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March 22, 2023
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Winter Olympics 2022: What were the most memorable moments of the Games?

These have been an Olympics of incredible highs — and staggering lows. As we close out the 2022 Beijing Games, we asked our writers what they’ll remember most from the past two-plus weeks:

Redemption song

Alyssa Roenigk: Several moments caused me great FOMO during these Games, but two long-coming gold-medal performances top the list: snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis capturing the gold she left on the course in Torino 16 years ago and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano landing the greatest halfpipe run in history — twice! — to win his first Olympic gold.

Before Beijing, I had watched every heat of Jacobellis’ Olympic career from the bottom of snowboardcross courses in Torino, Vancouver, Sochi and Pyeongchang, and each time, I reported on her heartbreak at coming up short. Jacobellis, 36, is the most dominant athlete in her sport, but she never won on the world’s biggest stage. Until last week, in her record fifth Olympics.

Jacobellis has said for years that, had she won in Torino at 19, the stress she felt in the lead-up to those Games would have caused her to call it a career. She would have hung up her gold medal next to her snowboard and gone surfing. Losing that race kept her in the sport for nearly two decades and fueled the greatest career in snowboardcross history. I wish I’d seen her finally win an Olympic race — two, actually! — in person. Instead, I’ll remember pantomiming her passes in the warmth of my living room.

The same goes for Hirano, 23, one of the most progressive and exciting riders in halfpipe snowboarding. The past two Olympic contests were so close that gold and silver came down to a call by the judges, and both times, Hirano lost the call. Not this year. It will likely be a while before another rider duplicates Hirano’s frontside triple cork 1440 – cab double 1440 combo, and I wish I’d been there to see him land it from the bottom of the pipe. Twice.

Stick saves

Greg Wyshynski: I was one of those hockey fans who was crushed when the NHL pulled out of Beijing. We haven’t had a “best on best” tournament since the 2016 World Cup of Hockey … and that was a preseason event with exhibition game-level play and two completely made-up teams. It was not the Olympics. These were the Olympics. And less than two months before they started, the NHL opted not to participate because COVID-19 interrupted the regular-season schedule.

That was such a bummer, which is why I was pleasantly surprised how engaged I was with the U.S. men’s national team and the men’s hockey tournament as a whole. USA Hockey’s decision to bring 15 NCAA players to Beijing, instead of a “thrift shop on skates” like they did in 2018, offered the kind of different energy that I needed to forget that Auston Matthews and Jack Hughes weren’t there. They played with pace and with offensive creativity. They offered glimpses at future NHL talent like Seattle Kraken prospect Matty Beniers and Vegas Golden Knights draftee Brendan Brisson. Their record was perfect after the prelims and their enthusiasm was infectious — I’d be lying if I said I didn’t believe they had a shot at winning the U.S. its first gold since 1980’s Miracle on Ice.

Alas, the best thing about them was also their undoing, as their inexperience caught up with them in a quarterfinal upset loss to Slovakia. But even that had its virtue: Slovakia making the bronze medal game was a surprise. So was Denmark, in its first Olympics ever, winning three games. Even Team China had moments of competitive hockey, which was remarkable for a team that the Olympic organizers considered pulling from the tournament for being so terrible.

I’ll also remember this as the Olympics when Canada’s Marie-Philip Poulin cemented her GOAT status, if she hadn’t already. Poulin is the only hockey player — woman or man — to score in four Olympic gold-medal games. Seven of the 17 goals she has scored in the Olympics have been in gold-medal games. She has ascended to a level of Canadian hockey royalty populated by the likes of Gretzky, Lemieux and Orr; unfortunately, it was the U.S. that genuflected in front of her as Poulin and Canada collected the gold medal.

Quads, highs and lows

Elaine Teng: I’m still processing what happened in the women’s figure skating competition — and I will be for a long time.

Like so many people coming into these Olympics, I was excited to see Russia’s Kamila Valieva, whom many considered the greatest women’s skater of all time, even at the tender age of 15. We didn’t consider the cutthroat methods of her coaches, or the line of teenage skaters who came before her, broken before their time by injuries or eating disorders. We saw her beauty, her elegance and of course, her historic triple axels and quad jumps.

But then came the saga that hung over the entire Olympics: Valieva tested positive for a banned substance, she was allowed to compete anyway, and the result Thursday was unsettling, heartbreaking and a setback for the sport. Valieva struggled through her free skate only to face her coach’s unflinching criticism. She finished off the podium and broke down on-camera. Her teammate Anna Shcherbakova, who won gold, looked devastated and shocked in the greatest moment of her career. And her other teammate, silver medalist Alexandra Trusova, had a public meltdown about not winning gold and initially refused to go back on the ice for the victory ceremony.

It felt like a scene out of a soap opera crossed with a horror movie. Valieva’s case is yet to be decided, as is the ultimate outcome of the team medals, including Team USA’s silver.

There were moments of beauty and joy for the sport in Beijing. Who can forget Nathan Chen’s radiant smile when he finally won gold? Or Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France’s exquisite, delicate free dance? But I’ll always remember the 15-year-old girl who embodied perfection, briefly, before she unraveled in front of the world.

A mountain of Olympic spirit

D’Arcy Maine: At this point, it’s hard not to think about the devastating scene that unfolded at the end of the women’s free skate: Valieva’s inconsolable sobs, Trusova’s screams and Shcherbakova — the newly crowned Olympic gold medalist — just looking for someone to hug her. Those images, and all of the questions we collectively still have about what happened and why, will linger for a long time.

But I hope eventually what I’ll remember most from Beijing is Mikaela Shiffrin’s incredible spirit. She didn’t have anywhere near the Olympics she was hoping for, and her uncharacteristic struggles have dominated much of the coverage, but despite her disappointment, she has remained so positive and gracious through it all.

Very few of us could imagine what it’s like to be in her shoes right now, and she’s consistently handled it with poise and candor. She has thanked the world for the public support and hasn’t shied away from being vulnerable. Shiffrin has always worn her heart on her sleeve, but it’s one thing to do when you’re winning. It’s another to do during the toughest stretch of your career on the sport’s biggest stage when all the world is watching.

I’ll think of Shiffrin standing in front of reporters, whether during a televised interview on NBC or in the mixed zone, reflecting on her experience with honesty and perspective. Sometimes being a champion has nothing to do with results or medals, and Shiffrin has been an incredible reminder of this.

Riding in on a triumph

Sam Borden: On Thursday evening in Beijing, the U.S. curling team battled against Great Britain in a semifinal match that was one those events — the kind where, even if you don’t really get curling, even if you don’t really understand what is happening on this sheet of ice with men and brooms and rocks sliding this way and that, the emotion and pressure is nonetheless irresistible.

If you happened to stumble into the match, it was impossible to turn away. John Shuster, the American skip, and his British counterpart, Bruce Mouat, kept trading strategic jabs and parries, and the shot-making — again, even for someone who knows very little about the intricacies of it all — was breathtaking. When Great Britain won in the final end, Mouat screamed with relief and shook his hands over his head in delight.

“That was a release of tension and pressure,” he said. He smiled. “I think people back in Scotland might have heard it, to be honest.”

It was what the Olympics are for so many of us, what they are supposed to be. Captivating theater. Delightful drama. An appreciation of skills, however specific or unusual or unexpected, that transcend the everyday choices we make about what we want out of sports.

Speedskating’s gold standard

Tom Hamilton: I was absolutely fascinated by Sweden’s speedskating double Olympic champion Nils van der Poel. He took gold in both the 5,000 and 10,000, while simultaneously lighting a torch underneath the sport.

Van der Poel is a brilliant, multilayered personality. His news conferences are an art in themselves; he’s not afraid of silence nor of saying what’s on his mind, rather than retreating to a cloak of media-speak. After taking gold in the 5,000, he spent the time leading up to the 10,000 by calling out the Dutch speedskating organization for its attempts to, in his mind, manipulate the conditions of the ice to make them favorable to those competitors in orange. It was a fascinating case of a man who isn’t afraid to challenge authority and the status quo.

On the ice, his final lap to take gold in the 5,000 was astonishing. He went from being 0.99 seconds behind to winning gold by 0.47 seconds. Then came his pièce de résistance in the 10,000 as he took gold by 13.85 seconds, complete with a world record of 12:30.74.

Now what? Well we don’t know. The smart money would be on him to continue competing in the Swedish tournaments, and then the competitor in him may make Milano Cortina 2026 irresistible. Regardless, he’s already left an incredible legacy, complete with a document outlining the precise nature of his training methods so that others can attempt to replicate his astonishing times. But you sense that by the time they’ve caught up with him, he’ll already be streets ahead of the chasing pack.

A bobsled 1-2 knockout

Aishwarya Kumar: The most scintillating moment to me was when Team USA’s Kaillie Humphries and Elana Meyers Taylor went 1-2 in the women’s monobob debut. Both of them had to go through deeply traumatic and difficult situations to even get to the starting line.

Up until a month and a half before the Olympics, Humphries didn’t even have a country to compete for. After Humphries, 36, accused her former coach of mental and emotional harassment, she went through a divisive split with Canada Bobsleigh. Then, in December 2021, she received her American passport (she is married to former American bobsledder Travis Armbruster), after working to expedite the process for months.

On Feb. 13, wearing the American flag as a bandana, she dominated the field in every heat. When she won the gold medal, she had a 1.5-second lead, considered a huge margin in the bobsled world.

Then there’s Meyers Taylor, who, at 37, became the oldest U.S. woman to win a medal at the Olympics. Meyers Taylor had a plan. Take the 2019-20 World Cup season off to give birth to son Nico. Come back to bobsled and compete — and win a medal — in Beijing.

But, this plan almost didn’t pan out. Soon after she landed in Beijing, she tested positive for COVID-19, spending more than a week in quarantine, away from her son. Just a few days before training, by sheer luck of the bobsled schedule, she was able to produce two negative tests and got the OK to compete. She was in third position after the second heat, just 0.18 seconds behind Canada’s Christine de Bruin. Then, in the fourth and final heat, she jumped up to silver-medal position. At the end of her run, she yelled “We did it,” and you could feel the relief in her voice.

These were stories of sheer dedication, perseverance and courage. To me, that’s what the Olympics are all about.

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