With the Winter Olympics officially underway in Beijing and athletes primed for their events, fans are fired up to see how the medal count plays out.
Ninety-one countries will be represented by a total of 2,871 athletes competing in seven sports. With 225 athletes, Team USA’s lineup includes repeat performers and social media stars like snowboarder Shaun White and Chloe Kim, figure skater Nathan Chen and downhill skier Mikaela Shiffrin.
Of course, branding opportunities abound for all since the primetime viewership of the Winter Games is pegged to more than 26 million people despite the 13-hour time difference between Beijing and EST.
What makes people identify with athletes they never met because of the flag on their uniforms? According to Yoav Dubinsky, a sports business professor at the University of Oregon, “The ratings of the Olympics and the domestic support of Team USA show that despite the political and social divisions in our country, one’s identity as an American is still very strong. There is also a social component to watching sports together with family and friends and cheering for the same team or athlete as a collective activity. In the Olympics, the common denominator is often nationality.”
In the spirit of possibility, here are 10 American athletes to keep an eye on as their quests for gold unfold until the Olympic flame is extinguished on Feb. 20.
Alex Ferreira, freestyle skiing
Halfpipe skier Alex Ferreira struck silver at the 2018 Winter Olympics and finished first in the men’s ski superpipe event at Winter X Games in 2019 and 2020. Born and bred in Aspen, Colo., the Ferreira is an Aspen Skiing Company brand ambassador; helmet and armor brand POC Sports has been his sponsor since he was 17.
In what looks like a why-wait-to-win approach to forging marketing alliances, Ferreira’s personal site also features Columbia Sportswear, Level Gloves, Voll Skis, the W Aspen Hotel, Rockstar Energy Drink and USANA Health Sciences.
Ferreira’s off-piste pursuits include his “Hotdog Hans” films based on a character developed with his friend Matt Hobbs — one of which has 316,000 views on YouTube.
Hundreds of Aspen-ites turned out for Ferreira’s Olympic send-off, chanting his name.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, ice dancers
Ten years after they first skated together, Madison Hubbell’s and Zachary Donohue’s 2022 Olympic bid will in all likelihood be their last. The 2019 Nationals champions recruited some added reinforcement for Beijing — two-time Olympic champion Scott Moir is one of their choreographers. The 2021-22 Grand Prix season started strong with Hubbell and Donohoe winning at Skate America, which marked their fourth consecutive victory at the annual event.
Given the flash required for ice dancing, Hubbell has relied on costumes crafted by her mother and Vesa Design in years past, including a Marilyn Monroe-style halter-neck dress. Donohue, who once sported a Joe DiMaggio-style ensemble, has said they try not to match what people have seen in a movie, soundtrack or Broadway play “too identically.”
Adept at free dance and rhythm dance, they have fused multiple musical themes into their programs, including “Burlesque” performed by Christina Aguilera.
Off the ice, Hubbell favors arts and crafts, knitting, cross-stitching and cooking. The multilingual Donohue already is envisioning a post-Olympic life, with hopes of choreographing skating programs and owning an elite skating school. The 6-foot, 3-inch Hartford, Conn., native enjoys riding motorcycles and singing.
Anna Hoffman, ski jumping
Having started ski jumping at the age of two in Madison, Wisc., Hoffman, who despite winning the U.S. Olympic Trials in Lake Placid on Christmas did not have the necessary amount of points to qualify for the Games, landed a spot on Team USA when another country wasn’t able to fill its quota spot and thus one opened up.
Announcing that change of fate, she shared images of her Olympic portrait with a flashback photo as a child mountainside skis in hand. Hoffman will make her Olympic debut on Saturday.
Earlier this week she posted a photo of her own personal fashion show, kitted out in Polo Ralph Lauren attire. The 21-year-old University of Utah student will be the only American woman vying for a medal in ski jumping. The field recently opened up at the top as the world’s leading ski jumper, Austria’s Marita Kramer, just bowed out after testing positive for COVID-19.
Erin Jackson, speed skating
With a mere four months of training on ice, Erin Jackson qualified for the 2018 U.S. Olympic speed skating team, making her the first Black woman to do so in the long track. En route to Beijing, the 29-year-old has four 500-meter World Cup wins this season, including one that amounted to a new American record at 36.8 seconds. If the tried-and-true coaching adage that momentum is key to victory is true, Jackson appears to be in good shape as a gold medal favorite.
The Floridian has been a roller skater for as long as she can remember, and competed in in-line skating and roller derby before switching tracks to speed skating. Along the way, she graduated cum laude from the University of Florida’s honors program with a Bachelor of Sscience in materials science and engineering. The Salt Lake City racer earned an Associate in Science degree in computer science in 2020 and is working toward an AS in exercise science/kinesiology. Triple Eight, Toyota, 187 Killer Pads, Hyperice and Bont are among her sponsors.
Alysa Liu, figure skating
At 16, figure skater Alysa Liu is the youngest American completing in Beijing. A two-time U.S. champion in figure skating, Liu was the first female skater to land a triple axel and a quadruple lutz in the same program. Her Olympic quest was tenuous last month after testing positive for COVID-19.
Despite not yet legally being an adult, Liu seems to market like a pro. Last month she helped Ralph Lauren unveil its official opening ceremony uniforms. Part of the women’s singles skating team that includes Mariah Bell and Karen Chen, Liu told WWD recently: “I think we’re all going to skate really well and hopefully we’ll make ourselves proud and happy.”
Last week, Liu plugged another supporter with an Instagram photo of herself on the ice with an American Girl doll. The toy maker is a Team USA partner. Having been spotlighted in American Girl’s “Girl of the Year” promos, Liu will be part of a talk series that airs Feb. 10.
Whether posting Instagram images of herself horsing around on a pogo stick in plaid pajamas, of a cat with a stuffed animal spider on its head, or of using a Target store surveillance camera to take a selfie imprinted with “monitoring in progress,” Liu’s lightheartedness comes crashing through.
Chris Mazdzer, luge
Barreling down an ice track while lying on your back and using your feet to control a small sled at speeds nearing 90 mph might seem more treacherous than adventurous, but for Mazdzer it is all in a day’s work. The luger is competing in his fourth Olympics, having earned the silver medal in 2018. In Beijing, the men’s singles course at the Olympic sliding center is 0.84 miles — slightly longer than the women’s.
Mazdzer’s Instagram followers got a glimpse of his speed with an aerial image of him racing down the Olympic course. To give viewers more perspective about the near-right angle of a section of the course, he also posted a photo of his 6-foot, 1-inch frame standing nearly upright with his arm outstretched on the wall.
His training can call for a 6 a.m. wake-up and an 8 p.m. finish. Diagnosed with ADHD as a child, Mazdzer said sliding down tracks at 80-plus mph is his medicine. Realizing his Olympic dream required selling his car at one point to buy equipment.
Fans of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” will recognize him from the show’s 2018 season, when Mazdzer advanced with pro Witney Carson to the third round before being knocked out. When not training, the Salt Lake City residents hikes and heli-skis, among other sports. Visualization is a daily practice for his sport and personal reasons. “I truly believe that this is the tool that helped me not look like an idiot on ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”
John Shuster, curling
The pandemic helped to fuel interest in the socially distanced sport of curling, which many non-Olympians took to over the past two years. Devotees of the sport will see Shuster as a fan favorite. The Minnesotan is embarking on his fifth Olympic Games, having led Team USA to victory four years ago at the PyeongChang Olympics. That gold medal win was the first for an American team in curling.
Three-time Olympic bobsled medalist Elana Meyers Taylor was supposed to help, the 39-year-old Shuster carry the American flag during Friday’s opening ceremony but a substitute was needed after she tested positive for COVID. Brittany Bowe stepped in to wave the flag with Shuster. Aptly nicknamed “Shootsie,” Shuster helms the skip position and he also captains the national curling team. Columbia Sportswear and ThinkRice are the married father of two’s sponsors.
Elana Meyers Taylor, bobsledding
The accomplished American hurdler-turned-bobsledder and fan favorite Lolo Jones didn’t make the final cut for the national team, but Taylor did. She hit a speed bump though after testing positive for COVID and forced to self isolate. But Taylor is still optimistic that she will recover in time to compete. A three-time Olympian — who has claimed medals at each of those Games — she can reach speeds of 75 mph in the monobob event. Married to another elite bobsledder, Nic Taylor, she is among the mothers who will be chasing gold in Beijing.
Monobob and the two-woman event are her specialties. The four-time world champion is a past president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. She also played professional softball before zeroing in on bobsledding. Her team will include new citizen and multimedalist Kaillie Humphries, who has joined Team USA after alleging abuse and harassment after previously representing Canada at the PyeongChang Games. Their sport of choice is an aged one dating back to the first club being solidified in St. Moritz in 1897.
Winter Vinecki, aerial skiing
Hands down, this aerial skier has the ideal first name for the Winter Games — win or lose. The northern Michigan native soars through the air and, as she has attested, her sport of choice — with all its twists and turns — is as close to flying as you can get. Before jetting off to Beijing, her checklist included posting a photo of her Athleta-wearing self and thanking the athleisure label for its support.
Vinecki showed athletic promise as a child, running her first 5K at the age of 5, her first 10K at 8 and her first 10-miler at 10. By the age of 15, she earned a world record for being the youngest person to run a marathon on seven continents. Her philanthropic efforts include Team Winter, a nonprofit for prostate cancer research that she started in honor of her late father who died of the disease.
Vinecki once said, “To get out on the podium, let alone a win, just increases my platform with more awareness to my causes.”