No matter the location, sport or season, every Olympics has breakout athletes. Many of these athletes turn into stalwarts in their respective sports, making appearances for Games to come.
This year was no different. The 2022 Games saw breakout stars in almost every sport, ranging from freestyle skier Eileen Gu to speed skater Nils van der Poel. Check out why these athletes earned the title of breakout star at the 2022 Winter Games.
Eileen Gu became the first freestyle skier to win three medals at a single Olympics when she won the women’s halfpipe with a commanding score of 95.25. She was so dominant that her first run of the day would have won silver with a score of 93.25, nearly three points higher than the next skier.
The 18-year-old also became the first athlete to win three medals in three different freestyle skiing disciplines. China had never won a medal in any of the disciplines before the 2022 Winter Games.
Gu became a household name overnight when she kicked off her competition in the big air event early in the Games. When she won with a score of 188.25, she became the youngest freestyle skiing gold medalist in Olympic history.
Gu’s silver medal came in the slopestyle event. She came up clutch in her final run, scoring 86.23 to secure her second medal of the Games.
The freestyle skier will be just 22 in Milano Cortina in 2026, so it’s likely she’s just getting started.
Nils van der Poel
The 2022 Winter Games were Nils van der Poel’s second trip to the Olympics. This time, he’d leave with two gold medals in the men’s 5000m and men’s 10,000m.
Van der Poel set the tone for his Olympics with his race in the 5000m. He won gold in an Olympic record of 6:08.84. He improved on his 14th place finish in PyeongChang to win Sweden’s first medal in speed skating since 1988. Van der Poels now owns the world record and Olympic record in the event.
The speed skater set a world record of 12:30.74 in the 10,000m, breaking his own record from February 2021. He was the first speed skater to sweep the men’s 5000m and 10,000m at the same Olympics since 2002.
The 17-year-old Juraj Slafkovsky was the youngest player in the field, but his play wouldn’t have given it away in the men’s ice hockey tournament. The only way to tell his age, is that he had to wear a full cage when his competitors only needed visors based on International Hockey Federation guidelines.
He was definitely be the MVP of the Slovakian team. He made an instant impact, scoring two goals in the first game of the tournament and he didn’t stop there. He led the tournament in goals with seven.
After upsetting the U.S. men, Slafkovsky and the Slovaks battled to win bronze. Expect Slafkovsky to not only be back in the next Olympics, but also be a highly-targeted NHL draft pick thanks to his performance at the 2022 Winter Games.
The speed skater almost didn’t make it to the 2022 Winter Games. She made sure the selfless act by Brittany Bowe wouldn’t be in vein. Jackson claimed gold in the women’s 500m with a time of 37.01.
With the win, Jackson became the first American woman to win gold in the event since Bonnie Blair won three consecutive golds (1988, 1992, 1994). She also became the first Black American woman to win a medal in speed skating at the Olympics.
After her race she remarked, “I just try to be a good example whenever I can. With the Winter Olympics, you don’t see a whole lot of diversity, so I just hope I can be someone who they can see and be like ‘Maybe I’ll try one of these sports.'”
American freestyle skier Alex Hall was competing in his second Olympic Games. But he won his first medal in China, claiming gold in men’s slopestyle.
Hall’s first run was one to remember. He let his creativity shine, putting down a 90.01-point run that no one could match. His final jump included pulling back a double cork 1080 at the last moment, a mid-air pretzel, and reverting it to a 900. Hall’s gold helped defend the United States’ reign in slopestyle and it definitely improved upon his 16th place finish in PyeongChang.
Hall also competed in the men’s big air, but finished a somewhat disappointing eighth after entering the event’s reigning X Games champion.
He’s still young at 23, so he could be back for the 2026 Games.
Winning two medals and turning 18 makes quite the memorable Olympics for China’s Su Yiming. The snowboarder won the men’s big air and earned silver in the slopestyle.
His gold medal in the big air was China’s first snowboarding gold medal.
Su turned heads in the slopestyle event when his run consisted of a frontside 1440, switch backside 1620 and backside 1800. While he only placed second with a score of 88.7, some feel he should’ve won the gold.
Su has only competed at six World Cup events, starting in December 2019. It’s clear that his competitive snowboarding career is only just getting started.
The 2022 Winter Games were Marco Odermatt’s first. He was favored in multiple events, but finished 7th in the downhill and was a DNF in the super-G. He wouldn’t walk away empty handed, though. He finally won his first Olympic medal, by winning gold in the men’s giant slalom. He finished 0.19 ahead of second, with a time of 2:09.35.
His breakout status isn’t just limited to the Olympics. This past season the popular Swiss skier won four of five giant slalom races on the World Cup tour. These Games likely mark just the start of the 24-year-old’s Olympics achievements.
If there was any doubt of whether Ivan Fedotov belongs on this list, his performance in the ROC’s semifinal game against Sweden sealed the deal. He stopped 34 of 35 shots he faced. In the shootout, he made five straight saves when the ROC could’ve been eliminated.
The young Russian single-handedly kept the team in the tournament early on. He delivered two shutouts in their first two games, a 1-0 win and a 2-0 win against Switzerland and Denmark, respectively. Outside of the ROC’s loss to the Czech Republic, he allowed a combined two goals in four starts.
Entering the gold medal game, he owned a .944 save percentage and 1.53 goals against at his first Olympic Games.
It was her first Olympics, but she didn’t let nerves get in the way in the gold medal game. The duo defeated Norway 8-5. Her accuracy was on full display when it mattered most; her throw in the fourth end gave Italy the 6-2 lead at the halfway mark and Norway could not recover.
The 21-year-old Sarah Fillier made her Olympics debut for Canada in the women’s hockey tournament. She absolutely dominated from the start, scoring eight goals in her first six games. She averaged nearly two points per game.
Expect her to be a fixture in future rink battles between Canada and the United States.
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