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The XXIV Winter Olympic Games officially kicked off with an opening ceremony at Beijing's National Stadium, aka " the Bird's Nest," on February 4, 2022. The two-hour, 20-minute extravaganza— which emphasized togetherness — was filled with spectacular performances and brilliant light and fireworks displays.
However, the evening's highlight was the Parade of Nations march, featuring 2,871 athletes from 91 countries. Though they are all champions in their own right, here are a few youngsters expected to leave their mark at the Beijing Games.
Francesco Friedrich (Germany — Bobsleigh)
Francesco (Franz) Friedrich, who will lead Germany's bobsleigh team, is considered one of the greatest bobsleigh athletes in history. Since 2014, Friedrich has competed in two Olympics and 11 World Championships and amassed 11 gold and one silver medal. In 2021, Friedrich captured his seventh consecutive world title in the two-man race.
Friedrich's achievements are even more remarkable given his dismal Olympic debut at the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia, when the German bobsled team failed to medal for the first time in 50 years. He made up for it at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in South Korea with a gold in the four-man and the two-man race. If Friedrich repeats the feat in Beijing, he will become the first male bobsledder to win the two titles at consecutive Olympics.
Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan — Figure Skating)
Yuzuru Hanyu was just 19 when he won his first gold medal in the men's Olympic figure skating competition in 2014. In addition to repeating the feat at the 2018 Games, the five-time national and three-time world champion has broken nineteen records and is the first figure skater to land a quadruple toe loop in competition.
The incredible athlete has big plans for the Beijing Games. He wants to be the first person in the world to land the quadruple Axel. The difficult skill — which entails four-and-a-half rotations in the air — has never been completed in a competition. Hanyu also aspires to be only the second male figure skater — after Sweden's Gillis Grafström, who achieved this in 1928 — to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the sport.
Erin Jackson (United States — Speed Skating)
Florida-born Erin Jackson's competitive sports career began with inline skating and roller derby. In 2017, the talented athlete switched to speed skating, and within, five months, became the first Black woman to qualify for a US Olympic long track speed skating team. Her performance at the 2018 Games — 24th out of 31 in the 500 meters — was hardly stellar, but Jackson was hooked.
In 2021, Jackson won four of the five World Cup 500-meter events she competed in and set a new American speed record. In November 2021, Jackson made further history as the first Black American woman to win a World Cup race in long track speed skating.
The world's top-ranked speed skater's dream to compete in Beijing almost ended on January 7, 2022, after a stumble caused her to finish third at the qualifying event in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But on January 9, 2022, her childhood friend and teammate Brittany Bowe, who did qualify for the 500-meter race, gave her spot to Jackson. As it turned out, the US team ended up getting a third spot, which means Bowe is back in the race!
Mikaela Shiffrin (United States — Alpine Skiing)
Mikaela Shiffrin made history at the age of 18 when she became the youngest Olympic giant slalom champion in the 2014 Sochi Games. She upped the ante at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games with a gold in the giant slalom and a silver in the combined slalom. The talented 26-year-old is coming off a strong season and hopes to make more history at the Beijing Games!
Resources: CNN.com, Wbur.org, Today.com, Wikipedia.org. TeamUSA.org