From young prodigies to returning champions, take a look at some of the teams and athletes to watch this year.

On February 4, the Winter Olympics kicked off in Beijing – with no foreign spectators allowed due to Covid restrictions, seven new events added and a record 45 percent of the athletes being female, the Games will be like no other.

IMAGO / AFLOSPORT | Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China in the Pairs Short Program at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure skating on November 5, 2021
IMAGO / AFLOSPORT | Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China in the Pairs Short Program at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure skating on November 5, 2021
IMAGO / PanoramiC | Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the GALA des Championnats de France in Cergy Pontoise on December 18, 2021
IMAGO / PanoramiC | Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the GALA des Championnats de France in Cergy Pontoise on December 18, 2021
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS | Satoko Miyahara competing in the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan on March 24, 2019
IMAGO / ITAR-TASS | Satoko Miyahara competing in the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan on March 24, 2019

Figure Skating

Figure Skating is one of the most meticulous sports combining art, athleticism and perfection, as well as being the oldest sport in the Winter Olympics. It actually debuted in the 1908 London Summer Olympics which was before the first Winter Olympics held in 1924.

The Pairs Competition is always a nail-biter as skaters are thrown, flipped and caught whilst gliding with grace on the ice. With Germany’s champions Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot retired, this year’s Games could be full of surprises. Keep an eye on Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China, and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. For the Singles, Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, Rika Kihira, Hanyu Yuzuru and Uno Shoma, along with Bradie Tennell and Nathan Chen from the United States, are some of the skaters expected to see medals in Beijing.  

IMAGO / Pixsell | Mikaela Shiffrin in the Women’s Slalom at the FIS Ski World Cup Snow Queen Trophy in Zagreb, Croatia on January 4, 2022
IMAGO / Pixsell | Mikaela Shiffrin in the Women’s Slalom at the FIS Ski World Cup Snow Queen Trophy in Zagreb, Croatia on January 4, 2022
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Vincent Krechmayr competing in the Men’s Super G at the FIS World Cup in Bormio, Italy on December 28, 2021
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Vincent Krechmayr competing in the Men’s Super G at the FIS World Cup in Bormio, Italy on December 28, 2021

Alpine Skiing

One of the most prominent favourites for 2022 is Mikaela Shiffrin from The United States – the only skier in FIS Alpine Ski World Cup history to have won all six disciplines. In 2018, she won her second Olympic gold medal after competing in the Giant Slalom, and has won four gold medals at the 2021 World Championships.

Another returning star from PyeongChang is Czech Super-G winner Ester Ledecká. A versatile athlete, she also won gold in the parallel Giant Slalom in Snowboarding. With Corinne Suter and Lara Gut-Behrami of Switzerland as promising competitors, it will be interesting to see if Sofia Goggia of Italy can defend her Olympic crown in the Downhill. 

For the men’s competition we are looking at France and Austria. Mathieu Faivre and Alexis Pinturault (FRA) will likely face off in the Slalom events. Vincent Kriechmayr who dominates in Super-G and Downhill will likely face his Austrian teammate Matthias Mayer along with Kjetil Jansrud of Norway. 

IMAGO / Sammy Minkoff | Ryoyu Kobayashi wins the Four Hills Tournament Decision Final in Bischofshofen, Austria on January 6, 2022
IMAGO / Sammy Minkoff | Ryoyu Kobayashi wins the Four Hills Tournament Decision Final in Bischofshofen, Austria on January 6, 2022
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Andreas Wellinger at the FIS World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria on January 3, 2022
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Andreas Wellinger at the FIS World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria on January 3, 2022
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Sara Takanashi at the FIS World Cup in Ljubno, Slovenia on December 30, 2022
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Sara Takanashi at the FIS World Cup in Ljubno, Slovenia on December 30, 2022

Ski Jump

No one has been able to defend the title of Germany’s Andreas Wellinger who has four Olympic medals. He will be joined with his German teammate Karl Geiger who won two gold medals and a silver in the 2021 World Championships, and Piotr Żyła of Poland who is the 2021 World Champion on the Normal Hill. Perhaps the hardest to beat however will be Kobayashi Ryoyu who has dominated the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup; meanwhile, Germany’s prospects for the Team Events are also ski-high. 

With recent victories in Ljubno before heading to Beijing, Sara Takanashi holds the record for the most individual World Cup wins at 61. With seven World Championship medals, a Winter Olympic medal, three Guinness World Records at only 24 years old, eyes will be following her as she soars through this year’s Winter Games.  

IMAGO / Penta Press | Ireen Wüst, Antoinette De Jong, Irene Schouten of Netherlands competing in the Ladies Team Pursuit during the ISU World Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands on February 12, 2021
IMAGO / Penta Press | Ireen Wüst, Antoinette De Jong, Irene Schouten of Netherlands competing in the Ladies Team Pursuit during the ISU World Speed Skating Championships in Heerenveen, Netherlands on February 12, 2021
IMAGO / VI Images | Sven Kramer in the 5000-meter during the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Salt Lake City on February 13, 2020
IMAGO / ANP | Sven Kramer in the 5000-meter during the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships in Salt Lake City on February 13, 2020
IMAGO / Pro Shots | Brittany Bowe during the ISU World Cup in Heerenveen, Netherlands on January 30, 2021
IMAGO / Pro Shots | Brittany Bowe during the ISU World Cup in Heerenveen, Netherlands on January 30, 2021

Speed Skating

The Netherlands have been a force to be reckoned with in Olympic Speed Skating, and this will not change in 2022. Irene Wüst has eleven medals and is the most decorated active Winter Olympian; if she wins a gold in Beijing, she will be the only athlete in history to have done so in five consecutive Olympics. With Wüst as a favorite for the 1500-meter, her Dutch teammates Antoinette de Jong is a powerhouse in the 300-meter, and Irene Schouten in the 5000-meter. For the men’s competitions we’re looking at Sven Kramer, with nine Olympic medals and four consecutive World Allround Championship wins, along with his Dutch teammate Kjeld Nuis who specializes in the 1000-meter. From Sweden, Nils van der Poel will be tough competition for the Dutch, as he holds the world record in the 1000-meter and the 50000-meter. It goes without saying that both the men’s and women’s Dutch teams will be almost impossible to beat in the Team Pursuits. 

We can’t overlook Brittany Bowe, who is not only the first openly LGBTQ athlete to compete for team USA in Beijing, but the American speed skater will be fighting for medals this year after having faced some of the greatest adversities throughout her career. After a concussion during a training session in 2016-17, and then being diagnosed with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), she spent almost a year off the ice in recovery. The comeback-kid then qualified for the US Olympic team in Pyeongchang, placing in the top five in three individual events, and winning a bronze medal in the Women’s Team Pursuit. She faced wins and setbacks in the seasons following, including placing eighth in the 2020 Salt Lake City World Championships, and navigating training restrictions due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, she has not only qualified for the 2022 Olympic team, but she also won the 1000-meter at the 2021 World Single Distance Speed Skating Championships in which she holds a world record, and took home a silver in the 1500-meter.

IMAGO / Hentschel | Francesco Friedrich piloting team Germany during the IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup in Altenberg, Germany on December 4, 2021
IMAGO / Hentschel | Francesco Friedrich piloting team Germany during the IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup in Altenberg, Germany on December 4, 2021
IMAGO / Sammy Minkoff | Francesco Friedrich and Throsten Margis represent team Germany at the IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria on November 27, 2021
IMAGO / Sammy Minkoff | Francesco Friedrich and Throsten Margis represent team Germany at the IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria on November 27, 2021
IMAGO / Sven Simon | Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz after winning the Gold medal in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 21, 2018
IMAGO / Sven Simon | Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz after winning the Gold medal in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 21, 2018

Bobsleigh

While the US and Canada are some of the top contenders, we are especially looking at our very own German sledders this year, who won every event in the 2018 Olympics. Franceso Friedrich is the star of the show, along with Candy Bauer, Alexander Schüller and Throsten Margis. Mariama Jamanka and Lisa Buckwitz will be among the female athletes from Germany to watch on the Bobs in Beijing.

 

IMAGO / AFLOSPORT | Shaun White competing in the Snowboard Halfpipe during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 14, 2018
IMAGO / AFLOSPORT | Shaun White competing in the Snowboard Halfpipe during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 14, 2018
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Laura Deas of Great Britain IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria on January 17, 2020
IMAGO / GEPA pictures | Laura Deas of Great Britain IBSF Bob & Skeleton World Cup in Innsbruck, Austria on January 17, 2020
IMAGO / SNA | Russia versus Finland during the Euro Hockey Tour in Moscow, Russia on December 19, 2021
IMAGO / SNA | Russia versus Finland during the Euro Hockey Tour in Moscow, Russia on December 19, 2021
IMAGO / Bildbyran | Team Germany win the silver medal in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 25, 2018
IMAGO / Bildbyran | Team Germany win the silver medal in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics on February 25, 2018
IMAGO / Bildbyran | Marte Olsbu Roiseland of Norway competes in the 4x7,5 km Mixed Relay during the IBU Biathlon World Championships in Pokljuka, Slovenia on February 10, 2021
IMAGO / Bildbyran | Marte Olsbu Roiseland of Norway competes in the 4x7,5 km Mixed Relay during the IBU Biathlon World Championships in Pokljuka, Slovenia on February 10, 2021
IMAGO / Bildbyran | Johannes Thingnes Bø of Norway during the men's 10 km sprint at the IBU Biathlon World Cup in Östersund, Sweden on December 2, 2021
IMAGO / Bildbyran | Johannes Thingnes Bø of Norway during the men's 10 km sprint at the IBU Biathlon World Cup in Östersund, Sweden on December 2, 2021
IMAGO / SNA | Sturla Holm Lægreid of Norway and Germany’s Erik Lesser compete during the men's 4x7,5 km relay at the Biathlon World Cup in Östersund, Sweden on December 4, 2021
IMAGO / SNA | Sturla Holm Lægreid of Norway and Germany’s Erik Lesser compete during the men's 4x7,5 km relay at the Biathlon World Cup in Östersund, Sweden on December 4, 2021

Others to watch

The snowboarder nicknamed the ‘flying tomato’ who stole our hearts all those years ago, Shaun White, will be back this year in what he says might be his last Olympics. With the American National Hockey League (NHL) pros opting out of the Games, Ice Hockey could also bring some surprises. Canada and Russia are the top favourites, but don’t overlook Germany, who took home silver in Pyeongchang against Russia. Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Finland are also strong competitors in Olympic Ice Hockey. Germany will also likely see some winners in Skeleton – keep an eye out for Christopher Grotheer, Jacqueline Loelling and Tina Hermann along with bronze medalist Laura Deas of Great Britain. Sweden and Canada will be top contenders for Curling, joined by The United States, Japan, Korea and Switzerland. In Speedskating Short-Track – which will have the mixed-relay as a new event – Korea is the powerhouse, with China, the Netherlands, Italy and Canada having solid prospects as well. 

The Norwegian biathletes are also expected to be seen shooting their way to the podiums: Marte Olsbu Røiseland, Johannes Thingnes Bø, Sturla Holm Lægreid will be names to keep on the radar. Norway also dominates in Cross-Country Skiing. Among the favourites are Simen Hegstad Krüger and Johannes Høsflot Klæbo on the men’s team, and Marit Bjørgen and Therese Johaug on the women’s – but they should watch out for their Swedish and German neighbors, who will also be fighting for the top ranks.  

Words and images by Columnist, Sofia Bergmann.  Our Winter Olympic series includes archive highlights.

                        

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