Winter Olympics: Five athletes to look out for ahead of the 2022 Beijing Games

(Clockwise from top left) Chloe Kim, Ailing Eileen Gu, Yuzuru Hanyu, Erin Jackson and Ireen Wust. PHOTOS: AFP, REUTERS

SINGAPORE - Less than six months after the 2020 Summer Olympics came to a close in Tokyo, the 2022 Winter edition of the Games will officially kick off on Friday (Feb 4) in Beijing.

Here are five athletes to keep an eye out for during the 16-day long event that will feature a total of 15 disciplines:

1. Chloe Kim, 21, USA, snowboarding (halfpipe)

The reigning Olympic champion was 17 when she won in Pyeongchang, South Korea and became the youngest woman to land two 1080-degree spins in a row at the Games and will be a favourite to retain her title in Beijing. Kim is the only snowboarder to complete the grand slam, winning all four major titles in the Olympics, World Championships, Youth Olympics and X Games.

2. Eileen Gu, 18, China, freestyle skiing (halfpipe, slopestyle and big air)

Born in San Francisco, she represented the United States before switching to China since 2019 and is seen as one of the host's main medal hopes. Gu won two golds in halfpipe and slopestyle at the 2021 FIS Freeski World Championships despite a broken finger and is the first woman to land a forward double cork 1440 during her training in Austria. The move involves completing two distinct off-axis rotations while making four full 360 degree rotations.

3. Ireen Wust, 35, Netherlands, speed skating (1,000m, 1,500m, 3,000m, 5,000m, team pursuit)

Beijing will be Wust's Olympic swansong and the veteran Dutchwoman will look to enhance her legacy. She is her country's most decorated Olympian - Summer and Winter - with 11 medals, five gold, five silver and a bronze. She has won a gold at every edition since making Turin 2006. No athlete has ever won golds at five straight Olympics so Wust could set another milestone before she retires.

4. Erin Jackson, 29, USA, speed skating (500m)

The women's world No. 1 will be making her second Games appearance after teammate and hometown friend Brittany Bowe gave up her spot in the 500m event. Jackson finished third after slipping at the US speedskating trials and had initially missed out on Olympic qualification. She arrives in Beijing after a successful season that saw her win four of eight World Cup events and reach the summit. At the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, she finished 24th.

5. Yuzuru Hanyu, 27, Japan, figure skating (men's singles)

A household name in Japan, Hanyu is seeking a hat-trick of Olympic golds after successes in 2014 and 2018 in this event. He is a two-time world champion and achieved the Super Slam winning all major competitions in both his senior and junior career, thanks to his victory at the 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. His biggest rival will be American Nathan Chen, 22, who is the reigning world champion.

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