By Sana Noor Haq, CNN
The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are the second Games to take place during the coronavirus pandemic, following Tokyo 2020 last summer.
But even a global pandemic has not dampened the ambitions of the nearly 3,000 Olympic hopefuls who are due to compete this year. Athletes from around 91 nations will compete in 109 events across seven sports, where we will no doubt see biting tales of golden glory – and heartbreaking tales of loss.
From record-holding veterans to up-and-coming newcomers, here are 15 athletes to watch at Beijing 2022.
Eileen Gu, People’s Republic of China
Originally from San Francisco, Eileen Gu renounced her US citizenship in 2019 so she could compete for China at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
From 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 teenage prodigies hoping win gold for hosts China at this year’s Winter Games.
She will compete in women’s freeski halfpipe, women’s freeski slopestyle and women’s big air freeski.
Kamila Valieva, Russian Olympic Committee
At 15, figure skater Kamila Valieva has already broken her own world record. She became the first female athlete to break the 90-point mark in the short program at the European Figure Skating Championships in January. “The glide on the ice and the speed are awesome,” she said of figure skating, according to the Olympics website.
Valieva is due to compete in the women’s individual skating event and has already been in action in the team event, with the 15-year-old winning the women’s short program in qualifying with 90.18 points.
At the end of the second day of the three-day competition, the ROC have 45 points, three ahead of the American team, which had led on Saturday.
“I was a little nervous at the start of the competition, but once on the ice, I skated well. I was in control of my program and showed the result I wanted,” Valieva said after the women’s short program.
“I had so much energy at the end of that short program. I skate for my grandmother (who) passed away.
Mikael Kingsbury, Canada
Nicknamed the King of Moguls, Canadian Mikaël Kingsbury enjoys golf, surfing, ice hockey and skateboarding when he’s not breaking freestyle skiing records, according to the Olympics website.
As well as taking gold in the men’s moguls event at PyeongChang 2018, Kingsbury has won the most medals of any male entrant at the Freestyle Skiing World Championships.
He is ready 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 United States with $800 in hand, later quitting his job to support his daughter’s snowboarding ambitions.
“My parents put everything into me and into my career, I guess, and it worked out, and I’m so grateful every day,” she told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell last year.
Kim was 17 when she won the women’s halfpipe event at PyeongChang 2018, making her the youngest woman to win an Olympic gold medal in snowboarding.
She is scheduled to compete in the women’s halfpipe event at this year’s Games.
Ireen Wüst, Netherlands
Speed skating legend Ireen Wüst has revealed her intention 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 is the most decorated speed skater in history, having won 11 medals during her career. Wust could add to her stellar record in the women’s 1000m, 1500m and 3000m speed skating events this year.
Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
After winning successive gold medals at Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu has captured the hearts and minds of Olympic Games fans.
Hanyu isn’t just aiming for gold at Beijing 2022 – where he will compete in the men’s individual 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.
“People are fascinated by his personality, his performance and his charm,” Yasuo Saito, then vice president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire in 2018.
Erin Jackson, United States
World number one speed skater Erin Jackson’s hopes of competing at Beijing 2022 were nearly dashed when she failed to qualify for the 500m at the US trials in January.
However, Jackson secured a berth after fellow countrywoman Brittany Bowe relinquished her spot, saying at the time, “No one deserves the opportunity to bring a medal to Team USA more than her.”
But in a fortuitous twist, Bowe will still be able to compete in the 500m after the United States secured an extra spot when some countries returned quota slots for the event.
Bowe will also compete in the women’s 1000m and 1500m events. Although Jackson has only been speed skating for five years, she is a favorite for gold in the women’s 500m and women’s 1,000m.
Benjamin Alexander, Jamaica
DJ-turned-alpine skier Benjamin Alexander first developed an interest in snow sports after attending a client’s Christmas helicopter and ski trip in 2015, according to the Olympics website.
While aiming for Olympic glory, he began training with various coaches, even seeking advice from legendary Jamaican bobsledder Dudley “Tal” Stokes.
His ambition to become the first ever Jamaican alpine skier at the Winter Games came true after qualifying for Beijing 2022 in January. Alexander is scheduled to compete in the men’s giant slalom event on February 13.
Charlotte Kalla, Sweden
Charlotte Kalla started skiing at the age of seven, before winning several medals at the world junior championships, according to the Olympics website.
At her fourth Winter Games, she is one of Sweden’s favorites for gold in cross-country skiing, having won nine Olympic medals at Vancouver 2010, Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018.
Three-time Olympic champion Kalla could add to her gold medal tally at Beijing 2022, where she is 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 his first Winter Olympics.
“My hope is that the narrative leans more towards queer people who can be open and successful in sports. We’ve always been here, we’ve always been part of the sport. We just haven’t always been able to be open,” LeDuc said in January, according to NBC Sports.
LeDuc is due to compete in the pair event with partner Ashley Cain-Gribble and the team event at this year’s Olympics.
Su Yiming, People’s Republic of China
He may only be 17, but Su Yiming is already making history. Last year, he became the first Chinese snowboarder to reach the World Cup podium in slopestyle or big air in Steamboat, Colorado, according to the Olympics website.
He is part of a roster of 176 athletes – the largest Chinese contingent to ever compete at the Winter Games – who are hoping to win gold at Beijing 2022.
Su is set to compete in the men’s snowboard slopestyle and 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 win three Olympic medals and become the only Norwegian biathlete to win gold at the 2018 Winter Games.
Beijing 2022 could be the 28-year-old’s penultimate Winter Games as he plans to retire after Milano Cortina 2026, according to the Olympics website.
On the first day of Beijing 2022, Bø was part of the Norwegian team that won gold in the 4×6 km mixed biathlon relay.
Nathan Chen, United States
It looks like Nathan Chen is well-positioned for Olympic glory this year, after breaking his own US goalscoring record in the men’s short program at the US Figure Skating Championships in January.
The three-time world champion considers American figure skater Michelle Kwan one of his sporting heroes, according to the Olympics website.
This year he is due to compete in the men’s singles event and the team event, in which he won a bronze medal at PyeongChang 2018.
Arianna Fontana, Italy
With eight medals to her name, Arianna Fontana joins Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States and Viktor An of Russia to be the most decorated short track speed skaters.
She became the youngest Italian athlete to medal at the Winter Games, when she captured bronze in the 3000m relay at Turin 2006.
Fontana is one of the favorites for the women’s 3000m relay gold at Beijing 2022.
Maame Biney, United States
After PyeongChang 2018, where she became the first black woman to represent Team USA on the short track speed skating team, Maame Biney nearly hung up her skates.
But now she will be hoping her successful recovery will be felt at Beijing 2022, where she is due to compete in the women’s 3,000m relay.
Biney told CNN Sport’s Coy Wire in January that she wanted to inspire spectators at this year’s Games: “If people are able to laugh and cry with joy and happiness, to have love in their lives , then their life will be more fulfilled. I hope my presence will help them achieve this.
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