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From Ice Prince to Frog Princess

BEIJING (AFP) – The biggest names in winter sports will descend on the Chinese capital for the Beijing Winter Olympics from February 4-20.

With today marking one month until the opening ceremony, AFP Sport highlights five stars who could light up the Winter Games.

The 27-year-old ‘Ice Prince’, who is aiming to complete a hat-trick of figure-skating gold medals, had his Olympic preparations hampered by an ankle injury but appeared fit again as he dazzled at his season’s debut at Japan’s national championships last month.

Hanyu is followed everywhere by screaming fans who shower the ice after his routines with Winnie the Pooh toys.

Although the Games will have only domestic spectators, Hanyu’s importance to the Games is such that Chinese authorities have promised that the superstar will still receive plenty of support.

Born in California and having represented the United States (US) before switching to China, Gu looks destined to be one of the faces of the Games.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu. PHOTO: AP

Just 18, the freeskier is also a model and grade-A student. Known as Gu Ailing in China, her father is American and mother Chinese. She has been enthusiastically embraced in China, with the country’s media affectionately dubbing her ‘Frog Princess’ after she wore a
green helmet.

The American star, who started out aged two skiing down her family’s driveway, is pursuing a third consecutive gold in slalom and had been in sparkling form in the build-up to Beijing.

The 26-year-old – who won the overall women’s World Cup title for three straight years to 2019 – late last month said that she had tested positive for Covid-19 but despite that setback is still expected to make it to the Chinese capital.

Born in the US to Korean parents, Kim lit up the Pyeongchang Games in 2018 when aged just 17.

The snowboarder swept to halfpipe gold in South Korea, roared on by the host nation’s spectators who adopted her as their own and chanted her name.

She now admits that she struggled with the fame and attention that arrived at such a young age, telling The New York Times in December, “I just felt like everyone is out to get me or something.” The trailblazing American snowboarder is yet to seal qualification for the Games, but assuming he does, it will almost certainly be his last Olympics and he will want to go out in style.

Now a relative veteran at 35, White has won three Olympic halfpipe golds and been an icon in men’s snowboarding for two decades since bursting onto the scene as a freckly teenager.

He has also won a record 15 golds at the X Games, two of them in skateboarding.

… and one who won’t be there

The Tongan set pulses racing when he peeled off and oiled up for the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympics, appeared shirtless again as temperatures plunged in Pyeongchang two years later, and pulled off the same stunt at Tokyo six months ago. But after competing in freestyle cross country skiing at the 2018 Winter Games – coming 114th but avoiding the wooden spoon – he is not expected to take part in Beijing.

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