Team USA women's hockey members Brianna Decker (L), Grace Zumwinkle (C) and Caroline Harvey sit on top of the goal as they pose for a picture before a practice session Tuesday at the Cadillac Center in Beijing Photo by Paul Hanna/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 3 (UPI) -- Snowboarder Chloe Kim and skier Mikaela Shiffrin are among Team USA's top expected medal contenders at the 2022 Winter Olympics, which start officially with the Opening Ceremony on Friday in Beijing.
Thousands of athletes, including more than 200 from Team USA, will participate in the 2022 Winter Games. Athletes from 91 countries will compete after they made accommodations for COVID-19 in the four-year lead-up to Beijing.
The pandemic altered their preparation, impacted physical and mental health and put the world competition in limbo for a time.
"It's been quite stressful and tiring these last weeks trying to get everything prepped for the trip to Beijing," Shiffrin wrote last week on Facebook.
"[We have] so much more to do than previous Games in the time of COVID and different travel logistics than we've dealt with before.
"I'm looking forward to getting there safely -- fingers crossed -- and to finally be past the 'organizational and preparation' part of the process, and on to the actual skiing part of it."
Competitions for the 2022 Winter Games are alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, ice hockey, luge, nordic combined, short track speed skating, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboard and speed skating.
Shiffrin, 26, won a gold and silver medal at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. She already won a gold in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Shiffrin and teammate Breezy Johnson were expected to be among Team USA's top medal contenders, but Johnson withdrew from the Olympics in January due to a knee injury.
Snowboarders Shaun White, Red Gerard, Jamie Anderson and Chloe Kim, freestyle skier David Wise, figure skater Nathan Chen, cross-country skier Jessie Diggins, speed skater Brittany Bowe and bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor are among the other former medalists from Pyeongchang who will represent Team USA.
White, the most-decorated American male competitor at the Games, will attempt to become the first athlete in any sport to win four gold medals in the same individual event when he competes in the halfpipe.
The 2018 gold-medal winning American women's hockey team and defending champion men's curling team also look to defend their titles.
Meyers Taylor, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday, is in isolation at her hotel in Beijing. She is asymptomatic and still hopes to be cleared in time for her events.
"This is just the latest obstacle that my family and I have faced on this journey, so I'm remaining optimistic that I'll be able to recover quickly and still have the opportunity to compete," Meyers Taylor wrote Monday on social media.
Erin Jackson, who ranks No.1 in the world in the 500-meter speed skating event, also is among the top American athletes to watch. In 2018, she became the first Black woman in history to make the American Olympic long track speed skating team.
Jackson, 29, slipped during her event at the U.S. Olympic trials in Milwaukee, which cost her one of two qualifying spots for the Winter Games. Fellow speed skater Brittany Bowe, who qualified for other events, gave up her qualifying spot for the 500-meter event, which allowed Jackson to make the team.
Women led Team USA athletes at the postponed 2020 Summer Games last year in Tokyo, winning nearly 60% of the Americans' Olympic-best 113 medals.
Team USA isn't expected to top the medals table this winter, but former gold medalist Picabo Street recently told UPI that COVID-19-related preparation disruptions could alter those expectations.
She also said she expects American women in Beijing to do as well as the female athletes in Tokyo.
"I think that [American] females will probably be more successful," Street said. "When something has to push against something else to grow, it grows stronger. Now, the platform is available to express themselves and be strong because strong is the new beautiful."
The Opening Ceremony will air at 6:30 a.m. EST Friday on NBC. The Closing Ceremony airs at 8 p.m. Feb. 20 on the same network. Tickets to live events will not be sold to the public, but organizers will select spectators to attend some competitions.
Hannah Soar of the United States takes a training run in the Women's Freestyle Skiing Moguls. Photo by Bob Strong/UPI | License Photo