New faces to watch at the 2022 Winter Olympics

Posted at 4:26 PM, Nov 19, 2021

Each Olympics introduces a brand new crop of talent to the world, and the 2022 Winter Games will be no different as exciting rookies look to announce their arrivals by winning medals and writing their names into Olympic history alongside the established stars.

Below are some of the notable newcomers from the United States and around the world who will be making eagerly anticipated Olympic debuts in February. Past articles have also covered the top U.S. athletes and top international athletes to know ahead of the Winter Games.

Athletes to Watch
Team USA: Part 1 | Part 2
International: Part 1 | Part 2
More: New Faces

Kamila Valieva, ROC, Figure Skating

Teenager Kamila Valieva drew interest from around the world before she even made her international debut in the 2018-19 season with her short program inspired by the Picasso painting “Girl on a Ball.” She won her international debut at a Junior Grand Prix stop in 2019, where she also became the second female skater ever behind fellow Russian Alexandra Trusova to land a quadruple toe loop in competition. She went on to win the 2020 World Junior Championships and took silver at her senior Russian Championships debut. Valieva made her senior international debut at the 2021 CS Finlandia Trophy, which she won in world-record fashion, and then won her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada. In November, she recorded the highest scores in history for both the short program and free skate during her win at the Rostelecom Cup. Not even two weeks into 2022, Valieva further cemented her status as the Olympic gold medal frontrunner by breaking her own short program record again in her European Championships debut, this time by three points. It was the first instance any female skater had surpassed the 90-point barrier in the short program with a clean skate. (Surprise: She won the title.

Kamila Valieva wearing her winner's medal from the 2021 Rostelecom Cup
Kamila Valieva won the 2021 Rostelecom Cup with the highest short program and free skate scores in history.
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Alysa Liu, United States, Figure Skating

Since winning back-to-back U.S. national titles in 2019 and 2020 and becoming the country's youngest singles national champion ever, 16-year-old Alysa Liu has emerged as one of Team USA's top women's figure skaters. She's the first junior American women’s singles skater to complete a triple Axel in international competition and the first female skater from her country to complete a quad jump in competition. Making her senior international debut in 2021, Liu recorded wins at the Cranberry Cup and two Challenger Series events, then finished fifth and fourth in her two Grand Prix assignments. At the 2022 U.S. Championships, Liu managed third in the short program but withdrew from competition less than 24 hours later when she tested positive for COVID. Still, her results from the past calendar year were strong enough to earn her a singles berth at the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Alysa Liu competes in a figure skating event
Alysa Liu won her first U.S. senior national title at the age of 13.

Eileen Gu, China, Freeskiing

After a breakout 2020-21 season that included winning three X Games medals (two gold, one bronze) in one weekend, 18-year-old Eileen Gu's next star turn could come at the Winter Olympics. The freeskiing sensation is one of the sport's rare "triple threats" competing at a high level in all three of halfpipe, slopestyle and big air. Born in San Francisco to an American father and a Chinese mother, Gu attained Chinese citizenship several years ago and will compete for the host nation at these Winter Games, potentially making her one of the biggest stars in and around Beijing.

Eileen Gu at a medal ceremony for the Youth Olympics
Eileen Gu won three medals (two gold, one silver) at the 2020 Youth Olympics.
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Colby Stevenson, United States, Freeski Slopestyle/Big Air

It's a miracle the 24-year-old's competing at a high level – much less, at all – after a May 2016 crash at age 18 left him with a shattered skull and broken ribs, eye socket, jaw and neck. But through hope and determination, Colby Stevenson returned to his skis just five months later, and less than a half-month after that won a World Cup slopestyle contest in Italy. A rotator cuff injury ultimately spoiled his bid to make the PyeongChang Games, but the New Hampshire-born Park City, Utah, native is now headed to his first Winter Olympics. Stevenson won slopestyle gold at the 2020 X Games, earned silver at the 2021 World Championships, and placed first and second in the last two seasons' World Cup standings.

SEE MORE: American Colby Stevenson skis with gratitude after '16 crash

Dusty Henricksen, United States, Snowboard Slopestyle/Big Air

One of the biggest risers in the U.S. snowboarding program in recent years has been Dusty Henricksen of Mammoth Lakes, California. Henricksen won slopestyle gold at the 2020 Youth Olympics, then followed it up with a second-place finish at the Burton U.S. Open a month later. Those accolades earned him his first-ever invite to Winter X Games in January 2021, and he promptly surprised the snowboarding world by winning the slopestyle contest. With that win, Henricksen became the first American man to win snowboard slopestyle at X Games since Shaun White in 2009. If the U.S. is to win men's slopestyle at a third straight Olympics, this 18-year-old could be one of the top hopes for making that happen.

Dusty Henricksen portrait in front of American flag
American snowboarder Dusty Henricksen is coming off a breakout season that has elevated him into an Olympic medal contender.
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Abby Roque, United States, Hockey

Abby Roque is one of the up-and-comers on Team USA's women's hockey team, and for good reason. The 24-year-old was a standout throughout her collegiate days at the University of Wisconsin, helping to lead her team to a National Championship in 2019. In 155 games as a Badger, Roque logged 56 goals and 170 total points. Her best collegiate season came in 2019-20, when she registered 26 goals and 58 points in just 36 games. A member of the Wahnapitae First Nation, Roque is set to become the first Native American woman to play hockey at the Winter Olympics. She is currently the only BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and person of color) player on Team USA's women's roster.

Abby Roque playing in a game for USA Hockey
Abby Roque will make history playing for Team USA at the Winter Games.
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Matty Beniers, United States, Hockey

NHL stars may not be participating in this year's Olympics, but future NHL stars will, and Matty Beniers certainly qualifies as such. The 19-year-old is considered one of the most complete forward prospects in hockey, and he's proved in the lead-up to the Games that he's more than ready to help guide the U.S. to some Olympic hardware. Despite not even being two decades old yet, he's already played a key role for the U.S. in its gold medal-winning run at the World Junior Championship and has helped transform the University of Michigan into one of the most terrifyingly good hockey programs in the nation. The Hingham, Massachusetts native is more than ready for his coming out party, and what better time to have it than on the biggest stage in the sporting world?

Matty Benier, wearing a University of Michigan jersey, passes the puck
At the University of Michigan, Matty Beniers has registered 24 goals and 54 total points in 48 games as a Wolverine.

Jordan Stolz, United States, Speed Skating

A breakout performance at U.S. Olympic Trials suddenly vaulted Wisconsin native Jordan Stolz from an intriguing young prospect into a legitimate medal contender. The 17-year-old, who was previously coached by two-time gold medalist Shani Davis, currently holds junior world records at the 500m and 1000m distances and won his first World Cup medal earlier this season. He'll race both distances at the Winter Games, and while the U.S long track speed skating team will be loaded with talent at these Olympics — Erin Jackson, Brittany Bowe and Joey Mantia are all medal favorites in at least one event — Stolz could be the one leading the charge in future cycles.

Jordan Stolz competes at the 2020 Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Jordan Stolz competes at the 2020 Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Kristen Santos, United States, Short Track

After an injury derailed her Olympic dreams in 2018, Kristen Santos is suddenly a rising star for the U.S. short track team. The 27-year-old looks to be in the midst of a breakout season thanks to her hot start to the 2021-22 campaign. In October, she won a 1000m World Cup race, becoming the first American to win an individual World Cup event in seven years. With multiple podium finishes already under her belt this season, Santos could contend in both the 1000m and 1500m events for her Olympic debut.

Kristen Santos smiles after winning a World Cup race
Currently enjoying a breakthrough season, Connecticut's Kristen Santos has announced her arrival as an Olympic medal contender.
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Winter Vinecki, United States, Aerials

No athlete with the first name "Winter" has competed at the Winter Olympics, but that looks set to change thanks to American aerials skier Winter Vinecki. The Michigan native, who turns 23 in December, has already accomplished a lot outside of her sport. At age 9, she formed the nonprofit Team Winter to raise money for prostate cancer research in honor of her late father. Before turning 15, she became the youngest person to complete a marathon on all seven continents (including Antarctica). Along the way, she was recruited by three-time Olympian Emily Cook into the world of aerials, and now she's coming off a breakout 2020-21 season in which she won her first-ever World Cup event and finished second behind Australia's Laura Peel in the overall rankings.

SEE MORE: Globetrotting U.S. aerial skier Winter Vinecki takes flight

Sturla Holm Laegreid, Norway, Biathlon

He won four golds at his debut senior world championships in 2021, claiming titles in the men's 15km mass start, 20km individual and both relays. Even when taking into account the strange season in which the competition was held, Laegreid's performance remains impressive. The 24-year-old also posted a tremendous World Cup season, placing second overall in standings behind teammate Johannes Thingnes Boe with five victories and eight podiums. He'll have plenty to prove in 2022, but at the very least provides Norway yet another talented skier for future Games.

Sturla Holm Laegreid with his four gold medals from 2021 Worlds
Norway's Sturla Holm Laegreid won four gold medals at the 2021 World Championships.
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River Radamus, United States, Alpine Skiing

At 23 years old, two-time junior world champion River Radamus is set to represent Team USA at his first Winter Olympics in 2022. The Colorado native looks primed for a breakout season, having captured his best career World Cup finish with 6th place in the giant slalom season opener in Austria in October. He's known for unveiling special haircuts each season, and this year was no exception as he showed up to Austria with a "snow leopard" look inspired by two-time Olympian and former U.S. Alpine skier Chad Fleischer.

River Radamus with leopard-spot hair
River Radamus turned heads at the 2021 Soelden World Cup event with a special "snow leopard" haircut.
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