On this list - because she's going to be China's Olympic hero.
Gu Ailing's name is not actually Gu Ailing, but Eileen Gu. And strictly speaking, she's not Chinese either - but a Sunshine Girl from the US West Coast, born in San Francisco. But in the run-up to the Winter Games, the daughter of an American father and a Chinese mother has caused a stir with a spectacular switch. She has moved from the U.S. ski team to the Chinese national team. And because China doesn't recognize dual citizenship, the current double world champion in halfpipe and slopestyle is now expected to become the domestic superstar of the 2022 Winter Games as Gu Ailing with a Chinese passport.
With this sensational move, after which she received death threats, the freestyle skier wants to contribute to the understanding between the two peoples: "When I'm in the U.S., I'm American, but when I'm in China, I'm Chinese." She explained her "incredibly difficult decision" in a long post on Instagram, in which she wrote: "The opportunity to inspire millions of young people during the 2022 Winter Olympics in China, where my mother was born, is an opportunity I will never get again in my life."
On this list - because he is the Michael Schumacher of the ice channel
Francesco Friedrich (nicknamed "Franz") is: actually unbeatable. With the double Olympic victory in 2018 and eleven World Championship titles, the German is well on his way to becoming the most successful bobsledder of all time. When experts are asked who could beat "Friedrich the Great" in Beijing, the vast majority lack a suitable name. And if German sports fans want to bet money on an Olympic victory in February 2022, the money is probably well spent with Francesco Friedrich.
Franz dominates bobsleighing the way his idol Michael Schumacher dominated Formula 1 from 2000 to 2004. "I saw the same mentality in Schumacher as I saw in myself. He always wanted to win, got the best out of every team member," Winter Schumi told the "Sächsische Zeitung". He is considered to be just as obsessed with detail and success as the Ferrari legend - only with runners instead of an engine: "I'm like Schumi in that respect. If you don't have that mentality, you're not a winning driver, you're only ever good at it."
On this list - because it's not just Winnie the Pooh who's rooting for him.
Japan's winter sports superstar Hanyū Yuzuru learned how to deal with setbacks as a young child. He has suffered from chronic asthma since birth, which limits him in everyday life and in sports. He was injured in his ankle for months before the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. And he's battling the same handicap heading into the 2021/22 Olympic season, but none of that has stopped him from making history on the ice.
Following his gold medals in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018, Yuzuru is aiming to become the first figure skater since Sweden's Gillis Grafström (1920 to 1928) to win gold in three consecutive Winter Games in Beijing. To do so, however, he must defeat world champion Nathan Chen of the USA - it is likely to be one of the most spectacular duels of the 2022 Olympics.
The whole of Japan is rooting for its "ice prince", who launched numerous aid programmes for his country after the Tōhoku earthquake in 2011. In Beijing, it should then rain Winnie the Pooh fabric figures on the ice again. Because his fans know that Hanyū Yuzuru is quite fond of the Disney bear. During a competition in Finland, more than 1,000 Winnie the Poohs were counted - which the superstar then donated to kindergartens and schools.
On that list - because she wants to win gold for her father
Until February 2, 2020, Mikaela Shiffrin's world was very much in order. She was well on her way to becoming the most successful female ski racer of all time with two Olympic gold medals and five World Cup titles - and she was only 24. But then her father and first coach Jeff died in an accident at the family home in Colorado. Mikaela Shiffrin was completely thrown off balance, "it was my worst injury, my heart was broken".
She interrupted the season, then could not return to Europe because of Corona - and for the first time since 2016 did not win a single World Cup ranking. Now, after the "fog in my head," she's back as a big favorite for Beijing 2022. Gold for daddy Jeff could come from the multi-talented athlete in all five disciplines from slalom to downhill.
And who knows if she'll still be there in Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo in 2026. Flying around the world for months at a time to ski is becoming increasingly difficult for the well-read and dedicated girlfriend of Norway's ski superstar Aleksander Aamodt Kilde: "There might be a point where I end my career for the love of the environment."
On this list - because she's hoping for gold even as a mama
Natalie Geisenberger, the most successful female luger in history, wants to win her third individual gold medal in Beijing after 2014 and 2018. Whether the Bavarian from Miesbach will manage that is far from certain. Because the competition in the German team, the best in the world, is huge. But even if she doesn't manage the hat-trick in Beijing, the nine-time World Champion will be able to cope with it. Because her real gold treasure is waiting for her at home anyway: son Leo, born in May 2020. No wonder her Instagram profile says first, before all the medals: "Leo's mommy 👶🏼❤️."
As a young mother back to the sports world class - this experiment Natalie Geisenberger started after giving birth. Since then, if possible, the whole family is at the track with her, taking care of junior when mommy rushes through the ice channel. "He is the center of attention. And when he was hungry, there was a training break", Natalie Geisenberger remembers the first months.
In the meantime, she's already racked up World Cup victories again. But five weeks of separation from her son at the beginning of the Olympic season were tough, with preparation and races in Beijing and Sochi. In the end, the luge queen only wanted to go home: "Tomorrow we'll go home, that's when I'm most happy about it. That I can finally hold my child in my arms."
At 21, the Californian has already been a superstar on the snowboarding scene for seven years. She is so popular in the USA that Time magazine included her in its list of the 100 most influential people of the year after her halfpipe Olympic victory in 2018. She wasn't born into this global career: when her father emigrated to the U.S. from South Korea in 1982, he reportedly had only $800 on him. And little Chloe's first used snowboard cost just 25 dollars.
In the meantime, the investment has paid off millions of times over. Due to her origins, Chloe Kim is equally popular in the USA and in Asia and in demand with sponsors. When she campaigns for the climate protection organization Protect Our Winters (POW), people listen to her. And when she makes it to the semifinals as a jellyfish on the U.S. version of "The Masked Singer," millions watch. Between 2019 and 2021, she took a two-year break from competing to study at Princeton. After Beijing, she will continue with her science studies - but in between, Chloe Kim wants to become an Olympic champion again.
On this list - because she wants to set an Olympic world record in Beijing
German sports fans can hardly imagine how incredibly popular and important speed skating is in the Netherlands. And the queen of the blades is Ireen Wüst, the indestructible one. She has won gold a total of five times at four Winter Olympics since 2006 in Turin. In summer sports only six athletes have managed such a series, in winter sports this has never happened before. If Ireen Wüst wins gold in Beijing for the fifth Games in a row, it will be an achievement unprecedented in Olympic history.
So in February, the entire Netherlands is anxious to see if Beijing 2022 won't be a little too late for the great Ireen. But at 35, she still believes in the final coup before her retirement, which she has already announced: "The bigger the race is, the more important it is, the more I can get the best out of my body." Her biggest fan is teammate Letitia de Jong - to whom Ireen Wüst got engaged in 2019. Since then, Holland's superstar has become even more popular in the LGBTQ scene than before, if that's even possible.
A 1.52-metre tall personality has been the queen of the ski jumps for a good ten years. At 15, Sara Takanashi conquered the scene as a teenager. The Japanese was marvelled at and celebrated like a wonder of the world. Since then she has won 60 World Cup jumps, stood on the podium 109 times - a record for female and male ski jumpers alike. Sara Takanashi has won everything there is to win in her sport in her younger years - except Olympic gold.
Because that's the tragedy of her career (so far): even though it's hard to believe, the flying Japanese has never won individual gold at World Championships and Olympic Games. That's about the same as if Franz Beckenbauer had never become football world champion. Sochi 2014 ended in tears for her when she dropped from bronze to fourth in the second run. In 2018 in Pyeongchang, she had to be satisfied with bronze as a consolation prize.
Sara Takanashi's great dominance in the World Cup has been over for two or three years. But in Beijing she wants to shake off her Olympic trauma: "I have restructured my jump from scratch. It's my jump now and it's starting to bear fruit." The funny thing about it: While the men jump twice for medals on the normal and the large hill, there is still only one individual competition on the normal hill for the women ski jumpers at the Olympics.