Winter Olympics XXIV: Athlete storylines

Winter Olympics XXIV: Athlete storylines

There are plenty of amazing stories unfolding at the Games, here are the juiciest narratives.

Teenage Triple Threats

The female freeski contenders have never been fiercer, but 19-year-old Kelly Sildaru and 18-year-old Eileen Gu stand out with their rare ability to excel in all three disciplines. Estonia’s ski sweetheart, Sildaru, missed Pyeongchang due to a torn ACL, but returned stronger than ever in 2019 and 2020, nabbing five X Games medals, only to be sidelined by knee trouble in 2021. Chinese-American freeski prodigy Gu capitalized on Sildaru’s absence and had a breakout performance at her first-ever X Games, with two golds and a bronze. Although she’s trained by U.S. coaches, Gu will be competing for China and is destined to be one the Games’ biggest stars as well as a role model for young Chinese women.

Resilience for Team USA

Following an unpredictable pandemic season, Team USA has miraculously maintained its momentum navigating unfathomable challenges and curveballs. Back-to-back World Championships in the U.S. plus a condensed World Cup season haven’t daunted these athletes. If anything, it’s fueled their competitive fires. Maggie Voisin’s comeback has been a particular inspiration. The youngest person to qualify for the 2014 U.S. Olympic team missed the Sochi Games after fracturing her ankle in practice. Undergoing her second career ACL surgery in 2019 she put together one of her most impressive seasons to-date. Then, last year, she was dealt the heartbreaking blow of losing a close family member. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for Voisin, yet she continues to shine on the snow.

Three-peater Swan Song

This Olympics marks a changing of the guard for the Americans and younger athletes, like Colby Stevenson and Hanna Faulhaber, are stepping up to the challenge thanks to incredible mentorship from their peers. This will be the third and most likely final Olympic run for Devin Logan, who earned silver in slopestyle’s 2014 debut, as well as halfpipe veteran Brita Sigourney, who captured bronze in 2018. On the men’s side,  while David Wise eyes a third halfpipe gold, Aaron Blunck has hopes of adding some Olympic hardware to his many halfpipe awards. Then there’s slopestyle star Nick Goepper. He’s had to cope with mental health and alcohol issues, as well as haters who say he’s too mechanized for freeskiing, but like fine wine, he’s peaking with age. Gold is the only Olympic medal missing from his collection and recent performances are proof, he’s motivated to own the trifecta.

It’s Anybody’s Gold

The sheer depth of contenders from every country underscores that freeskiing has become an international phenomenon. Yes, the U.S. has fielded its strongest teams ever. But it’s anyone’s guess who could end up on the podiums. The Swiss men have a killer mix of veterans and young guns, including Kim Gubser and Fabian Bösch, and if Andri Ragettli can bounce back from nagging injuries he’s always one to watch; the Swiss women pose a big threat with Mathilde Gremaud, Giulia Tanno and Sarah Hoefflin all at the top of their game in slopestyle; Canada will be a top contender spearheaded by slopestyle talents Teal Harle, Megan Oldham and Evan McEachran, as well as pipe powerhouses Cassie Sharpe and Rachael Karker. And the list goes on… Sweden, Norway and Austria all have heavy hitters who, too, could pull off upsets.

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