In pre-pandemic times, we waited years between Olympic Games (1992 was the last time the Summer and Winter Olympics were held in the same year). But since COVID-19 delayed the 2020 Olympics, we’ve only had to wait 180 days from the closing of the Summer Games in Tokyo to the opening of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. For those who love to watch incredible feats of athleticism from the comfort of their couch, this could not have worked out better.
The Opening Ceremony officially kicks things off on Feb. 4, though competition began on the 3rd. The Games will run through the 20th. Although Winter features fewer sports than Summer, the individual events are no less thrilling to watch. This year, there are many familiar faces attempting to recapture glory (all nine American gold medalists/teams from 2018 are back), but even more are seeking their first medals as well. With so much going on—and often overlapping—it can be a bit overwhelming when trying to figure out what to watch. So we’ve rounded up the events and major storylines of the Winter Olympics that you won’t want to miss. (Click here for a complete schedule of events.)
A programming note: USA Network is now the cable home for many of the biggest events (NBC Sports Network, aka NBCSN, ceased operations at the end of 2021). However, all coverage is available to stream with Peacock’s premium tier, while replays of all competitions will be available immediately after they conclude.
If you’ve spent any time around figure skating in the last half-decade or so, you’re likely familiar with Nathan Chen, who four years ago became the first person to land a quad-flip at the Olympics. The 22-year-old, who has three world titles and six straight U.S. titles to his name, is seeking his first Olympic gold (he won bronze in the team event in 2018) after failing to make the podium in PyeongChang. There, he suffered a disastrous short program but exceptional free skate that saw him attempt six quadruple jumps (the first man to do so) and land five of them cleanly. The impressive feat earned him fifth place. Since then, Chen has only gotten better, and he’s expected to compete for the gold against two-time champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
While the Olympics are always a great source of national pride, ignoring greatness when it’s staring you in the face simply because an athlete doesn’t wear your country’s flag is a mistake. Kamila Valieva of Russia (competing under the Russian Olympic Committee, or ROC, banner because the country is still serving a ban for doping violations) is the current world record holder in the short program, free skate, and total score. Just the fourth female skater to land a quadruple jump of any kind, she recently became the first woman to surpass the 90-point threshold in the short program. Her execution is impeccable, landing jumps few women can, while the artistry on display each time she takes the ice is nothing short of breathtaking. She’s the heavy favorite to win gold in Beijing. Oh yeah, and she’s only 15.
With all due respect to luge and skeleton, snowboarding might be the most exhilarating sport at the Winter Olympics. Or maybe it just feels that way because of the highly skilled team the U.S. has assembled. At 35, three-time men’s snowboard halfpipe champion Shaun White is competing in his fifth and final Olympics. He’s hoping to repeat his stellar performance from PyeongChang to become the only athlete in Winter Games history to win four gold medals in the same individual event. (With his win in 2018, he became the first American man to win gold in the same event at three Winter Games, having also topped the podium in 2006 and 2010.)
Also chasing history is two-time defending champion Jamie Anderson, the women’s snowboard slopestyle star who, if she wins gold in Beijing, will become the first snowboarder to win three straight golds in any event. Anderson—who also has a silver from 2018’s big air event—could also become the first snowboarder in history to win five Olympic medals if she’s able to make the podium in both slopestyle and big air in China.
Elsewhere around the sport, Red Gerard—who at just 17 became the first American to win a medal in PyeongChang—is hoping to defend his snowboard slopestyle title (and appears to be in good shape to do so). Meanwhile, Chloe Kim, the 21-year-old reigning champ in women’s halfpipe who became the breakout star of the 2018 Winter Games, is similarly hoping to repeat after returning to the sport in 2021 following an extended break.
Mikaela Shiffrin has dominated alpine skiing for years, having become the youngest Olympic slalom champion in history at age 18 in Sochi. She already has more World Cup victories in a single discipline than anyone else in history (47 in slalom). When she takes to the slopes in Beijing for her third Olympics appearance, she’ll attempt to break yet another record. She already has two golds (the aforementioned slalom win in 2014 and another in giant slalom in 2018) and one silver (combined, 2018). Now, for the first time, the 26-year-old is eyeing all five alpine skiing events: slalom, giant slalom, super-G, downhill, and combined. If she’s able to make the podium in even three of them, she’ll tie the record for most Olympic medals by a female skier at six. If she hits four, the solo record is hers.
When the U.S. women’s hockey team defeated Canada in PyeongChang to stand atop the Olympic podium, it was the end of a 20-year gold medal drought. This year’s team, currently ranked No. 1 in the world by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), is looking to defend that hard-won title. Unsurprisingly, the team’s biggest obstacle will once again be Team Canada, who some believe will take it all after winning the world championships in August following a string of U.S. victories. The Team USA roster has had some turnover since 2018, which gives Canada a bit more depth and probably a bit of an edge, but that just means the march toward the gold medal game is going to be that much more exciting.
David Wise is the only person in history to ever take home the gold medal in the men’s freeski halfpipe competition at the Winter Olympics (it was added to the competition slate in Sochi in 2014). He’ll attempt to retain that distinction by three-peating after breaking his femur just a year after PyeongChang. In order to do so, the 31-year-old will have to face off against fellow Team USA members Alex Ferreira (2018 silver medalist) and Aaron Blunck, as well as several younger competitors—including New Zealand’s Nico Porteous—who are upping the ante and pushing the limits of what’s possible. This should be a good one.
Eileen Gu is well known in the freeskiing world; she’s so dominant that she is one of the only athletes to have won major international events in all three disciplines: halfpipe, big air, and slopestyle. But to the everyday person, the Winter Games will likely be their first introduction to the 18-year-old from California. However, you shouldn’t expect to hear “The Star-Spangled Banner” if (or should we say when?) she stands atop the podium. Gu is competing for the home country and not the United States, having skied for China (her mother is Chinese), since 2019. Still, what Gu does every time she puts on skis is so dang impressive—she’s expected to take home the gold in all three freeski events—that it’s always worth watching her for the athleticism alone.
People love curling! If you’re asking yourself “WTF is curling?” or if you somehow managed to miss the part of the PyeongChang Games when the entire world seemed to fall in love with the sport, now is the perfect time to find out why watching someone push a stone down some ice is so much fun. It might not be a heart-stopping race. It might not feature gravity-defying flips and spins. But it does require core strength, accuracy, and endurance, making it one of those sports that looks easy but is most definitely not.
The Olympics are all about tradition, but as time passes and sports evolve and athletes push the bar higher and higher, we also see new events and sports added all the time. This year there are 15 sports in the competition, plus individual variations: alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, hockey, luge, nordic combined, short track, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboarding, and speed skating.
There are 109 medal events in total, and seven of them are brand new to the Olympics. Most involved mixed teams, which is something we’ve been seeing more and more of. These new events are: freeski big air (both men and women), women’s monobob, mixed team snowboard cross, mixed team aerials, mixed team short track relay, and mixed team ski jumping.
Kaitlin Thomas is an entertainment journalist and TV critic. Her work has appeared in TV Guide, Salon, and TV.com, among other places. You can find her tweets about TV, sports, and Walton Goggins @thekaitling or read more of her work at kaitlinthomas.com.
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