Eileen Gu

These 2022 Olympians Were the Biggest Breakout Stars of the Winter Games

These Olympic athletes stole the show during the 2022 Beijing Games

An image of speed skater Nils Van Der Poel, snowboarder Chloe Kim and freestyle skier Eileen Gu.
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Every four years, the Winter Olympics surprise us with a new batch of incredible athletes.

The combination of returning stars and eager newcomers always makes for an entertaining dynamic, and the 2022 Olympics was no different.

Here’s a look at the biggest stars from the Beijing Games:

Eileen Gu, China, freestyle skiing

Gu, 18, was undoubtedly one of the biggest stars throughout the Olympics. Born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother and American father, Gu has claimed both nations as her home. But when it comes to skiing, she has borne the Chinese flag.

“When I’m in the U.S., I’m American, but when I’m in China, I’m Chinese,” Gu said.

One of just two athletes to compete in all three freestyle skiing events, Gu brought home a gold in big air and halfpipe and a silver in slopestyle. That made her the first freeski athlete to win three medals in a single Games. She also became the youngest gold medalist in freestyle skiing and was the first woman to land a left-turn 1620.

It’s safe to say we haven’t seen the last of Gu on the big stage.

China’s Eileen Gu is the first action-sports athlete to win three medals - two gold and one silver - at the same winter games.

Nils van der Poel, Sweden, speed skating

The 25-year-old Swede set two Olympic records and one world record en route to two Beijing gold medals. Van der Poel won the men’s 5000m and 10000m speed skating events, and then subsequently published a 62-page guide on how to win the events.

Van der Poel nearly quit speed skating after a disappointing 2018 Olympics. He joined the Swedish army for a basic ranger course before returning to the ice in 2019. Now, he’s a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

“The biggest challenge of my training program was to be able to keep wanting to do it,” van der Poel explained in his guide. “Motivation was key. If something kept me motivated I considered it to be good. Sometimes all I needed was a beer, or eight beers.”

He earned himself a few beers after his performance in Beijing.

Van der Poel broke the world record in the 10000m event on Friday at the 2022 Winter Olympics, clocking in at 12:30.74 to top the previous mark of 12:32.95 he set just over a year ago.

Chloe Kim, USA, snowboarding

Already a snowboarding sensation, Kim only added to her résumé in Beijing. The 21-year-old Californian won her second straight Olympic gold in the women’s halfpipe, becoming the first woman to win the event in back-to-back Games.

“I worked so hard for four years to get back here and do this again,” Kim said after the event.

Kim earned a score of 94.00 on her first run in the medal event, which allowed her to take some risks on her final two runs. She wasn’t able to land a pair of new tricks, but her initial score was enough to easily win gold. The American star is now a two-time gold medalist, and at her age, she could continue for years to come if she wants to.

“There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears and hard work sacrifice from families,” Kim said. “And it’s not easy. I fall on my butt and I’m sore for three days.”

Chloe Kim describes her bad practice before she won snowboard halfpipe gold and wonders where she can find some mac n' cheese.

Nathan Chen, USA, figure skating

Chen helped the U.S. win bronze in the team event in 2018 before an event better run in Beijing. Team USA claimed silver in the team event, and the 22-year-old Chen won gold in the men’s singles competition. That gold medal came after winning singles gold in three straight World Championships (2018, 2019, 2021).

“I never really felt I’d be able to make it this far in my career,” he said. “I’d always, of course, dream about making the Olympics and winning the Olympics, but I [thought], ‘That's hard, I don’t know if I can make that happen.’”

He made it happen. His free skate included five quad jumps, ending with a score of 332.60. Chen became the first American man to win the singles competition since Evan Lysacek in 2010.

“I can’t even describe it,” Chen said after winning his first Olympic gold. “You can’t imagine what it might feel like, but it's just amazing.”

We showed gold medalist and quad king Nathan Chen pictures of different “kings,” and challenged him to identify as many as possible.

Johannes Thingnes Boe, Norway, biathlon

Two athletes dominated the men’s biathlon in Beijing: Boe, and France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet. Each won a medal in five of the six biathlon events, but Boe reigned supreme after winning four gold medals to Fillon Maillet’s two.

“It feels great,” Boe said after winning his fourth gold. “(Winning at) the Olympics has been the goal for this season for a long time, but that it would go this well, I could not imagine.”

Boe, 28, is already the third-most decorated biathlete in history. He has 54 individual World Cup victories and three overall World Cup titles, in addition to his five career Olympic golds and eight career Olympic medals. Boe also competed in the 2014 and 2018 Olympics.

“It was above all expectations – it has been a dream Olympics,” he said.

Fillon Maillet, ROC cross-country skier Alexander Bolshunov and Norway biathlete Marte Olsbu Roisland were the only other athletes to win five medals in Beijing, but only Boe won four golds.

Legacy pick: Ireen Wüst, Netherlands, speed skating

Wüst became the most successful speed skating Olympian ever in 2022,  setting an Olympic record in the women’s 1500m and winning a bronze medal in team pursuit. She has now won a gold medal in five consecutive Olympics dating back to 2006. The 35-year-old Wüst has 13 career Olympic medals with six golds.

“There’s something magical that gets to me when it comes down to the Games,” Wüst said. “There’s something that brings out the best in me.”

The magic will officially come to an end following the closing ceremony in Beijing. Wüst announced that this would be her final Olympics, even though she continues to compete at a high level.

“It’s not that I’m not good enough anymore,” she says. “But I want to have children. And I’m 35, so one day I have to make a decision and say, ‘OK, let’s go for the other life.’”

The Dutch skater already cemented her legacy before the 2022 Games – these victories only added to it.

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