The 2022 Winter Olympics came to a close on Sunday after weeks of hard-won victories and heartbreaking disappointments.
Eileen Gu and Kamila Valieva became the teenage faces of the Games for very different reasons. Erin Jackson delivered a historic speed skating performance, while Elana Meyers Taylor became the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history.
And Norway did what Norway does best, topping the medal table after 109 events on snow and ice.
Valieva embroiled in controversy — and places fourth
Valieva, the 15-year-old Russian figure skating phenom expected to score gold in the women’s free skate final, faltered while in the midst of a drugs test scandal.
In December, the teen tested positive for trimetazidine, a heart medication used to treat angina and which can increase blood flow to the heart, experts say.
The results didn’t come to light until Valieva was already in Beijing and had won gold in the figure skating team event as she became the first woman to land a quad — a jump that involves four spins in the air.
Despite Valieva’s positive test, she was allowed to compete in the individual figure skating event on the grounds that she was a minor.
During her final program this week, though, she fell several times on the ice and placed fourth behind fellow Russian Olympic Committee teammates Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, who came in first and second respectively. She finished her routine in tears.
Now, eyes are trained on Valieva’s coach, a team doctor and the competitive figure skating community in Russia for their roles in what happened to Valieva.
Nathan Chen wins gold in a redemptive performance
A composed yet jubilant Nathan Chen gave the performance of his career in the men’s single skating competition — and claimed what was rightfully his after a shocking loss at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
Skating to a medley of songs including Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” Chen confidently executed a whopping five quad jumps and ended a nearly five-minute performance with a triumphant smile.
“I definitely wanted to be able to get past that,” Chen told CNN of his 2018 performance, in which he fell and failed to medal.
“I wanted to be able to have two short programs that I felt very proud of and fulfilled by, and I’m really glad that I was able to have that experience here.”
Gu dominates her first Olympics
The 18-year-old freeski superstar won three medals at her first Winter Olympics, including two golds. And in her last program, after a near-perfect performance on the women’s halfpipe, she even took a well-deserved victory lap.
Born in the US but competing for China, a decision that has been under its fair share of scrutiny, Gu had one of the splashiest Olympics debuts this year. And she made some history while she was at it — she’s the first freestyle skier to earn three medals at a single Games.
“It has been two straight weeks of the most intense highs and lows I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she told reporters after her win. “It has changed my life forever.”
Norway keeps winning and breaks a record
Norway won 16 gold medals in Beijing, the most any country has won in a single Winter Games. The country’s competitors have earned gold in cross-country skiing, speed skating and biathlon, among others.
CNN’s Henry Enten says Norway has two big benefits powering its Olympics success: Ideal weather for winter sports and money — the country is a wealthy country, with its GDP in the top 35 worldwide. Winter sports require a lot of gear, training and funds.
Mikaela Shiffrin ends the Games without an individual medal
Mikaela Shiffrin endured multiple hardships at this year’s Games. The American skier hadd earned gold medals in 2018 and 2014, and fans expected a threepeat from the star in Beijing.
However, things didn’t quite work out that way for the 26-year-old Shiffrin who had three DNFs — “did-not-finish” — after crashing out in three individual events.
She’s been inundated with criticism from viewers and shared screenshots of some of the negative comments she’s received. She said in a video shared Friday that, as much as the comments hurt, she hopes that fans who’ve been in a similar situation can learn to tune out their “haters.”
“That message was meant for you guys, to get up and to keep going,” she said in a video shared to Twitter. “Get out of bed the next day even though you’re getting these messages that make you feel awful.”
In her final event at Beijing 2022 the 26-year-old Shiffrin — along with River Radamus, Tommy Ford and Paula Moltzan — finished fourth in the mixed team parallel event at the National Alpine Skiing Centre.
“I have had a lot of disappointing moments at these Games, today is not one of them,” said Shiffrin. “Today is my favorite memory.
“This was the best possible way that I could imagine ending the Games, skiing with such strong teammates.”
Chloe Kim goes for the gold (again)
The unstoppable 21-year-old snowboarder struck gold yet again with a winning performance on the women’s halfpipe — the same category that earned her a gold medal in 2018, when she was just 17.
That Kim once again dominated was a surprise to no one except maybe Kim herself. She told reporters she’d had “the worst practice ever” before her gold-medal performance, failing to stick most of her landings.
That rough practice didn’t show on the snow — she attempted a trick that involved three-and-a-half spins in the air and earned a score of 94, propelling her to the gold once again.
Zhu Yi faces an online firestorm for her performance
The California-born 19-year-old, competing for Team China, was bombarded with negative comments online after falling on the ice during the women’s figure skating short program earlier this month.
Zhu, who gave up her American citizenship to compete on China’s team in 2018 and changed her name from Beverly Zhu, has been criticized by Chinese viewers for her lack of fluency in Chinese in addition to her disappointing performance at the Games.
Still, Zhu is finding the positives in her 2022 trip to the Games. In an Instagram post shared earlier this week, Zhu said she “persevered through years of adversity, and came out a stronger person.”
Erin Jackson wins a gold she almost didn’t compete for
The American speed skater almost didn’t make it to the Olympics — she slipped during qualifying trials — until a teammate gave up her spot so Jackson could compete.
That swap proved to be well worth it — Jackson, 29, became the first Black woman to medal in Olympic speed skating, according to Team USA, and the first American woman to win a gold medal in speed skating since 1994.
She clinched the victory by skating just 0.08 seconds ahead of Japan’s silver medalist.
“I cried immediately, it was just a big release of emotion,” she told reporters. “A lot of shock, a lot of relief and a lot of happiness.”
Meyers Taylor’s history moment
Meyers Taylor became the most decorated Black athlete in Winter Olympics history after she won a bronze medal in the two-woman bobsleigh on Saturday.
The medal is the fifth for Meyers Taylor — passing Shani Davis’ four — as the 37-year-old became the most decorated woman Olympic bobsledder of all-time.
“It’s so crazy to hear that stat and to know that I’m part of a legacy that’s bigger than me,” said Meyers Taylor. “Hopefully it just encourages more and more black athletes to come out to winter sports and not just black athletes, winter sports for everybody.”
Sunday’s Closing Ceremony is likely have been emotional occasion for Meyers Taylor — she was Team USA’s flagbear — who has hinted this would likely be her last Olympics.
“I’m going to take some time to really think about this. It’s going to be really hard to top this Olympics. Two medals and now closing it out with flagbearer, it’s going to be really, really hard to top that.”