Olympics 2022: The Team USA athletes to watch in Beijing

Illustration by ESPN

The 2022 Beijing Olympics kicked off Friday morning with the opening ceremonies -- and despite the questions and concerns surrounding the host country, the athletes participating are some of the most compelling Olympians to ever hit the ice and snow. With both legends and up-and-comers set to take center stage, here's who you'll want to watch over the next two weeks:

Winter Olympics schedule | Medal tracker

Nathan Chen, figure skating

The Quad King is back to finish what he started four years ago in Pyeongchang, where he finished fifth after a calamitous short program. He got off to a flying start in the team event on Friday, scoring a personal best in the short program.

One thing to know: Chen, 22, went undefeated for three years after the 2018 Games and has beaten rival -- and reigning two-time Olympic champion -- Yuzuru Hanyu in every head-to-head meeting since.

One thing to watch: After finishing third at Skate America in October -- his first loss since Pyeongchang -- Chen went back to the programs he used in 2019-20. His free skate, set to an Elton John medley, is a crowd favorite.

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Mariah Bell, figure skating

Ninth time's the charm for Mariah Bell. The 25-year-old finally won gold at the U.S. championships this season after eight previous attempts. She will become the oldest U.S. women's figure skater to compete at the Olympics in nearly a century.

One thing to know: One of her coaches is 2018 Olympian Adam Rippon, who previously trained alongside Bell and Nathan Chen. She says Rippon -- and her German shepherd puppy, Nala -- help her keep things in perspective.

One thing to watch: Her free skate, set to k.d. lang's cover of "Hallelujah," is stunning in its beauty and emotion. We're not crying, you are!

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Alysa Liu, figure skating

Liu became the youngest-ever U.S. women's national champion at just 13 in 2019. Now 16, the two-time U.S. champ will be the youngest member of Team USA in Beijing.

One thing to know: Liu's father, who immigrated to the U.S. from China, told Alysa about the circumstances of her birth after she asked him why she didn't look Chinese. She and her four siblings were born to surrogate mothers through anonymous egg donors.

One thing to watch: Liu successfully landed quads earlier in her career but hasn't competed any this season. Still, she is the only U.S. skater who has the jumps -- especially the triple axel -- to challenge the Russians for the podium.

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Vincent Zhou, figure skating

Zhou, 21, has long been in Nathan Chen's shadow. But he's ready to make a name for himself at his second Olympics, where he has a realistic shot of landing on the podium.

One thing to know: Zhou and his mom left the rest of their family when he was 8 to seek better coaching. They thought at the time it would be for only two years. But Zhou's skating career took off and they never went back.

One thing to watch: Zhou has been skating five-quad long programs -- the same as Chen and the most difficult in men's competition. His long program is set to "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," a tribute to his Chinese heritage.

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Chloe Kim, snowboarding

The youngest Olympic gold medalist in snowboard halfpipe history, Kim, 21, took nearly two years off from competing after the 2018 Pyeongchang Games to attend Princeton and create a life outside of her sport. Since returning to competition in January 2021, Kim has been undefeated in halfpipe contests.

One thing to know: In 2021, Kim began opening up about her struggles with fame at a young age and dealing with anti-Asian hate online. In multiple interviews, Kim shared her mental health journey, and says doing so has allowed her to navigate these Olympics while representing the truest version of herself. "It's brought a lot of calm and peace to my life, knowing that I can be myself 24-7 and not have to put on a front," Kim told ESPN in December. "I'm at a point where I want to feel everything I feel and not bottle all my emotions and explode one day. That was a pretty standard practice for me a few years ago. Now I'm in a much better headspace."

One thing to watch: If Kim wins gold, she will become the first woman to repeat as Olympic champion in snowboard halfpipe.

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Shaun White, snowboarding

Beijing will be White's fifth and final Olympics, and he will attempt to win his fourth gold medal in the halfpipe. The 35-year-old's reign in the sport has been unprecedented, but making the podium in Beijing will not happen easily. Team Japan has dominated the event this season. White's best finish during Olympic qualifying: third at the Laax Open in January.

One thing to know: White has spent most of his career riding for Burton snowboards but parted ways with the brand after the Pyeongchang Games. In January, he announced he started his own snowboard gear company, Whitespace. In Beijing, he will ride a board of his own creation. "To be up there standing on my name and my own developed product is so cool," he told ESPN in January.

One thing to watch: In the leadup to the 2010 Olympics, White introduced double corks to the halfpipe and landed his signature trick, the McTwist double cork 1260, during his victory lap in Vancouver. Now triple corks are all the rage. But only one athlete, Japanese rider Ayumu Hirano, has landed one in competition. The big questions: Will White attempt a triple in Beijing in his quest to win gold? And can he win without it?

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Jamie Anderson, snowboarding

Anderson is the queen of Slopestyle snowboarding, a rider who's led the sport's progression for more than a decade. One of the savviest competitors in the game, she's the most decorated woman in X Games history and the only woman with two Olympic snowboard gold medals.

One thing to know: A few weeks before flying to Beijing to compete in her third Olympics, Anderson got engaged to her longtime boyfriend, Canadian snowboarder Tyler Nicholson, who competed in Slopestyle and Big Air for Team Canada in 2018.

One thing to watch: At X Games Aspen in January, Anderson attempted a 1260 for the first time -- during Big Air finals. She said she was inspired by her competitors but didn't land the trick and took silver. The attempt gave her confidence to try it again. "If the jumps are good in Beijing," Anderson told ESPN, "I'll give it another shot."

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Lindsey Jacobellis, snowboarding

Headed to her fifth Olympics, Jacobellis is the most dominant snowboardcross racer in history. But the Olympic race has been her Achilles heel. Since her debut in Torino in 2006 -- where she infamously showboated over the penultimate jump, crashed and watched Tanja Frieden pass her for gold -- Jacobellis has failed to win another medal at the Olympics.

One thing to know: With this appearance, 36-year-old Jacobellis ties snowboarder Kelly Clark, the 2002 halfpipe gold medalist, as the only U.S. women to compete in five Winter Olympics.

One thing to watch: Jacobellis will likely race in the Olympic debut of mixed team snowboardcross, which features an exciting knockout format. In the event, the men race first. When each rider in a heat crosses the finish line, his time advantage over the next rider is transferred to his woman teammate. The women take off in a staggered format, and the first woman to cross the line wins.

Red Gerard, snowboarding

One of the breakout stars in Pyeongchang, Gerard won Slopestyle gold in dramatic fashion on his third and final run, becoming the youngest snowboard gold medalist (at age 17) since the sport was added in 1998. Then he won over Olympic fans with his loose, laid-back personality and his throng of cheering, partying family members who were never too far from the cameras.

One thing to know: Gerard, who is currently ranked fifth in the world in Slopestyle, was the first man to qualify for the U.S. snowboard team.

One thing to watch: Like all Slopestyle riders, Gerard will also compete in Big Air, an event that features riders attempting their best tricks over a massive jump made of steel and concrete -- covered in manufactured snow -- that was built in Beijing's Shijingshan District, about 30 minutes outside the city center. It is the first permanent Big Air ramp in history.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, Alpine skiing

The three-time Olympic medalist and three-time overall World Cup champion is competing in her third Games, and is arguably the GOAT of her sport.

One thing to know: Shiffrin, 26, won her 47th World Cup slalom race in January and became the first skier in history to win that many races in a single discipline. She has won 73 total World Cup titles, and became the youngest ever to reach the 50-victory mark, which she did at 23.

One thing to watch: Shiffrin is hoping to compete in five individual events at the Games. Earning one medal in Beijing would tie her with Julia Mancuso as the most decorated woman ski racer in American Olympic history. If she were to win three, she would match the record for Olympic Alpine ski medals by a woman, joining Croatia's Janica Kostelic and Sweden's Anja Paerson, and tie Bode Miller for most by any American skier. Shiffrin already owns the record for medals at the world championships by an American with 11.

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Kai Owens, moguls skiing

Owens' journey comes full circle in Beijing, where the 17-year-old will return to her birth country for the first time since being abandoned in a city square shortly after birth. Owens was adopted from an orphanage at 16 months by Amy and John Owens, and grew up in Vail, Colorado, where she attended the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, became a moguls prodigy and set her sights on competing in the 2022 Games.

One thing to know: In 2019, Owens became the youngest American skier to win a NorAm moguls event, at age 14. In 2021, she placed sixth in the world championships and was named the FIS World Cup's Rookie of the Year. In February 2021, she led a U.S. sweep in her first World Cup victory at Deer Valley. More proof she's one to watch: Her name, Kai, translates to "victorious."

One thing to watch: Don't miss Owens compete in dual moguls, which features exciting, head-to-head elimination races in which speed counts for 15% of a skier's score, turns through the moguls count for 60% and jumps (tricks) count for 25%. Owens is fast and has big, clean tricks.

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Hanna Faulhaber, freeskiing

Faulhaber burst onto the freeski scene during the 2021-22 Olympic qualifying season and snagged the second spot on the U.S. Slopestyle and Big Air team. A senior at Basalt High School, Faulhaber, 17, competed in her first X Games in January, an event she grew up watching in person, as Basalt is just 15 miles from Aspen. She took bronze. "A dream come true," she told ESPN after the event. Now, she switches focus to her first Olympics. "I started eyeing the Olympic team after I took fourth at world championships [in Aspen] last year, and it's been my main focus throughout this season," she said. "To medal there would be amazing."

One thing to know: Faulhaber spent last summer volunteering at the Aspen Valley Ski & Snowboard Club, helping young freeskiers progress on trampolines.

One thing to watch: Faulhaber says she plans to up the tricks she threw in her bronze-medal Slopestyle run in Aspen. "I also have a switch corked 720," she said. "I opted not to do it because it needs more training, but that will be in my Olympic run. There is possibly more, too, but we'll see."

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David Wise, freeskiing

Freeskiing halfpipe was added to the Winter Games in 2014 and since then, only Wise has taken gold in the men's event. No athlete in snowboarding or freeskiing has won three straight gold medals in any event, but if anyone has the tricks, style and competitive savvy to be the first, it's Wise.

One thing to know: Wise, 31, and his wife, Alexandra, were married in 2011 and have two children, a daughter Nayeli, 9, and son Malachi, 6. The summer after the Pyeongchang Olympics, Wise published a children's book, "Very Bear and the Butterfly."

"My family is the balance for me," Wise told ESPN in January. "They're not something I have to balance. They remind me what's important in life."

One thing to watch: Wise is known for going big, and performing clean, technical tricks. If he can do so in Beijing, he could return home with a third gold to share with his family. "I'm carrying a lot of momentum going into the Olympics," Wise said. "And this season is all about momentum."

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Aaron Blunck, freeskiing

Blunck is headed to his third Olympics and hopes to improve on two seventh-place finishes in the halfpipe. But this quad has been nothing like the two previous. The Crested Butte native locked up his Olympic spot last March by winning the first qualifier in Aspen, two months after taking silver at X Games 2021. (He took third in 2022.) Those finishes were even more remarkable considering Blunck almost died in a pre-season training crash in Switzerland in October 2020, where he broke several ribs, fractured his pelvis, lacerated a kidney and bruised his heart.

One thing to know: Blunck sustained his injuries attempting a switch double cork 1440 -- the skier enters the halfpipe backward and performs two backflips and four-and-a-half spins -- a trick he'd landed in practice previously but has yet to be landed by anyone in competition.

One thing to watch: If the past season is any indication, men's freeski halfpipe finals will be an incredible showdown that, when Alex Ferreira and Birk Irving are added to the conversation, could realistically end in a U.S. sweep.

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Alex Hall, freeskiing

Hall made his Olympic debut in 2018 but finished 16th in slopestyle and has since said he felt like a 19-year-old kid who was, "along for the ride." This time around, he heads to Beijing as a medal favorite and one of the most popular skiers in the sport. Known for his progressive, creative tricks and smooth, flowy lines through the rail sections, the 6'4" rider is easy to identify on any slopestyle course. His biggest competition: his own teammates. Team USA swept the podium at the Dew Tour in December.

One thing to know: Born in Alaska and raised in Zurich, Switzerland, Hall lives in Park City and speaks fluent German thanks to his Swiss upbringing.

One thing to watch: Hall is a medal favorite in slopestyle and the Olympic debut of ski big air, where athletes will throw their best tricks on an oversized manmade jump. He won the final pre-Beijing contest last month at X Games Aspen.

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Hilary Knight, ice hockey

Knight, 32, is playing in her fourth Olympic women's ice hockey tournament, the most appearances for any player on the Team USA Beijing roster. An analyst for ESPN's NHL coverage, Knight is one of only four American women to make four Olympic hockey teams.

One thing to know: Knight was born in Palo Alto, Calif., grew up in Lake Forest, and played college hockey for the University of Wisconsin. The forward won her first Olympic gold in 2018 after two silvers, has eight IIHF world championships and won the first Isobel Cup in the National Women's Hockey League (now the Premiere Hockey Federation) with the Boston Pride.

One thing to watch: When Knight is on the ice, expect the American offense to get cranked up. She's fifth all-time in points (17) among U.S. women's players in the Olympics. Knight broke the national team's career world championships scoring record last summer, one previously held by Hockey Hall of Famer Cammi Granato.

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Kendall Coyne Schofield, ice hockey

The captain of the team, Coyne Schofield, 29, is a forward making her third Olympic appearance. She had three points in five games and led the team with 21 shots on goal in their 2018 gold-medal run in Pyeongchang, finally beating their arch-rivals from Canada after three straight Olympic final losses to their neighbo(u)rs to the north. "This is a completely different roster than the roster we saw in 2018. Our culture, our mindset, our work ... none of that changes," said Coyne Schofield.

One thing to know: Coyne Schofield made NHL history in 2019 when she replaced the injured Nathan MacKinnon in the fastest skater event in San Jose, becoming the first woman to compete in an All-Star skills competition. She finished with a time of 14.326 seconds, which placed her seventh out of eight skaters and ahead of Arizona Coyotes forward Clayton Keller. She's currently working in the NHL as a player development coach with the Chicago Blackhawks.

One thing to watch: Coyne Schofield will be a key offensive player -- she has 156 points in 155 career games with Team USA.

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Abby Roque, ice hockey

This will be the Olympic debut for Roque, 24, after making nine appearances with the national team. She'll be one of the forwards tasked with helping to fill the void left by departing 2018 standouts Kacey Bellamy, Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.

One thing to know: Roque will be the first Indigenous player on Team USA's hockey roster and the team's only BIPOC player. "Back home, there were so many Indigenous players around, and now I'm sitting here as the only player and first player on the U.S. women's team that's Indigenous. It's a cool moment and something I'm so proud of, but something I obviously want to help change," she told ESPN.

One thing to watch: The U.S. power play struggled at the IIHF world championships last August, going an abysmal 3-for-25. Roque is the kind of offensive game-changer that could flip that script, scoring 21 power-play goals while playing at Wisconsin, where she finished ninth on their all-time scoring list with 170 points. Teammate Knight has said of Roque: "I think she's going to be the best player in the world. Plain and simple."

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Matty Beniers, ice hockey

Beniers, 19, is one of 15 NCAA men's hockey players that were named to the U.S. Olympic roster after the NHL opted not to send its players to Beijing, as COVID postponements "materially altered" the League's schedule. The center is one of four current University of Michigan teammates in the Beijing men's tournament, along with Team USA's Brendan Brisson and Team Canada's Owen Power and Kent Johnson, who was named as an alternate.

One thing to know: Beniers made history last year as the first player ever taken by the expansion Seattle Kraken in the NHL Entry Draft, going second overall. "We think he has a huge upside. There are not many times when you interview a player and he is majoring in pre-med. He's obviously a bright kid," said Seattle GM Ron Francis.

One thing to watch: If Team USA's youth movement is going to propel them to a medal, Beniers is going to be at the center of it. He has 36 points in 28 games with Michigan this season, earning a reputation as a dynamic puck-moving forward who also takes care of business in the defensive end. Seattle's future is America's present.

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Strauss Mann, ice hockey

Mann, 23, left the University of Michigan after three seasons to pursue a pro hockey career with Skelleftea AIK of the Swedish Hockey League this season. The goalie knew there was a chance he could end up as an Olympian if the NHL opted out of the Beijing Games. "I knew they were looking at college and European leagues. I had been in both recently, so I knew I'd be a good candidate," he said. "There are only so many American goalies in Europe."

One thing to know: Mann follows a strict Paleo diet ... or at least tries to, as he's "done the best" he can while living in Sweden. "It was a habit that disciplined a lot of areas of my life. I got in good shape and started caring about a lot of other things," he said.

One thing to watch: Mann couldn't confirm if he would be the starter in Beijing, saying it was a "competition at every position." But that's been the perception outside of USA Hockey, as Mann's impressive year in Sweden and strong play in college put him ahead of Boston University's Drew Commesso and minor league journeyman Pat Nagle.

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Kaillie Humphries, bobsled

The most decorated woman in bobsled history, Humphries is the only woman to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in the sport, which she accomplished at the 2010 and 2014 Games. After taking bronze in 2018, Humphries filed a formal complaint with Bobsleigh Canada that accused head coach Todd Hays of verbal and mental abuse, and in 2019, she earned a release from the team. Since then, Humphries has competed for Team USA and will race in her fourth Olympics wearing red, white and blue.

One thing to know: Born in Calgary, Humphries now trains in her hometown of Carlsbad, Calif., where she utilizes a homemade dryland bobsled on wheels to prepare for the race season.

One thing to watch: Humphries will also race in the Olympic debut of monobob, which is exactly what it sounds like: a one-woman race where the driver is the only athlete in the sled and acts as her own brakeman. Beijing marks the first Olympics where women bobsledders can win more than one medal.

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Elana Meyers Taylor, bobsled

After three straight Olympic appearances -- and three straight medals -- Meyers Taylor took time away from the sport in 2019 and 2020 to give birth to her first child, a son named Nico, with fellow bobsledder, Nic Taylor. She announced her pregnancy in September 2019 and the next day, won the women's drivers division at the USA Bobsled Push Championships in Lake Placid, NY.

One thing to know: Meyers Taylor's husband and son travel to every race with her, and they will be in Beijing. Nico was born with Down's Syndrome, which means he requires special care and Meyers Taylor says the past two years have been some of the most challenging and rewarding of her life. "I've been trying to figure out how to support my son and compete at the highest level," Meyers Taylor told ESPN in November. "This has been a very difficult quad, so the joy of standing on a medal podium would be pretty special."

One thing to watch: Meyers Taylor goes into the Olympics ranked No. 1 in the world in two-man and monobob. But she tested positive for COVID after arriving in Beijing, and is in jeopardy of missing the Olympic debut of monobob, which begins February 12.

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Emily Sweeney, luge

The seven-time World Cup medalist and 2019 world championship bronze medalist is competing in her second Olympic Games.

One thing to know: Sweeney, 28, made her first Olympic appearance in 2018, after coming oh-so-close to making the team in 2010 and 2014. But her Olympic debut didn't go the way she had hoped. Sweeney had a devastating crash in her final run and suffered a debilitating spinal injury, dashing her medal hopes and leaving her unable to train for six months. The pandemic and travel restrictions due to her role in the U.S. Army have been hurdles in her comeback, but she's healthy and ready for her second chance in Beijing.

One thing to watch: If Sweeney were to make the podium in Beijing, she would become just the second American woman in history to win an Olympic luge medal. Her former teammate Erin Hamlin was the first in 2014.

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Maame Biney, speedskating

Biney, 21, is the 2021 U.S. Championship gold medalist and the 2019 World Junior Championship bronze medalist in speed skating. At the Olympic trials last month, Biney clinched an Olympic spot -- her second consecutive Olympic appearance -- by winning the 500 meters.

One thing to know: At the 2018 Olympics, Biney made history by becoming the first Black woman to make a U.S. Olympic short track speed skating team, and the second ever African-born athlete -- she was born in Accra, Ghana and moved to the U.S. at age 5 -- to represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympics. She was also the youngest skater to make the 2018 team.

One thing to watch: If she makes the podium in Beijing, she will break Team USA's 12-year speedskating drought. The last time the U.S. won a speedskating medal was in 2010.

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Brittany Bowe, speedskating

The 1,000-meter world record-holder and multi-time world champion, Bowe, 33, will make her third straight Winter Olympics appearance after winning the 500-meter, 1,000-meter and 1,500-meter races at the Olympic trials.

One thing to know: In a kind gesture that will be remembered for a long time to come, Bowe gave up her spot in the 500 meters to her good friend and teammate Erin Jackson. Jackson, who is ranked World No. 1 in the event, slipped during the Olympic trials and finished third, failing to qualify for the Olympics. Then, in a surprise turn of events, Bowe was added to the 500-meter field after the U.S. picked up an extra spot in the event (once a few other nations gave up their spots).

One thing to watch: Look out for Bowe in the 1,000 meter. She is currently the fastest in the world, and will likely take home the gold.

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Erin Jackson, speedskating

Ranked first in the world in 500-meter speedskating, Jackson won her first World Cup gold in Poland this year, becoming the first Black American woman to win the event in a World Cup.

One thing to know: In 2018, she became the first Black woman to qualify for a U.S. Olympic long-track speedskating team. She had only been full-time speedskating for less than six months at that point, and her qualification to the team shocked even herself. She finished 24th in Pyeongchang.

One thing to watch: After the heartbreak of initially thinking she had missed the opportunity to race in the 500 in Beijing, Jackson will be squarely eyeing gold there. Can she do it?

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John Shuster, curling

Shuster is somewhat of a legend in the curling world: Beijing will be the 39-year-old's fifth Olympic Games, and he has competed in nine world championships. At the 2018 Olympics, he helped Team USA win its first ever curling gold. He is also a 2006 Turin Olympics bronze medalist.

One thing to know: Shuster is one of only four athletes on the 222-person Team USA roster to compete at the Winter Olympics for the fifth time. He will join snowboarder Shaun White, skeleton racer Katie Uhlaender and snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis.

One thing to watch: Watch out for Canada (and Sweden) as they pose the biggest challenge to Shuster and the USA in the defense of the gold medal. Canada has the most medals in the event (11), followed by Sweden (8).

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Matt and Becca Hamilton, curling

Siblings Matt and Becca Hamilton entertained the audience at the Pyeongchang Olympics with their funny Twitter bickering -- at one point, their mother pleaded with them to be nicer to each other. In 2018, the duo competed in the first-ever mixed curling event together (they finished sixth), while Matt was also part of the history-making men's team.

One thing to know: Becca credits Matt for getting her into curling. Matt began the sport a year before Becca. Becca took up the sport by secretly practicing when nobody was around, as she was extremely shy to play in front of others.

One thing to watch: Unlike in 2018, the siblings will not compete in the same event at Beijing. Matt will help Team USA defend its men's gold title, while Becca will compete in the women's event in the hopes to help the women's team win their first overall medal.

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Jessie Diggins, Nordic skiing

At the 2018 Olympics, Diggins, 30, won the first ever cross-country skiing gold medal for the United States with teammate Kikkan Randall. In 2021, she won the Tour de Ski, which is a part of the year's World Cup events, becoming the first American to do so. She finished at the top of the 2020-2021 World Cup standings.

One thing to know: Diggins wrote a memoir, "Brave Enough," where she opened up about what it took to become a successful cross-country skier, including her struggles as a teenager with bulimia. She is also an ambassador for two non-profit organizations, one to protect the environment and the other to inspire young girls to take up sports.

One thing to watch: Arguably one of the best cross-country skiers America has ever seen, you don't want to miss Diggins going for back-to-back gold in the team sprint event.