After a dominant performance in PyeongChang and a world title in 2019, snowboard halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim of Torrance, California, took some time off the snow to heal an ankle injury. She got a taste of on-campus life during her freshman year at Princeton and said she considered not returning to competitive snowboarding at all.
“I started to resent [snowboarding], almost, because it had changed my life in such a drastic way … and I was like, I need to miss it. And if I miss it, I’ll go back, and if I don’t miss it, I won’t go back … [but] I missed it. I missed it a lot, so I came right back,” she said.
When she returned to competition earlier this year, the 21-year-old had a dominant season, winning all four contests she entered, including the X Games and world championships.
“… I just had the same emotions I did when I was 14, excited to get out there, excited to try new things, and excited to push myself.”
Her World Cup event victory in Switzerland in January was her first contest since March 2019, and she overcame rib injuries and a severe allergic reaction to win. She didn't attempt the difficult sequence of tricks she is known for – called back-to-back 1080s – but she still won by more than 13 points in a strong field of competitors.
After her world title win in March, Kim said she was yet again feeling less than 100%.
“I actually kind of sprained my ankle in practice,” she said.
Kim remains a solid favorite for Beijing, while fellow American Maddie Mastro, who finished second to Kim at this year's world championships, is also expected to be a strong contender. Between the Switzerland World Cup and Worlds in Aspen, Kim and Mastro went 1-2 at the Winter X Games. It was Kim's fifth title, one shy of compatriot Kelly Clark's competition record.
Three-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White, who is 35 years old headed into the upcoming winter season, took more than three years off from competition after winning his third title in PyeongChang and didn't train in a pipe for two years. He returned at the U.S. Grand Prix in March 2021, finishing fourth with a watered-down run from what he did at the Olympics.
Earlier in the year, he withdrew from this year's Winter X Games just hours before competition began, citing a knee injury. On Instagram, he said, “After talking with the medical staff, decided that pushing through would only make things worse. It’s a difficult decision to make, but just need to give my knee some time to recover and I’ll be back soon …
"I don’t really let off the gas. You may not see me, but I’m still doing all the things that I need to.”
White will have to up the difficulty of his runs to make the podium at major competitions, but his finish as the top U.S. man in the first Olympic qualifying event bodes well for his chances of making the 2022 Olympic team. The Carlsbad, California, native made his Olympic debut in 2006 as a mop-haired 19-year-old and has become an action sports icon, delving into fashion, video games and music. Despite the small sample size of what he's done since 2018, he should still be able to contend for a medal if he ultimately makes it to Beijing.
His status will be more clear as this season’s qualification events get underway in early December, beginning with the U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain in Colorado on Dec. 8.
When asked if he would consider repeating his historic PyeongChang run in Beijing, he said, “If that’s the bar, I want to up it from there. There’s different combinations I’m dreaming of… You want to be the person doing something big, new and exciting.”
Since winning slopestyle gold and big air silver at the PyeongChang Games, two-time reigning Olympic slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson took home slopestyle bronze at the 2019 World Championships in Utah and slopestyle silver at the 2021 World Championships in Aspen, as well as back-to-back slopestyle golds at the 2020 and 2021 Winter X Games. She also won the big air competition at the latter X Games competition, her first such title in that event, doubling up on two of the three freestyle events. She won Olympic big air silver in PyeongChang.
Anderson said it took a long time to feel proud of herself for winning slopestyle gold in PyeongChang, since adverse weather conditions affected the runs of many of her competitors. Several of her rivals fell or had subpar runs, and some members of the media asked her whether she thought the event was a good representation of women’s snowboarding. She said that part of her motivation to continue competing after PyeongChang was to prove that she deserved to win in 2018.
The South Lake Tahoe, California, native was beat in March at the world championships by Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, her second straight world title. The New Zealander, who also claimed big air silver at the competition in Aspen, will likely be a top challenge in Beijing to Anderson's hunt for a record third straight slopestyle gold.
Dusty Henricksen won the slopestyle title in his X Games debut in February, days before his 18th birthday, becoming the first American to win the event since White in 2009.
Two of the event’s top competitors, 2018 Olympic silver and bronze medalists Max Parrot and Mark McMorris of Canada, didn't participate, but Henricksen’s win over a still solid field – including 2018 Olympic gold medalist Red Gerard – bodes well for his status as an emerging medal contender.
Henricksen captured the Winter Youth Olympic slopestyle title in 2020.
NBC Olympics Research contributed to this report