BEIJING, China — The Winter Olympics are set to begin in Beijing next week, with preliminary curling matches and luge heats kicking things off on Wednesday ahead of Friday's official Opening Ceremony.
It only seems like yesterday that the world had its eyes on Japan for the Summer Olympics, and yet here we are again for the Winter Games in China. Such is the nature of the Olympic calendar after the Tokyo Olympics were originally delayed due to the pandemic.
For Team USA, the Winter Olympics are historically not quite as dominant an occasion as the Summer Olympics are — while the United States routinely finishes atop the medal table at the Summer Games, Team USA was fourth in the medal table at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Still, there's plenty of star Winter Olympians among the Americans headed to Beijing, and plenty of medals to be won at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Here's where Team USA will have their best shots:
Back in 2018 at Pyeongchang, the USA women's hockey team avenged their runner-up finish to Canada four years before by edging the Canadians in a shootout for gold.
Led by familiar stars such as Kendall Coyne Schofield, Hillary Knight and Brianna Decker, the U.S. will be looking to defend that gold with the Canadians again looming as their stiffest rivals.
It's never easy with Canada — at last year's World Championships, the U.S. embarrassingly fell to the host Canadians 5-1 in the group round, but recovered and met them again in the final where they were defeated 3-2 in overtime. But at the previous World Championships, in 2019 in Finland, the Americans beat Canada in the group round en route to winning gold that year.
The recent record suggests gold is no guarantee in Beijing, but it would be stunning for the U.S. to not at least see silver.
If there's one event where the Winter Olympics feel a lot more like the Summer Olympics for the United States, it's snowboarding. Team USA has topped the medal table in this sport at every Winter Olympics since 2002.
Four years ago in South Korea, the U.S. won four of the 10 overall god medals available.
Shaun White claimed gold in the halfpipe after striking out in 2014, and at 35 years old he's back for his fifth Olympics. Chloe Kim, maybe the brightest young star in the world in the sport, will also be going for her second straight halfpipe gold. No one came close to her score in 2018, and she was similarly dominant in winning gold at the World Championships last year.
Red Gerard won gold in slopestyle in 2018, and is coming into these Winter Olympics of a gold-medal showing last month at the star-studded Dew Tour competition in Colorado. There, he beat out names like Mark McMorris (bronze in 2018) and Marcus Kleveland (gold at last year's World Championships). Jamie Anderson is also out to defend her 2018 gold medal (she had a silver in big air at Pyeongchang as well), but faces a stiff challenge in New Zealand's rising superstar Zoi Sadowski-Synnott.
In the snowboard cross racing event, Lindsey Jacobellis is a five-time world champion, most recently in 2017, who at 36 is hoping to capture some magic to get her first gold. Her lone Olympic medal was a silver in 2006.
Mikaela Shiffrin is the name everyone knows here, and she's coming off a showing at the 2021 World Championships where she captured four medals - gold in the alpine combined event, silver in giant slalom, and bronze in slalom and super-G (see here for an explanation of the differences between those.)
The 26-year-old is a two-time gold-medalist (slalom in 2014, giant slalom in 2018) and in 2018 added a silver as well in the combined event. Hopes are high for her to do more of the same in Beijing.
Beyond Shiffrin though, there's not really another slam-dunk star skier for the United States. Lindsey Vonn was the other standard-bearer, but she's now retired. On the men's side, Bryce Bennett did pull out a shocking downhill win at an FIS World Cup event in Italy in December, but he's not considered a very serious medal contender.
A promising women's downhill contender, Breezy Johnson, will miss the Olympics with an injury.
There's a whole host of medal chances among the U.S. freestyle skiers.
David Wise is looking for his third straight halfpipe Olympic gold, with competition from his own teammates looming in Alex Ferreira (silver in 2018) and Aaron Blunck (2019 world champion). The U.S. also expects big things out of 17-year-old Hanna Faulhaber on the women's side of the halfpipe, though she may not yet be an odds-on favorite for a medal.
There's a lot of competition among the American men in slopestyle. Nick Goepper won silver in slopestyle in 2018, and Alex Hall won silver last year at the World Championships in that discipline, while Colby Stevenson also won bronze.
Ashley Caldwell was a silver medalist at least year's World Championships in aerials, and was the world champion in the event in 2017. She also took home a bronze last year in the mixed aerials. Winter Vinecki — who most certainly has the most appropriate name of anyone at the Olympics — also registered a very strong season last year on the World Cup circuit.
Chris Lillis on the men's side, like Caldwell, claimed a silver in the aerials last year and a bronze in the mixed aerials.
This really boils down to Nathan Chen.
The 22-year-old star is the three-time defending world champion, eager to improve on a disappointing fifth-place finish in South Korea in 2018.
He's also won the last three golds in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, and before stumbling last year at a Grand Prix event in Las Vegas he had won a remarkable 14 straight competitions he'd entered into.
Brittany Bowe is a big hope here, after she won the world championship in the 1,000 meters last year and also pulled in a silver in the 1,500 meters. She also topped the 2020-21 ISU Speed Skating World Cup standings in both those distances.
This season she's again atop the 1,000 meters standings so far, with two first-place finishes and a second and a third in four events, and she's second in the 1,500 meter standings.
Erin Jackson has also generated some lofty expectations with a hot start to the 2021-22 World Cup series. In 2018 she became the first Black woman to qualify for Team USA in long-track speed skating, after only four months of experience on ice following a competitive career in inline skating.
She's on top of the 500-meter standings with five wins in eight races.
For the American men, Joey Mantia has had impressive results so far in the new World Cup season and is comfortably in first in the 1,500 meter standings.
For short track speed skating, Kristen Santos is off to a very strong start on the World Cup circuit, with a first and two thirds at four events. She's second in the 1,000 meter standings.
John-Henry Krueger won silver in the 1,000 meters in 2018, but he's since switched allegiances to Hungary because of financial considerations.
Georgia's own Elana Meyers Taylor and Kaillie Humphries are the big stars to watch here. The two are strong contenders to battle it out for the women's monobob gold as the discipline makes its debut at the Olympics.
Humphries won the 2021 world championship in the monobob while Meyers Taylor finished a disappointing 15th.
But Meyers Taylor roared back with an electric 2021-22 Bobsleigh World Cup season, beating out Humphries for the monobob championship with four individual wins and a second-place finish in the 23-race series. She also finished atop the two-woman standings and was the World Cup's overall champion.
The U.S. men's team won gold back in 2018, though they've disappointingly followed that up with quarterfinal knockouts at the last two World Curling Championships.
Still, they head into the 2022 Olympics ranked fourth in the world, meaning they'll definitely be in the mix.
Not exactly a traditional American winter sport, this is only really here because of Jessie Diggins.
Diggins and Kikkan Randall won gold in the team sprint in 2018, only the second U.S. medal ever in cross-country skiing.
She owns a number of medals from the World Championships, including silver in 2017 in the individual sprint, and she's excelling in the 2021-22 FIS Cross-Country World Cup season — third in the overall standings after 17 of 29 events, and third in the sprint after seven of 12 events (as well as seventh in distance after nine of 15 events).
Since missing out on a medal in 2018 with a fourth-place finish in South Korea, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have finished second, third and second in the last three World Championships, suggesting they more than have it in them to capture a medal in Beijing.
They also had two top-three finishes in the six-event 2021-22 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
Madison Chock and Evant Bates, who had two second-place finishes of their own, finished ninth at the 2018 Olympics and fourth at last year's World Championships, but edged out Hubbell and Donohue for silver at the last Grand Prix Final in 2020. They were the 2015 World Championship silver medalists, as well.