At the last Winter Olympics, four countries — Norway, Germany, Canada and the Netherlands — joined the United States in winning at least 20 total medals. All four nations will once again field multiple strong medal contenders in 2022, but other countries such as New Zealand and Estonia that traditionally don't win many medals will also be able to dream of gold thanks to their up-and-coming young stars.
In this two-part series, we'll give you a look at some of the top athletes from around the world to watch out for this winter. Part 1 covered the snow sports, and Part 2 here features the ice and sliding sports. Previous articles have also listed some of the top American athletes to know.
Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan, Figure Skating
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, the first Asian skater to win the Olympic men’s singles title, dealt with injury in late 2018 and had to pull out of Japan’s national championships. He returned to compete at the 2019 World Championships, still suffering from an ankle injury, and finished second behind Nathan Chen. Later in 2019, Hanyu competed in his first Japanese championships since the 2016-17 season, but took silver behind Shoma Uno – his first loss to Uno. Later in the season, he became the first male skater to achieve a Super Slam with a win at the Four Continents Championships. After reinjuring his ankle in November, Hanyu finds himself in the same situation as four years ago — racing to get healthy before the Winter Olympics begin. Recent performances indicate he's still a force on the ice: Hanyu came close to landing an unprecedented quadruple Axel on his way to winning December's Japan figure skating nationals. While the move was downgraded, it's very likely he will attempt it again at the Olympics — and, if successful, might clinch a third gold.
Kamila Valieva, ROC, Figure Skating
Russia's Kamila Valieva is the odds-on favorite to earn women's singles gold at the upcoming 2022 Winter Games – and may very well set another world record in the process. The Kazan native started skating at age 5, and has since dedicated her whole life to training and competing on the ice. She is taught by perhaps the world’s most famous figure skating coach, Eteri Tutberidze, who led Alina Zagitova to Olympic gold in 2018. Perhaps more than any one title, move or world record, what truly sets Valieva apart is her consistency: She has set eight world records and is the current world record holder for the women’s short program (90.45 points at January’s 2022 European Figure Skating Championships – the first time any female skater has crossed the 90-point threshold), free skate (185.29 points, at the 2021 Rostelecom Cup) and total (a whopping 272.71 points at the 2021 Rostelecom Cup). Valieva has never lost a senior international tournament; she has placed second in two of five senior-level competitions in her home country.
Marie-Philip Poulin, Canada, Hockey
Marie-Philip Poulin has done it all at this point. The 30-year-old has led Canada's women's hockey team to three Olympic medals, including a pair of golds from 2010 and 2014. Poulin averages well over a point per game in international competition, and she's expected to once again be one of the Canadians' top point producers in Beijing.
Ireen Wuest, Netherlands, Speed Skating
A long time ago, speed skater Ireen Wuest won 3000m gold as a 19-year-old to become the Netherlands’ youngest Olympic champion ever. Now 35, she is the most decorated Olympic athlete her sport has ever seen. Wuest has already revealed plans to retire following the 2022 Games, but not before trying to add to her tally of 11 medals split across four Olympics and four separate events.
Arianna Fontana, Italy, Short Track
Italy’s 31-year-old short track star, Arianna Fontana, can become the most decorated athlete in her sport’s history with a podium finish in 2022. She's already head and shoulders above every other female Olympic skater with eight medals, tied with Apolo Ohno and Viktor Ahn for the most all-time across all competitors. Fontana is at her best when the race pace is swiftest, specializing in the 500m sprint event.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, Canada, Ice Dance
After finishing eighth at the 2018 Olympic Games, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier took sixth at the 2018 World Championships. They went on to take second at the 2019 Canadian Championships and seventh at 2019 Worlds. Gilles and Poirier won their first national title in 2020, then their first world championships medal in 2021. The duo took bronze in Stockholm, just .36 points behind silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — the latter of whom is Gilles’ former partner. They opened the 2021 Grand Prix series at Skate Canada, winning their second straight gold.
Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov, ROC, Pairs Figure Skating
After barely missing out on an individual medal at the 2018 Olympic Games, Russian pairs team Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won the silver medal at the next two world championships. The duo has had mixed results over the past few seasons. They took silver at the 2020 European Championships, but then the early part of the 2020-21 season was hampered by each contracting COVID-19 at different times. After both recovered, they won the 2021 Russian Championships and placed fourth at the World Championships. Russian teams have historically dominated pairs competition — if Tarasova and Morozov falter, there’s usually another Russian duo nipping at their heels. They opened the 2021 Grand Prix series with a win at Skate America.
John Morris, Canada, Curling
A two-time curling gold medalist for Canada, John Morris is once again gunning to earn more hardware this winter. The 43-year-old won mixed doubles gold at PyeongChang 2018, as well as a gold in the men's competition at Vancouver 2010. Now focused primarily on mixed doubles, the pairing of Morris and Rachel Homan was selected to represent Canada in that competition at the Winter Games.
Francesco Friedrich, Germany, Bobsled
Double Olympic champion Francesco Friedrich, already the most successful bobsledder in world championships history, has his sights set on another Games in 2022. He tied for gold in the two-man competition and won outright in the four-man competition in PyeongChang, becoming the fifth German pilot to win both disciplines at a single Olympics. Friedrich has won 13 world titles, including six since 2018 and seven straight two-man titles. Most recently, he dominated the two- and four-man standings at the 2021-22 Bobsled World Cup series, winning seven of eight two-man and four-man events.
Natalie Geisenberger, Germany, Luge
Already the most decorated female Olympic luger in history, Natalie Geisenberger is on the path to compete at her fourth Games in 2022. She followed up her 2018 singles and team relay gold medals with gold in the sprint and singles contests at the 2019 World Championships, then announced ahead of the 2019-20 season that she was pregnant with her first child. She gave birth to her son, Leo, in May 2020 and returned to take second place in the first eight World Cup races of the 2020-21 season, then won two straight stops. She was ultimately crowned the overall World Cup champion in her return to the circuit.
Yun Sung-Bin, South Korea, Skeleton
South Korean Yun Sung-Bin became the first non-European or North American athlete to win an Olympic sliding medal in 2018 when he topped the men’s skeleton podium — and it wasn’t close. His 1.63-second lead on silver medalist Nikita Tregubov was the largest margin in Olympic skeleton history. Ahead of that win, he became the first Asian athlete to ever win the overall title on the Skeleton World Cup circuit. Yun went on to take bronze at the 2019 World Championships but didn’t race for nearly 11 months amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the South Korean National Team opted to skip the World Cups early in the 2020-21 season. He returned to racing in January 2021, taking bronze at the Switzerland World Cup stop.