10 breakout athletes to watch in the Winter Olympics


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The Beijing Olympics begin Friday, with athletes set to compete in 109 medal events across seven sports and 15 disciplines. Competitors from 91 countries will fight it out for a spot on the podium, looking to make a name for themselves on the world’s biggest stage.

Before the opening ceremonies, we’re counting down the 10 athletes poised for a breakout Olympics.

Image Credit: ATSUSHI TOMURA International Skating Union/ International Skating Union via Getty Images.

1. Eileen Gu

Eileen Gu is set to make a splash at the Beijing Olympics as one of the host country’s medal favorites. The 18-year-old, American-born free skier has competed for China since 2019, garnering widespread support across the country leading up to the Winter Games. Gu is expected to be a threat in halfpipe, big air and slopestyle, winning gold in the halfpipe and slopestyle events at the 2021 World Championship.

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2. Alysa Liu

Alysa Liu will make her Olympic debut in Beijing at just 16 years old. The American figure skater has already amassed an impressive resume as the youngest woman to ever win a U.S. national championship at 13 years old before defending her title a year later. Liu is also the first American woman to land a quad lutz in competition and the first woman in the world to land a quad and triple axel in the same program in competition. The record-breaking teen will now look to make a name for herself and bring home a medal for Team USA.

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3. Paula Moltzan

Paula Moltzan is going for gold in her Olympic debut after a landmark 2021. The American slalom specialist clinched her first World Cup podium this season in parallel slalom and finished 11th in slalom. The 27-year-old could challenge opponents in individual events and be a critical factor in the team competition.

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4. Olivia Giaccio

Olivia Giaccio hopes to make a name for herself on the world’s stage in Beijing, representing Team USA in freestyle skiing. The 21-year-old has already begun to separate herself from the competition, becoming the first woman to complete a cork 1080 during the Tremblant, Canada World Cup stop in January. Look out for the American to be a contender on the moguls in Beijing.

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5. Kristen Santos

Kristen Santos is looking for redemption in Beijing after suffering an injury just before the 2018 Olympics. A competitor’s skate sliced open her left hand, leaving Santos in a cast and with little preparation time for the U.S. Trials. The 25-year-old is one of the best chances Team USA has to clinch a medal in short track speed skating, with the United States’ last medal in the discipline coming in 2010.

Image Credit: Kiyoshi OTA – International Skating Union Via Getty Images / Just Women’s Sports.

6. Abby Roque

Abby Roque is set to make history at the Winter Games, becoming the first Native American woman to represent the U.S. in ice hockey. The 24-year-old has had an impressive career to date, including clinching the 2018-2019 NCAA national championship with the University of Wisconsin. In her Olympic debut, Roque will hope to lead the U.S hockey team to a gold in Beijing, defending the team’s 2018 title.

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7. Kamila Valieva

Expect Kamila Valieva to become a household name after the Winter Olympics, with the 15-year-old the heavy favorite to take home figure skating gold in Beijing. The Russian star is incredibly consistent, never losing a senior international tournament while boasting a packed arsenal that includes a quadruple toe loop, quadruple Salchow and triple Axel. Valieva is expected to win gold in Beijing and break records while doing it.

Image Credit: Jurij Kodrun / International Skating Union via Getty Images / Just Women’s Sports.

8. Natalie Geisenberger

While Beijing is far from Natalie Geisenberger’s Olympic debut, it could be a historic Winter Games for the German luger. After capturing luge gold in Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018, another gold in Beijing would make Geisenberger the first woman to win three straight gold medals in the sport. Now a mother, giving birth to her son in May 2020, the 33-year-old has a shot at her sixth total Olympic medal in Beijing.

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9. Erin Jackson

Erin Jackson made her Olympic debut in PyeongChang after only four months of experience on ice, transitioning from inline skating to speed skating just before the 2018 Games. Now, a four-year veteran of the sport, Jackson is looking to podium as one of the top athletes in the 500-meter event.

The American star nearly missed her chance to qualify for the race after slipping at the U.S. Olympic trials before teammate Brittany Bowe gave up her spot to Jackson, telling NBC, “She is ranked number-one in the world, and no one is more deserving than her to get an opportunity to bring Team USA home a medal.”

Jackson heads into the Winter Games with some historic momentum after becoming the first Black woman to win a World Cup event in speed skating in November.

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10. Sara Takanashi

Sara Takanashi is already famous among ski jumpers as the all-time World Cup leader in the sport. Any medal or title there is to win in ski jumping, it is likely Takanashi has already won it, with the Olympic gold medal the only prize to elude the Japanese champion. Heading into Beijing, Takanashi will look to solidify herself as the best to ever compete in the discipline and assert herself on the international stage.


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