11 athletes to watch as the Winter Olympics begin

Some are young stars who’ll be around for a long time, while others might be competing in the Olympics for their final Games

Legendary snowboarder Shaun White might be competing in his fifth, and likely last, Olympics. (AP Photo/Hugh Carey, File) (Hugh Carey, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

With the NFL on a break for a week until Super Bowl festivities begin, a lot of focus now can turn to the start of the latest Winter Olympics, which open Friday in Beijing.

While it’s hard to predict the future and guess exactly which athletes will rise up and capture hearts around the world during the Games, here is a list of 11 people who are good bets to do so -- and these are the ones you’ll want to watch as the action gets underway.

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The athletes are listed in alphabetical order.

1. Francesco Friedrich, Germany

Francesco Friedrich of Germany celebrates after winning the gold medal during the IBSF World Championships 2021 Altenberg 2-Man Bobsleigh competition. Photo by Martin Rose. (Getty Images)

The world’s premier bobsled driver, Friedrich won gold in both the two-man and four-man events in 2018, and is a good bet to do so again this year for the Germans. Friedrich also led Germany to an easy World Championship in 2021.

2. Eileen Gu, China

Eileen Gu of Team China. Photo by Maddie Meyer. (Getty Images)

One of the best medal hopes for the host country, the 18-year-old Gu is actually an American citizen from San Francisco who is about to enroll at Stanford University and already has a modeling career.

But she made the decision to compete for China, which is where her mother was born, three years ago. That decision drew some controversy — and even outrage — from some who follow U.S. skiing closely, who called Gu a traitor on social media, according to ESPN.

Seeking to become China’s first gold medalist in freestyle skiing, Gu has already won gold medals at the World Championships and X Games.

3. Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan performs during the Men Free Skating Program at the Figure Skating World Championships in Stockholm, Sweden, Saturday, March 27, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

In the minds of many Americans, the figure skating events are the signature events at the Winter Olympics, and there might not be a better male figure skater ever than the 27-year-old Hanyu. The two-time defending Olympic champion, Hanyu has broken world records 19 times and will look to become the first man to win three straight Olympic titles since Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden did so in 1920, 1924 and 1928.

4. Erin Jackson, United States

Erin Jackson of Team United States skates during a speed skating practice session ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images (Getty Images)

The first Black woman to win a World Cup event in speed skating, Jackson is the world’s No. 1-ranked long track speed skater in the 500 meters. She will be competing in the Olympics on an incredible gesture by teammate Brittany Bowe. After slipping during qualifying at the U.S. trials, Jackson finished third, initially not qualifying for the Olympics because the top two finishers earned spots on the Olympic team. But Bowe, who also qualified for the 1,000 and 1,500 meter events, gave up her spot in the 500 meters to Jackson.

5. Charlotte Kalla, Sweden

Charlotte Kalla of Sweden competes during the Women's Cross Country 10 km F at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships. Photo by Matthias Hangst. (Getty Images)

One of the most decorated cross-country skiers ever, Kalla has won nine Olympic medals, including four in 2018. The 34-year-old will look to add to that total in Beijing in what could be her last Olympics.

6. Chloe Kim, United States

Chloe Kim of the U.S. reacts after winning the women's snowboard halfpipe final during the U.S. Grand Prix World Cup at Buttermilk Ski Resort on March 21, 2021, in Aspen, Colorado.

Kim was a teen sensation four years ago in PyeongChang, becoming the youngest female to win an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding when she won the halfpipe at age 17. She’s the reigning world and X Games champion also, and could end up being more decorated than the legendary Shaun White, when her career is over.

7. Mikael Kingsbury, Canada

The record holder for the most moguls World Cup titles, Kingsbury is the defending Olympic and world champion in the event, and should be a favorite to win another gold medal.

8. Mikaela Shiffrin, United States

United States' Mikaela Shiffrin looks at the scoreboard after completing an alpine ski women's World Cup slalom, in Schladming, Austria, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Giovanni Maria Pizzato) (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The current face of U.S. skiing, Shiffrin won the gold medal in the slalom at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and a gold in the giant slalom at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. If she wins a third gold medal in Beijing, she’ll become the first American alpine skier, male or female, to win three gold medals.

9. Sara Takanashi, Japan

Sara Takanashi of Japan competes during the Individual HS98 at the FIS World Cup Ski Jumping Women Ramsau. (Photo by Franz Kirchmayr/SEPA.Media /Getty Images) (Getty Images)

An electrifying ski jumper, Takanashi at age 25 already has broken records for women by winning four World Cup titles and 60 World Cup wins. She won a bronze medal in the individual normal hill event in 2018.

10. Shaun White, United States

Shaun White, of the United States, after his third run in the snowboarding halfpipe finals, Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021, during the Dew Tour at Copper Mountain, Colo. (AP Photo/Hugh Carey) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

It seems like yesterday the sensation known as “The Flying Tomato” introduced himself to the world by winning the gold medal in the halfpipe at the 2006 Turin Olympics at the age of 19. Now a grizzled veteran who has the most Olympic and X-Games gold medals by a snowboarder, White might be competing in his last Olympics at the age of 35. He’ll be looking for his fourth gold medal in his fifth Olympics.

11. Ireen Wust, The Netherlands

Ireen Wust of The Netherlands during the ISU World Cup Speed Skating at Thialf Icerink on Jan 30, 2021, in Heerenveen, The Netherlands. (2021 BSR Agency)

The most decorated long-track speed skater for the sport’s most dominant country (121 total medals in Olympic history), Wust became the first athlete to win a gold medal at four different Winter Olympics when she did so in 2018.

She’ll shoot to win a gold medal at a fifth Olympics in Beijing, which would make her the first Olympian overall, summer or winter, to do so.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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