jamaica

DJ-turned-alpine skier Benjamin Alexander first developed an interest in snow sports after attending a client’s Christmas helicopter and skiing trip in 2015, according to the Olympics website.

While setting his sights on Olympic glory, he began training with various coaches — even seeking advice from legendary Jamaican bobsledder Dudley ‘Tal’ Stokes.

His ambition to become Jamaica’s first alpine skier at the Winter Games became a reality after he qualified for Beijing 2022 in January. Alexander is scheduled to take part in the men’s giant slalom event on 13 February.

Charlotte Kalla, Sweden

Charlotte Kalla began skiing when she was seven years old, before earning multiple junior world championship medals, according to the Olympics website.

At her fourth Winter Games, she’s one of Sweden’s favorites for gold in cross-country skiing, having won nine Olympic medals across Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018.

Three-time Olympic champion Kalla could add to her track record of gold glory at Beijing 2022, where she’s set to compete in the women’s cross-country skiing event.

Timothy LeDuc, United States

Beijing 2022 could be a competition of firsts for figure skater Timothy LeDuc. The American is set to become the first openly non-binary athlete at their maiden Winter Olympics.

“My hope is that the narrative shifts more to queer people can be open and successful in sports. We’ve always been here, we’ve always been a part of sports. We just haven’t always been able to be open,” LeDuc said in January, according to NBC Sports.

LeDuc is scheduled to compete in the pair skating event with partner Ashley Cain-Gribble and the team event at this year’s Olympics.

Su Yiming, People’s Republic of China

He may be just 17, but Su Yiming is already making history. Last year, he became the first Chinese snowboarder to ever make a World Cup podium in the slopestyle or the big air at Steamboat, Colorado, according to the Olympics website.

He’s part of an 176-athlete roster — China’s largest ever contingent at the Winter Games — which is hoping to bring home gold at Beijing 2022.

Su is set to compete in the men’s snowboard slopestyle and the men’s snowboard big air events.

Johannes Thingnes Bø, Norway

Johannes Thingnes Bø started training in biathlon, which involves cross-country skiing and shooting, in 2009.

He would go on to win three Olympic medals and become the only Norwegian biathlete to claim gold at the Winter Games in 2018.

Beijing 2022 could be the 28-year-old athlete’s penultimate Winter Games, as he has plans to retire after Milano Cortina 2026, according to the Olympics website.

On day one of Beijing 2022, Bø was part of the Norwegian team that won gold in the biathlon mixed relay 4x6km.

Nathan Chen, United States

It seems like Nathan Chen is set in good stead for Olympic glory this year, having broken his own US scoring record in the men’s short program at the US Figure Skating Championships in January.

The three-time world champion considers US figure skater Michelle Kwan as one of his sporting heroes, according to the Olympics website.

This year, he’s scheduled to take part in the men’s singles skating event and the team event, in which he won a bronze medal at PyeongChang 2018.

Arianna Fontana, Italy

With eight medals under her belt, Arianna Fontana joins Apolo Anton Ohno of the US and Russia’s Viktor An in being the most decorated short track speed skaters.

She became the youngest Italian athlete to earn a medal at the Winter Games, when she claimed bronze in the 3,000m relay event at Torino 2006.

Fontana is a firm favorite for gold in the women’s 3,000m relay event at Beijing 2022.

Maame Biney, United States

After PyeongChang 2018, where she became the first Black woman to represent Team USA in the short track speed skating team, Maame Biney was close to hanging up her skates.

But now, she’s hoping her successful recovery will shine through at Beijing 2022, where she’s scheduled to compete in the women’s 3,000m relay event.

Biney told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire in January that she wants to inspire spectators at this year’s Games: “If people are able to laugh and cry of joy and happiness, have love in their life, then their life is going to be more fulfilled. I hope that me being there will help them achieve that.”

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