10 top athletes to watch at the Winter Olympics

“Through skiing, I hope to unite people, promote common understanding, create communication and forge friendships between nations,” she said.

Gu, who speaks Chinese and English, has been heavily promoted by Chinese state media ahead of the Games as the Chinese government sets a goal to involve 300 million people in winter sports .

The wonderkid – who has been criticized by former members of the US ski team for defecting – is not just a symbol of these Olympics, but of China’s growing global economic, cultural and sporting clout.

If she wins three gold medals at the Games, she will triple China’s medal count since Pyeongchang in 2018.

Hanyū Yuzuru – figure skating – Japan

Hanyu, the greatest figure skater of his generation, will try to equal a nearly century-old record in Beijing. The Japanese “ice prince” is aiming for a third consecutive Olympic gold medal in men’s singles. The last man to do so was Swedish maestro Gillis Grafström in 1928.

Hanyu broke the world record 19 times doing donut tricks and quadruple jumps to soundtracks ranging from Prince to Chopin.

But this year’s performance comes with an additional variable. Hanyu’s symbol is Winnie the Pooh. A box of tissues with the fictional character AA Milne on top was laid out on the track with him for each of his Grand Slam victories. Japanese fans or “Fanyus” are known to throw their teddy bears on the rink in adoration after finishing their performances.

Cute, but generally not controversial – except in China – where Winnie the Pooh is banned.

The honey-hungry bear resembles Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has been exploited by government critics to ridicule the Chinese leader. It saw Winnie-the-Pooh erased from the Chinese internet by its army of state censors.

Yuzuru will be looking for a third gold medal – with or without his lucky charm – when he hits the ice on February 8.

Belle Brockhoff and Jarryd Hughes – snowboard cross – Australia

Jarryd Hughes and Belle Brockhoff.Credit:PA

Australia’s gold medal chance selection, Brokhoff and Hughes won the mixed snowboard cross at last year’s world championships.

The mixed discipline will make its Olympic debut in Beijing. Snowboard cross is similar to BMX racing at the Summer Games with competitors racing down a course of jumps and tight turns while meeting regularly. In mixed teams, the pair will have the added hurdle of a relay to cross the finish line.

Brockhoff, who has competed in singles at the last two Olympics, won his first singles World Cup alongside Alex “Chumpy” Pullin, who drowned in a spearfishing accident on the Gold Coast in 2020.

“I only want to win one thing,” she said last year. “And that’s a gold medal at the Games.”

In 2016, Hughes became the youngest winner and the first Australian to win a Winter X Games gold medal. He followed that up with a silver medal at Pyeongchang in 2018.

Canada vs USA – ice hockey

The most publicized team sport at the Winter Olympics, ice hockey has been linked to the Cold War clash between the United States and Russia, decades of rivalry between the United States and their neighbors Canada and, more recently, the poaching of talent by China to bolster its roster.

China will field one Russian, three Americans, nine Chinese and eleven 11 Canadians in their 24-man squad, but even that level of talent scouting is unlikely to see them make it past the group stages. Russia, decades after the ‘miracle on ice’ and the Soviet Union’s 30-year dominance of the sport, will also struggle to feature in the gold medal game.

It will almost certainly return to Canada and the United States in both men’s and women’s competitions. Both giants will be without their National Hockey League players due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the world’s biggest league, but they remain ahead of their rivals in what will be a quick and brutal encounter.

Bree Walker – bobsled – Australia

Australian bobsledder Bree Walker.

Australian bobsledder Bree Walker.

The Australian hurdler turned bobsledder has risen in the world rankings to world number five in monobob over the past year. Monobob, the women’s solo event making its Olympic debut this year, requires athletes to toss down a track in a sled weighing 162 kilograms. To achieve ultimate speed, bobsledders must maximize their acceleration off the start and then maintain that pace all the way to the bottom of the slide, making former runners and hurdlers ideal athletes to convert to winter sports.

Walker has been on a rapid rise since his debut in 2018, winning five World Series medals in the past year.

“I love the adrenaline rush of hurtling down a mountain at over 100 km/h,” she said.

Natalie Geisenberger – luge – Germany

The most decorated female luge in Olympic history is aiming for her third consecutive gold medal at these Games. If she wins a medal of any color, she will be tied with Armin “the cannibal” Zöggeler for a record six Olympic medals in the sport. Victory in the relay event, which the Germans are also favorites to win, will see her surpass that mark.

Danielle Scott – aerial skiing – Australia

Scott had never skied before when she was recruited by world champion and five-time Olympian Jacqui Cooper in 2006. Aerial skiing, which requires athletes to jump off a ramp and land at a 45-degree angle , has a productive knack for spotting the floor in gymnastics, and at age 13, Scott jumped at the chance to change careers.

“Flip and twist with skis looked like a pretty epic sport to do!” she said last year.

Now in his third Games, Scott is on the medal list after landing three backflips to win gold at a World Cup in Finland in December.

Laura Peel – aerial skiing – Australia

Australian Winter Olympian Laura Peel.

Australian Winter Olympian Laura Peel.

Aerials has been one of Australia’s strongest winter sports, with Alisa Camplin winning gold in 2002 followed by Lydia Lassila in 2010. Peel is seen as a strong medal chance in Beijing as one of only three women to land a quad twist triple backflip. The two-time world champion ended 2021 with a victory at the Deer Valley World Cup with a best score of 118.5.

Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt – curling – Australia

This is Australia’s first appearance in Olympic curling after more than two decades of official competition. Gill and Hewitt were coached before the Games by reigning Canadian Olympic champion John Morris. He let them know he wouldn’t be giving any advice during Olympic competition, but his training to date has helped them turn a niche pursuit into an Australian Olympic sport for the first time. They are underdogs in a field of 10, but that hasn’t stopped the Aussies from winning a surprise Olympic medal before.

“We’re aiming for the top half,” Hewitt said Wednesday. “But everyone here has a chance to win medals.”

Mikaela Shiffrin – Alpine Skiing – USA

Mikaela Shiffrin, from the United States.

Mikaela Shiffrin, from the United States.Credit:PA

The two-time Olympic gold medalist, who holds the record for most slalom victories in history, has everything ahead of her at these Games. The dominant alpine skier of the past eight years will be aiming for three gold medals in Beijing.

“The thing I’m most proud of right now is that I know how to win in slalom, [giant slalom]super-G and downhill, which I didn’t really expect would happen,” the 26-year-old said last year.

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Naomi C. Amerson