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Winter Olympics 2022: 10 things to look out for in Beijing – The Guardian

Jamaica return to the bobsleigh after 24 years, Haiti and Saudi Arabia make debuts, while GB aim for curling glory
Last modified on Fri 4 Feb 2022 06.34 EST
Jamaica will enter a four-man bobsleigh team in the Olympics for the first time in 24 years after nicking the final qualifying spot, offering a feelgood reboot for the island nation whose debut at the 1988 Calgary Games inspired the Disney film Cool Runnings. Just making it to Beijing might seem like accomplishment enough for Shanwayne Stephens, the team’s 31-year-old pilot and Royal Air Force lance corporal who emigrated to Great Britain with his family in 2002: certainly after improvised training methods at the height of the pandemic that included pushing his girlfriend’s Mini Cooper around the streets of Peterborough. But having touched down in China after undergoing their final preparations at the University of Bath, his goal is plain. “It’s got to be medalling,” Stephens says. “It’s everybody’s dream, it’s what we’re here to do. So why not aim high?” BAG

There is no such thing as a banker in an event as chaotic or frenetic as snowboard cross, where four racers take each other on down a mountain, but Britain’s Charlotte Bankes is certainly in pole position. The 26-year-old, who transferred from France to Team GB after the Pyeongchang Games four years ago, is not only the reigning world champion but has been in impressive form on the circuit this season. Bankes is at the vanguard of a strong GB snowsport team that also have reasonable medal chances in the form of Zoe Atkin, James Woods and 17-year-old Kirsty Muir, the youngest member of the Team GB squad. SI
Mikaela Shiffrin, the 26-year-old American sensation of the piste whose three Olympic medals include gold in slalom in 2014 and in giant slalom in 2018, has said her plan is to race all five individual events in Yanqing and will go off as a hot medal contender in all but the downhill. That puts Janica Kostelic’s women’s record of four medals at a single Olympics on watch. The Vail native, whose 72 career World Cup wins are 14 short of Ingemar Stenmark’s all-time record of 86, can further burnish her legacy by becoming the first skier from the US, male or female, to win more than two Olympic gold medals. BAG
It’s the most compelling figure skating rivalry in a generation. In one corner: Nathan Chen of the US, the three-time world champion, who has won all but one competition he has entered since a nightmarish short programme doomed him to a fifth-place finish in 2018. In the other: Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time defending Olympic gold medallist who became the first men’s repeat champion in 66 years at those same Pyeongchang Games. Chen goes off as the favourite on merit after winning their three most recent head-to-head meetings, but Hanyu’s knack for raising his level when the lights burn brightest makes their showdown at the Capital Indoor Stadium one of the must-watch fixtures of the coming weeks. BAG
Remember how Britain briefly went curling crazy in 2002 when Rhona Martin and her stone of destiny won gold in Salt Lake City? Well, Beijing 2022 could be far bigger. The bookies rate the British mixed and men’s teams, led by Bruce “Brucey” Moaut, as favourites for gold, and the women’s team, skipped by Eve “Evey” Muirhead, as the third favourites in their event. And while there might be some parochialism baked into those odds, the form of the British teams stacks up. The men are world champions. The mixed team are world champions. And the women recently won the European championship. Three medals? It’s not out of the question. SI
Haiti and Saudi Arabia are poised to make their Winter Games debuts, with these Games matching the fewest number of debutant countries at an Olympics after Squaw Valley 1960, when South Africa was alone to join the fray. In a curious twist, both will take part in the same event. Richardson Viano, a 19-year-old originally from Port-au-Prince who was adopted by an Italian couple living in France, is scheduled to compete in the men’s giant slalom alongside Fayik Abdi, a 24-year-old born in San Diego and raised in Beirut who will become the first athlete from any Gulf nation to compete in a Winter Olympics. BAG
The San Francisco-born freestyle skier and IMG model competed under the US flag before switching affiliations to China, where she is known as Gu Ailing and has been positioned as the face of the Beijing Games. The 18-year-old is among the gold medal favourites in the halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events – having scored World Cup wins in all three disciplines this year – and well on her way to becoming a household name with more than 1.3 million followers on Weibo and a growing roster of sponsors including Cadillac, Tiffany’s, Visa and Victoria’s Secret. BAG
It was a minor surprise when Norway, a country of only 5.4 million people, finished top of the podium at the 2018 Games, winning 39 medals. It won’t be if they repeat the trick in 2022. Indeed the data company Gracenote projects them to win 44 medals – well clear of the Russian Olympic Committee and Germany – with cross-country skiing and biathlon providing the majority of medals. But what makes Norway’s success so remarkable is they spend only a 10th of what Team GB does on Olympic sports each year – and they also stress the importance of the umbilical link between grassroots and elite sport and of putting fun and happiness ahead of medals. SI
Southern Californian prodigy Chloe Kim shot to global stardom in Pyeongchang when she became the youngest female athlete to secure Winter Olympics gold on snow with a transcendent performance that included back-to-back 1080s, the gravity-defying manoeuvre she remains the only woman to have landed in competition. But she quickly found the trappings of fame – gracing the fronts of cereal boxes and magazine covers, getting name-checked in Frances McDormand’s Oscar speech – were dwarfed by her yearning for a normal life as a college student at Princeton. After nearly two years off the mountain Kim picked up right where she left off with a world title, crediting her decision to start therapy and turn focus to her mental health with helping rekindle her competitive fire. Now 21, she is the hot favourite to defend her Olympic snowboard halfpipe title. BAG
A trio of boundary-pushing Russian teenagers armed with point-gobbling quadruple jumps is poised to obliterate the competition in women’s figure skating, reducing the entire podium of the Winter Olympics’ glamour event to a fait accompli. Barring a colossal surprise, the more familiar pair of the 17-year-olds Alexandra Trusova and the reigning world champion, Anna Shcherbakova, will compete for the silver and bronze medals behind the 15-year-old prodigy Kamila Valieva, the newly minted European champion who has already broken the world records for the women’s short programme, free skate and combined total in an extraordinary first season on the senior circuit. BAG

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