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. At the 2021 World Championships, Hanyu took third overall, marking the first finish below second at any competition since 2014 for perhaps the greatest male skater in history. After reinjuring his ankle in November, Hanyu finds himself in the same situation as four years ago — in a race to get healthy before the Winter Olympics begin.
Alexandra Trusova, ROC, Figure Skating
Since making her junior international debut in 2017, Russian Alexandra Trusova has racked up hardware at all levels. At 2018 Junior Worlds, Trusova — now nicknamed the “Quad Queen” — became the first female skater to land the quad toe loop and to land two ratified quads in a free skate, easily winning her first junior world title. Those were just the first of many quad-related feats for Trusova in her young career. She defended her junior world title in 2019, then won her senior international debut in the 2019-20 season. Trusova faced strong domestic opponents that season and attempted risky skills, to mixed results, in competition. Despite a couple missteps in her routines, she took bronze at the 2021 World Championships, completing the Russian podium sweep. Trusova dealt with a leg injury ahead of 2021 Skate America but won the competition anyway with a relatively watered-down routine.
Sidney Crosby, Canada, Hockey
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins will once again be a key cog in the lineup for Team Canada. Crosby has competed at two Olympics (Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014), and he led the Canadians to gold medals both times. He may not be in his prime anymore, but Crosby remains one of the top players on the planet. Thanks to a bout with COVID-19 and a wrist injury, Crosby's had a slow start to the 2021-22 season. Still, he is very much the same game-changing superstar we've become accustomed to watching over the last 17 years, and it's hard to imagine that will change in February.
David Pastrnak, Czech Republic, Hockey
Known simply as "Pasta" in the hockey world, David Pastrnak will be making his Olympic debut for the Czech Republic, and it feels safe to say he'll make a pretty gigantic impact for his country once the puck drops. The 25-year-old Boston Bruins winger is a dynamic offensive talent capable of ripping pucks past goaltenders or slicing through defenses with his crafty playmaking skills. The Czechs may not be favorites to take home a gold medal, but Pastrnak's presence alone makes them a dangerous group going into the Games.
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.
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.
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 42-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 is ranked No. 8 in the world.
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.
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.