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    Eight Athletes to Watch Ahead of Milan-Cortina 2026


    The snowboarder Shaun White won’t be back for another Winter Games. Neither will the Dutch speedskating legends Ireen Wüst and Sven Kramer. Kamila Valieva probably doesn’t want to think about another Olympics for a long time. But the countdown for the next edition — in Milan and Cortina, Italy, in 2026 — began on Sunday the moment the Olympic flame went out in Beijing. Who will be the stars then? New York Times reporters who covered the Beijing Games offer a peek into the future.

    Nobody had a better time at the 2022 Olympics than the American figure skater Alysa Liu, who, at 16, was the youngest athlete to compete for the U.S. team in Beijing.

    She shopped in the athletes’ village mall again and again, played cornhole with Canadians (and learned that it’s an underhand throw, not overhand, that is most effective) and hung out with figure skater friends she hadn’t seen in what felt like forever because of the pandemic.

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

    She was happy on the ice, too. 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 that this turned out to be such a good Games for her, she said, after she had set a low bar coming in. She had injured her hip in 2020, and it took a while for her to relearn her triple jumps.

    Liu still doesn’t know if she will train for a second Olympics. College is on the horizon and she has other interests, including speaking out for L.G.B.T.Q. rights and against racial discrimination. But her skating is still on the upswing, so sticking around is tempting, she said.

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

    — Juliet Macur

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

    But 2026, when she will be 21, could be just the right time.

    Murase is part of a Japanese wave that is crashing into snowboarding. She has been a dominant force in the sport for the past two years, but could not convert that to a big Olympic showing — at least in slopestyle, where she finished 10th.

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

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

    Her biggest competition — everyone’s biggest competition — could be from Japan. At the Winter Olympics, Reira Iwabuchi, 20, 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 among the men, where Ayumu Hirano won gold in the halfpipe. Japan had four finalists, though hopes for a podium sweep did not coalesce. Add Hiroaki Kunitake’s fourth-place finish in big air, and Takeru Otsuka’s top-10 performances in slopestyle and big air, and there is the making of a Japanese medal haul in 2026.

    But if there is one name to note, make it Kokomo Murase. She is already thinking ahead.

    — 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 become the top American in the race. After the first run, O’Brien, a 24-year-old Californian, was in sixth place, within shouting distance of the podium.

    In her second run, O’Brien shredded her turns, racing like someone ready to move up. With roughly 20 meters to go before the finish, O’Brien’s ski caught the last gate and she flew over the tips of her skis and tumbled across the snow. There was a scream, and a rush of medics. O’Brien’s tibia was sticking through her ski sock. It was fractured. So was her fibula.

    “Heartbreaking,” she said of the experience.

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

    Horrific crashes and gruesome injuries are endemic to Alpine skiing. The World Cup circuit has no shortage of skiers who have come back from such disasters and ended up with Olympic medals hanging around their necks. Perhaps 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, the double-gold medalist Marte Roeiseland and triple-gold medalist Johannes Boe, both of Norway, are 31 and 28.

    So what are we to make of Elvira Oeberg? In Beijing, she won a silver in the sprint and pursuit behind the incomparable Roeiseland and teamed to win a relay gold with Sweden. A few shooting misses helped cost her a chance at yet another medal in the individual event.

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

    She won her first World Cup event just in December. If she keeps getting better, who knows? Though biathlon is an event where disaster may strike at any time with some poor shooting, Oeberg looks like a fairly sure bet for multiple golds.

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

    While Hanna, now 26, is far from done, Elvira seems ready to peak at 26 in 2026. (And why not at 32 in 2030, too?)

    — Victor Mather

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

    Win after win after win, Constantini dazzled curling fans around the world — but especially in Italy — during the mixed doubles competition. She and her partner, Amos Mosaner, stood out: For one, at 6 feet 6 inches, Mosaner was by far the tallest on the ice. They are young (she’s 22, he’s 26). And they are really, really good.

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

    Constantini was praised for being unflappable and deadly accurate. She and Mosaner defeated opponent after opponent: the United States, Britain, China, Sweden, Norway. After each victory, she talked about wanting to raise the profile of curling in Italy, well aware that in four years the Winter Olympics will be in Milan and her hometown, Cortina d’Ampezzo.

    It seems to have worked: She was greeted upon her return like a hero, enormous bouquets of flowers laid in her arms as crowds cheered. She and Mosaner had been undefeated, achieving a first for their country: Italy now had an Olympic medal in curling and it was gold.

    — Rick Rojas

    River Radamus, who turned 24 during the Beijing Olympics, was the youngest member of the United States men’s Alpine team competing at the Games. He was not cowed by his first Olympic appearance, nor did he want to blend in. Instead, he dyed his blond hair in a snow leopard’s pattern and did so with a purpose.

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

    It is a recurring attitude that Radamus has adopted for more than Olympic appearances, and it has served him well. The son of two national-level, longtime ski-racing coaches, he has one of the brightest futures on the U.S. Alpine team, and he proved it when he narrowly missed winning a bronze medal in the men’s giant slalom in Beijing.

    Racing in a blinding snowstorm, Radamus seemed to be emboldened by the conditions that were distracting much of the field. Though ninth in the World Cup giant slalom rankings this season, Radamus finished fourth in Beijing, only .26 of a second behind bronze medal winner Mathieu Faivre of France. His second run included two small miscues in the middle of the racecourse. They did not irk Radamus.

    “They were mistakes of aggression rather than terror,” he said.

    Raised in Colorado, Radamus was the first three-time gold medalist at the Youth Olympic Games in 2016 and has developed a reputation as a big event racer. 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 20s. At this season’s opening World Cup race in Sölden, Austria, which is a notable celebration of the sport’s return in Europe, Radamus, who had struggled to achieve top giant slalom results in many World Cup races, charged into a stunning sixth-place finish.

    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 jutted across the finish line and her time flashed on the board, Femke Kok knew her Olympics were finished. She was fourth in the women’s 500-meter speedskating race, with some of the fastest skaters in the world still to come. Her hands quickly covered her face; “I don’t feel like I was able to show what I was worth,” she later wrote on Instagram.

    Her final placement was sixth, two-tenths of a second from a medal. In speedskating the margins are that fine, and that difficult to overcome. Seen from a different angle, however, Kok’s Games were hugely successful. She made her Olympic debut at just 21, and she was trying to do something only one other Dutch woman has ever done despite the Netherlands’ domination of speedskating: win a 500-meter medal.

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

    But she will have another chance, and perhaps several chances, to blaze a new path. Her competitors should worry.

    — Kevin Draper

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