Beijing Olympics: The Detroit News' 5 athletes to watch

John Niyo
The Detroit News

John Niyo of The Detroit News identifies five athletes to watch at the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Mikaela Shiffrin, USA, alpine skiing

Outlook: Weather delays and logistical issues thwarted Shiffrin’s ambitious plans at the 2018 Winter Olympics. But the world’s top alpine skier will try again in China, aiming to enter all five women’s events and hoping to tie or break the Olympic women’s record of six career alpine medals held by Croatia’s Janica Kostelić and Sweden’s Anja Pärson. She has won three (two gold) at the last two Olympics, and this time Shiffrin, 26, will be competing with added emotion after the death of her father in 2020.

Chloe Kim of the United States is back to defend her Olympic halfpipe title

Chloe Kim, USA, snowboarding

Outlook: Kim became the youngest woman to win a gold medal in snowboarding at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. Then she stepped away from the sport for nearly two years, struggling to cope with anxiety and depression and her newfound celebrity status in the U.S. and her family’s native South Korea. Now 21 and a student at Princeton, the California native is back to defend her Olympic halfpipe title with a fresh perspective and, she says, a few new tricks to unveil at Genting Snow Park in Zhangjiakou.

Eileen Gu, China, freestyle skiing  

Outlook: She grew up in San Francisco and learned to ski at Lake Tahoe, but the 18-year-old Gu will represent her mother’s native China at her first Olympics. The freestyle skiing sensation — she’ll compete in all three disciplines: halfpipe, big air and slopestyle — already is a well-known face in Beijing, where she has been dubbed the “Snow Princess.” And between her modeling career and her jaw-dropping routines on the hill, Gu, who won three medals (two gold) at the 2021 world championships could be the biggest star of these Games.

Kamila Valieva, Russian Olympic Committee, figure skating

Outlook: She’s only 15, but Valieva already seems to be peerless on the ice, setting world records in short program, free skate and total score in her first season of senior competition. The 5-foot-3 Russian, coached by Eteri Tutberidze, who also helped Russian Alina Zagitova to Olympic gold in 2018, dominated at the recent European Championships. And with a program loaded with quadruple jumps, she could lead a Russian medal sweep of the women’s singles in Beijing.

John Shuster led the U.S. curling team to gold in the 2018 Winter Games.

John Shuster, USA, curling

Outlook: Shuster is one of four five-time Olympians among Team USA’s 222 athletes headed to Beijing. He’s also the ringleader behind one of the Americans’ most unlikely gold medals four years ago in Pyeonchang, where Shuster’s curling team from Duluth, Minnesota, stunned world champion Sweden to win gold — a first for the U.S. at the Olympics — after barely escaping round-robin play earlier. Shuster, 39, is back as the U.S. skip and once again an underdog at the Olympics after finishing fifth at the last two world championships.

Twitter: @JohnNiyo