A brief guide to every sport at the Winter Olympics
By Victor Mather
Just six months after the flame was doused in Tokyo, the Olympics get underway again Feb. 4 in Beijing (and 50 miles north in Yanqing and 100 miles north of that in Zhangjiakou).
Here’s a look at every sport that will be contested at the Games in China.
—Alpine Skiing, 11 gold medals awarded
Mikaela Shiffrin, who won a gold medal in 2014 and 2018, will go for a third or maybe more. She is still at the top of her game, and in November she tied the career record for World Cup wins in a single discipline, slalom. Petra Vlhova of Slovakia and Lara Gut-Behrami and Michelle Gisin of Switzerland will be challengers as well.
In the men’s events, Alexis Pinturault of France has a silver and two bronzes at the Games but will be looking for gold No. 1 as the reigning World Cup overall champion.
The disciplines include downhill, the fastest event; super-G, with more turns added; giant slalom, still more turns; and slalom, the slowest and most technical event. There is also a combined event (downhill and slalom) and a mixed-gender team slalom event.
—Biathlon, 11 golds
Take the endurance test of cross-country skiing and shake it up every few kilometers by having athletes stop to shoot rifles at targets. Too many misses, and skiers must take a penalty lap. Germany, France, Sweden and Norway should dominate the medals.
—Bobsled, 4 golds
Joining the four-man, two-man and two-woman events is a race for just one: women’s monobob. The first world champion was crowned this year: Kaillie Humphries, a two-time Olympic gold medalist for Canada now representing the United States. But Humphries is still awaiting U.S. citizenship to compete in Beijing.
Humphries is also the world champion in the two-woman bob, with Lolo Jones as her pusher.
—Cross-Country Skiing, 12 golds
Norway dominates this sport, but the United States claimed its first gold medal in 2018 when Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall won the sprint relay. Diggins will be back in 2022. The revered Norwegian Marit Bjorgen has retired from Olympic competition after winning eight gold medals over three Games.
—Curling, 3 golds
For many Americans, who seem to embrace the granite rocks and brooms of curling every four years, a highlight of the 2018 Games was the U.S. men, led by John Shuster, streaking to the gold medal after a somewhat shaky 5-4 start. The Swedish men and Swiss women have been the most successful since then, and Canada is always a contender.
—Figure Skating, 5 golds
The deep Russian team swept the top three spots in the women’s competition at the last world championships, with now 17-year-old Anna Shcherbakova on top.
American Nathan Chen skated a terrible short program four years ago that knocked him out of contention. But he won his third straight gold medal at the worlds this year, and a potential duel with Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, the 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion, could be a highlight of the Games.
In the pairs event, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong could bring the gold to the host nation. In ice dance, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia are the world champions.
—Freestyle Skiing, 13 golds
There are six disciplines. In the aerials and the new big air event, skiers launch themselves off a ramp and perform flips and spins. In halfpipe, they perform in a U-shaped bowl, and in slopestyle, they ski down a course with rails and jumps. In moguls, they ski over a bumpy course and are judged on turns, jumps and speed.
The only event that is timed instead of judged is ski cross, in which skiers race against one another in groups of four.
Canada won four gold medals at the last Games; no other nation had more than one. That team is led by moguls superstar Mikael Kingsbury, the defending Olympic champion.
—Ice Hockey, 2 golds
After missing out in 2018, NHL players will be back at the Games, assuring a star-laden field. The United States (Patrick Kane and Auston Matthews), Canada (Sidney Crosby and Connor McDavid) and Sweden (Nicklas Backstrom and Victor Hedman) could be the strongest teams on paper.
China will also be participating in the men’s event, despite concerns that the team is not nearly good enough to be competitive.
In the women’s event, Canada and the United States have won all six gold medals since the sport was added and five of the six silvers. Finland, Russia and perhaps Switzerland are likely to vie for the bronze.
—Luge, 4 golds
Germans have won 34 of 48 gold medals in this sport over the years, including seven of the past eight.
In case you can’t remember, luge is the feet-first sledding race; skeleton is headfirst.
—Nordic Combined, 3 golds
To win in Nordic combined, athletes must be great at two very different events: cross-country skiing and ski jumping. After years of Norwegian domination, Germany won all three gold medals at the last Games.
Nordic combined is the only Olympic sport without a women’s event, but that may change in 2026.
—Skeleton, 2 golds
And here’s the headfirst sledding event. The United States does much better here, winning three of the 12 golds awarded. (The Americans have never won luge gold.) Germany, Austria and Russia are the countries to watch this year.
This is a sport that beats athletes up, thanks to the G-forces and vibrations rattling the sledders.
—Ski Jumping, 5 golds
Men jump in “normal hill” and “large hill” competitions, while female jumpers, who joined the Games only in 2018, are limited to normal hill. There is also a mixed-gender team competition being added this year.
Some have said that the top of the ski jumping tower, where athletes wait before the exhilarating trip down, is the quietest spot at the Games.
—Snowboarding, 11 golds
Several of the events are the same as in freestyle skiing: big air, halfpipe, slopestyle and snowboard cross (rather than ski cross). There is also a head-to-head giant slalom competition.
One of the stars of the 2018 competition, American halfpipe gold medalist Chloe Kim, will be back to defend her title, with an appearance on “The Masked Singer” under her belt. Three-time gold medalist Shaun White plans to be back as well at age 35.
—Speedskating, 23 golds
Long-track speedskating, in which athletes normally race two at a time against the clock, is dominated by the Dutch. They won seven of 14 gold medals in 2018 and eight of 12 in 2014. The United States, behind world champions Joey Mantia and Brittany Bowe, will be looking for a first gold medal since 2010.
Short-track, with multiple skaters racing, and sometimes colliding, over a tight course, provided China with its only gold of the 2018 Games. South Korea will also be a major contender. Though the United States picks up medals here and there, it has not won a gold since Apolo Ohno did in 2006 and 2002.