11 must-watch athletes at the Winter Olympics

Nathan Chen figure skating
U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen (Image credit: Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

While there are thousands of athletes competing in the Winter Olympics in Beijing this year — all of whom have trained incredibly hard and are living out their Olympic dreams — there are always a handful of athletes who steal the show and become must-watch TV for Olympics fans.

We never know who is going to surprise us — U.S. fans fell in love with the men’s curling team, on their way to a surprising gold medal, at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics — but, as we get ready for the 2022 Winter Olympics starting on Feb. 4, here’s who you need to be sure to watch as they vie for gold.

Maame Biney, short track speed skating

Maame Biney

(Image credit: Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Maame Biney made history at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics as the first Black woman to compete on the U.S. Olympic short track team. Now readying for her second Olympics, she is focused on much more than just making the team, she wants a medal. With this goal in mind, she says that she has created an alter ego for when she competes, “Anna Digger”. While she has competed in multiple distances, she excels in the fastest short track speed skating event, the 500m. 

Nathan Chen, figure skating

Nathan Chen

(Image credit: Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Nathan Chen was hoping to have a much better showing in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, but a fall early in the competition caused the then 18-year-old to miss the podium, even though he did rebound from that rough start. After the 2018 games, Chen went on a huge winning streak, taking the top prize in his next 14 competitions, just ending in 2021. Chen is doing things on the ice that few others can even attempt and looks for redemption to achieve his Olympics dream of gold, but he’ll have a familiar foe to deal with during the Beijing games, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. 

Great Britain curling team

Eve Muirhead

(Image credit: Alamy)

Britain has high hopes for both its men’s and women’s teams, who are consistently among the best in the world for the unusual sport that’s like bowls on ice (with a broom). Women’s skipper Eve Muirhead is at her fourth Olympics and the team is confident having recently beaten reigning Olympic champions Sweden and the winners of the last two world championships Switzerland. Eve’s teammate, Jennifer Dodds, also has a good chance in the mixed doubles partnering with Bruce Moat, who’s the skipper for the British men’s team. The British men have made a major impact in world competitions over the last three years at both world and European championships. 

Yuzuru Hanyu, figure skating

Yuzuru Hanyu

(Image credit: USA Today Sports)

The first Asian skater to win the Olympic gold medal in men’s single figure skating, Yuzura Hanyu is the two-time defending gold medalist in that competition, including besting Chen in 2018. The Japanese skater is one of the most popular in the sport, but finds himself recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in November 2021, hoping that he will be 100% in time for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. If so, and even though the men’s single figure skating competition will feature a slew of other skaters, the rivalry between Hanyu and Nathan Chen will be among the most exciting at the entire games.

Scotty James, snowboarding

Scotty James

(Image credit: USA Today Sports)

Australia’s Scotty James is expected to be one of the favorites in the men’s snowboard halfpipe. The reigning bronze medalist from 2018, three-time X Games champ and three-time world champion is known for his red-mittens and signature trick, a switch backside double cork 1260. Gold for men’s snowboard halfpipe at the Olympics has only ever gone to athletes from the U.S. or Switzerland, but after being the first Australian man to medal in the event, he hopes to join fellow Aussie Torah Bright (Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics) as a halfpipe gold medalist. 

Chloe Kim, snowboarding

Chloe Kim

(Image credit: Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

One of the breakout stars of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, Chloe Kim will look to defend her snowboard halfpipe gold medal. Since her triumphant 2018 Olympics, Kim — who is still just 21 — attended Princeton University and took a nearly two-year break from competition (in part recovering from a broken ankle). However none of that has slowed her down, as she won her first competition back and is the favorite to repeat in Beijing. With Shaun White exiting the international stage following these Olympics, Kim is the next face of U.S. snowboarding, if she isn’t already. 

Katie Ormerod, snowboarding

Katie Ormerod

(Image credit: Alamy)

In 2018, three days before the Olympic Slopestyle snowboard competition in PyeongChang, Great Britain’s Katie Omerod came off a rail early and broke her heel bone, and her Olympics were over. Seven operations later, plus plenty of rehab, 24-year-old Katie is back in Beijing hoping for redemption as she enters the two Olympic snowboarding competitions of Slopestyle and Big Air. 

Mikaela Shiffrin, alpine skiing

Mikaela Shiffrin

(Image credit: Photo by Stanko Gruden/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

At just 26 years old, Mikaela Shiffrin is already appearing in her third Winter Olympics and, should things go her way at the games, she could become the most decorated American alpine skier of all time. Shiffrin currently has three Olympic medals (two gold, on silver) and is considered the favorite in the slalom and giant slalom events, while also expected to be a strong contender in other alpine skiing disciplines (she is expected to compete in five events). Two more medals would have her pass Julia Mancuso as the most decorated U.S. Olympic woman alpine skier, while four more would make her the most decorated U.S. alpine skier, man or woman (passing Bode Miller’s six). Whether or not she can do it will be one of the biggest storylines of the games. 

USA & Canada Women’s National Ice Hockey Teams

Sarah Nurse

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since women’s ice hockey has been included in the Olympics (starting with the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics), the gold medal has been won by either Canada (four times) or the U.S. (two times), with the two sides facing off in the gold medal game all but once. And following the classic shoot-out victory by Team USA to win the gold medal at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, everyone is eager to see these teams face off again as the two favorites for the gold. The United States Women’s National Ice Hockey team is led by Hilary Knight and Brianna Decker, while Team Canada has Sarah Nurse and Marie-Philip Poulin highlighting their roster.

As it turns out, USA and Canada are in the same preliminary group, so we'll get a rematch between the two teams on Feb. 8.

Shaun White, snowboarding 

Shaun White

(Image credit: NBC Olympics)

Shaun White, aka the Flying Tomato, is one of the most iconic U.S. Winter Olympians in the history of the games. Set for what will be his fifth, and final, Olympics, White looks to claim snowboard halfpipe gold for the fourth time, which would make him the first snowboarder in Olympics history with four gold medals. White has been less active on the snowboard circuit since the 2018 Winter Olympics and has some stiff competition at this year’s games and he may need to pull out the triple cork (three diagonal flips) to win, a trick that put him in the hospital in 2013 and that was only successfully landed for the first time in December (by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano, one of White’s competitors). 

James Woods, freestyle skier

James Woods

(Image credit: Alamy)

Known as “Woodsy” to his mates, British superstar James Woods is near the top of the world freestyle skiing leaderboard, having finished an agonizing fourth in the last Olympics. He won Slopestyle gold at the world championships in Utah two years ago, so he’ll be looking to repeat that success. James also competes in the Big Air event, so the 29-year-old definitely has a busy Olympic Games ahead of him. 

Michael Balderston

Michael Balderston is a DC-based entertainment and assistant managing editor for What to Watch, who has previously written about the TV and movies with TV Technology, Awards Circuit and regional publications. Spending most of his time watching new movies at the theater or classics on TCM, some of Michael's favorite movies include Casablanca, Moulin Rouge!, Silence of the Lambs, Children of Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Star Wars. On the TV side he enjoys Peaky Blinders, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Saturday Night Live, Only Murders in the Building and is always up for a Seinfeld rerun. Follow on Letterboxd.