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Eight athletes to watch ahead of Milan-Cortina 2026

Snowboarder Shaun White will not be returning for any other Winter Games. Neither will Dutch speed skating legends Ireen Wüst and Sven Kramer. Kamila Valieva probably doesn’t want to think about any more Olympics for a long time. But the countdown to the next edition – in Milan and Cortina, Italy, in 2026 – began on Sunday as the Olympic flame was extinguished in Beijing. Who will be the stars then? The New York Times reporters who covered the Beijing Games offer a glimpse into the future.

No one has had a better time at the 2022 Olympics than American figure skater Alysa Liu, who at 16 was the youngest athlete to compete for Team USA in Beijing.

She shopped in the mall in the Athletes’ Village again and again, played cornhole with Canadians (and learned that it’s an underhand, not overhand, throw that’s most effective), and hung out with figure skater friends she hadn’t seen in ages. because of the pandemic.

“I can’t believe how much fun it is here!” Liu said. “I am so happy!”

She was also happy on the ice. In the women’s individual event, she skated two clean programs, smiling from start to finish. She finished a satisfying seventh place in the women’s individual event and was the top American.

Liu, a two-time national champion from Richmond, Calif., was surprised it turned out to be such a good Games for her, she said, after setting a low bar as she entered. She had injured her hip in 2020, and it took her time to relearn her triple jumps.

Liu still does not know if she will train for a second Olympics. College is on the horizon, and she has other interests, including advocating for LGBTQ rights and fighting racial discrimination. But her skating is still on the rise, so sticking around is tempting, she says.

The question is, will her body hold up to the grueling sport long enough to compete four years from now?

—Juliet Macur

The first medal event for snowboarding at the Beijing Games was the women’s slopestyle. Maybe it was too early for 17-year-old Japanese Kokomo Murase.

But 2026, when she turns 21, might just be the right time.

Murase is part of a Japanese wave that is breaking into snowboarding. She’s been a dominant force in the sport for the past two years, but couldn’t convert that into a big Olympic performance – at least in slopestyle, where she finished 10th.

Nine days later, in the big air, she quietly won a bronze medal, finishing behind Austria’s Anna Gasser, the best trick thrower in recent years, and New Zealand’s Zoi Sadowski-Synnott, who won the gold in slopestyle that Murase could have imagined. for herself.

“I want to take that frustration away instead in the next Olympics for gold medals,” she wrote on Instagram.

His biggest competition – everyone’s biggest competition – could come from Japan. At the Winter Olympics, 20-year-old Reira Iwabuchi finished fourth in big air, fifth in slopestyle. Sena Tomita, 22, won bronze in the halfpipe and her little sister, Ruki Tomita, 20, was fifth.

The Japanese swell is bigger for the men, where Ayumu Hirano won gold in the halfpipe. Japan had four finalists, although hopes of a podium sweep did not materialize. Add to that Hiroaki Kunitake’s fourth place in big air and Takeru Otsuka’s top 10 performances in slopestyle and big air, and there’s a Japanese medal achievement in 2026.

But if there’s a name worth noting, make it Kokomo Murase. She is already thinking about the future.

— John Branch

All eyes were on Mikaela Shiffrin at the start of the giant slalom, but when she crashed, Nina O’Brien quickly rose to rank as the race’s top American. After the first run, O’Brien, a 24-year-old Californian, was in sixth place, a stone’s throw from the podium.

In his second moto, O’Brien shredded his turns, running like someone ready to climb. With about 20 yards to go before the finish, O’Brien’s ski caught the last gate and she flew over the tips of her skis and tumbled onto the snow. There was a scream and a rush for the doctors. O’Brien’s shin was poking through his ski sock. He was fractured. Just like his fibula.

“Heartbreaking,” she said of the experience.

O’Brien is one of many American skiers who attended Dartmouth College. It’s not the typical path to the Olympics and the World Cup circuit, but she’s been on the right path lately. She finished last season ranked 15th in the giant slalom, her best result to date.

Horrible accidents and horrible injuries are endemic to alpine skiing. The World Cup circuit has no shortage of skiers who have returned from such disasters and found themselves with Olympic medals around their necks. Maybe in four years, O’Brien will be one of them.

— Matthew Futterman

Biathletes tend to peak in their late 20s and early 30s. The biggest stars of 2022, double gold medalist Marte Roeiseland and triple gold medalist Johannes Boe, both Norwegians, are 31 and 28 years old.

So what about Elvira Oeberg? In Beijing, she won a silver medal in the sprint and pursuit behind the incomparable Roeiseland and teamed up to win a gold medal in the relay with Sweden. A few missed shots cost him a chance to win another medal in the individual event.

A very good Games, right? Well, there are plenty of biathlon fans who see even bigger things to come in 2026. Because Oeberg is only 22 years old.

She won her first World Cup just in December. If it continues to improve, who knows? Although biathlon is an event where disaster can strike at any time with poor shooting, Oeberg looks like a pretty safe bet for multiple gold medals.

Oeberg and her older sister, Hanna, reinvigorated Swedish women’s biathlon. When Hanna won a gold medal in 2018, it was the first for women in the country in 12 years.

While Hanna, now 26, is far from done, Elvira looks set to peak at 26 in 2026. (How about 32 in 2030 too?)

—Victor Mather

Italy isn’t exactly known as a curling powerhouse, but Stefania Constantini is helping her country move in that direction.

Victory after victory after victory, Constantini dazzled curling fans around the world – but especially in Italy – in the mixed doubles competition. She and her partner, Amos Mosaner, stood out: for one thing, at 6-foot-6, Mosaner was by far the tallest on the ice. They are young (she is 22, he is 26). And they are really really good.

In some ways, their success seemed unlikely: Constantini is captain of the Italian women’s national team, which failed to qualify for the Olympics. Prior to the Games, she was still working as a clerk at a North Face store.

Constantini was praised for his unflappable and deadly precision. She and Mosaner defeated adversary after adversary: ​​the United States, Great Britain, China, Sweden, Norway. After each victory, she spoke of wanting to raise the profile of curling in Italy, well aware that in four years the Winter Olympics will be held in Milan and in her home town of Cortina d’Ampezzo.

It seems to have worked: she was greeted on her return like a heroine, huge bouquets of flowers laid in her arms to the cheers of the crowd. She and Mosaner had gone undefeated, achieving a first for their country: Italy now had an Olympic medal in curling and that was gold.

—Rick Rojas

River Radamus, who turned 24 at the Beijing Olympics, was the youngest member of the United States men’s alpine team competing at the Games. He wasn’t intimidated by his first Olympic appearance, nor did he want to blend in. Instead, he dyed his blonde hair in a snow leopard pattern and did it with purpose.

“I can’t take myself too seriously,” Radamus said. “It sort of makes a statement.”

It’s a recurring attitude that Radamus has adopted for more than Olympic appearances, and it has served him well. The son of two longtime nationally competitive ski coaches, he has one of the brightest futures on the U.S. Alpine Ski Team, and he proved it by just missing out on bronze in the giant slalom. male in Beijing.

Racing through a blinding snowstorm, Radamus seemed emboldened by the conditions which distracted much of the peloton. Although ninth in the World Cup giant slalom standings this season, Radamus finished fourth in Beijing, just 0.26 seconds behind bronze medalist Mathieu Faivre of France. His second run included two small errors in the middle of the racetrack. They didn’t irritate Radamus.

“It was about mistakes of aggression rather than terror,” he said.

Raised in Colorado, Radamus was the first triple gold medalist at the Youth Olympic Games in 2016 and established a reputation as a great competitive runner. He has been compared to two-time Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety, a mentor and former teammate who also had a brash style in his twenties. In the opening race of this season’s World Cup in Sölden, Austria, which is a notable celebration of the sport’s return to Europe, Radamus, who had struggled to achieve top results in giant slalom in many numerous World Cup races, took a superb sixth place.

In the finish area, one of the first things he did was remove his helmet to reveal his snow leopard hairstyle.

—Bill Pennington

As her toe crossed the finish line and her time showed on the board, Femke Kok knew her Olympics were over. She finished fourth in the women’s 500 meter speed skating race, with some of the fastest skaters in the world yet to come. His hands quickly covered his face; “I don’t feel like I got to show what I was worth,” she later wrote on Instagram.

His final ranking was sixth, two tenths of a second from a medal. In speed skating, the margins are so thin and so difficult to overcome. Seen from another angle, however, Kok’s Games were hugely successful. She made her Olympic debut aged just 21, and she was trying to do something that only one other Dutch woman has ever done despite the Netherlands’ dominance in speed skating: win a medal in the 500 metres.

Dutch skaters have won at least one medal in all but three races at the Olympics. But while they have many contenders in the middle and long distances, the short distances are controlled by skaters from Japan, the United States, China and other countries. Focused on sprints, Kok will not have the opportunity to accumulate Olympic medals like her compatriots Ireen Wüst and Sven Kramer.

But she will have another chance, and perhaps several, to forge a new path. Its competitors should be worried.

—Kevin Draper

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