Winter Olympics inspires young athletes to pursue their dreams

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Team USA at 2010 Winter Olympics opening ceremony / Tim Hipps / U.S. Department of Defense / Public Domain

Team USA participates in the Parade of Nations at the 2010 Winter Olympics as part of the opening ceremony, a tradition that officially starts the competition.

It might be the blasts of air on your face and the feeling of freedom as you race down the snowing hills that draw you to skiing. Maybe you love gliding, jumping, and twirling across the ice to music. Perhaps it is the team spirit in ice hockey, the precision in curling, or the competitive atmosphere of sports.

Whatever the reason is, the world turns its attention to the Olympic Games every four years, rooting for a particular athlete or a team they love.

“This competition in itself is just so amazing,” said Nathan Chen, a 22-year-old American figure skater, in an exclusive interview with NBC News. “Every single athlete has put in their entire life into perfecting their sport, and then we all get to come together and share it, and I think that’s just a really powerful sentiment.”

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics officially began on Feb. 4, with competitors marching under their nation’s flags during the Parade of Nations, and will continue through Feb. 20. Two days before the opening ceremony, some events, such as curling, freestyle skiing, and figure skating, had already started.

Beijing became the first nation to have hosted both a Summer and Winter Games, with the latter competition being held across three zones, connected by a new railway, in China. Beijing will host the ice sports; Yanqing will have the Alpine skiing and sliding events; other skiing events and snowboarding will occur in Zhangjiakou.

Due to COVID-19 precautions, only selected spectators can attend, and tickets are not being offered to the general public. Despite this, the spectacular events and historical records still reach people all over the globe through live broadcasts, encouraging millions of athletes and children to pursue a winter sport.

Every single athlete has put in their entire life into perfecting their sport, and then we all get to come together and share it, and I think that’s just a really powerful sentiment.”

— Nathan Chen

“As an athlete, I find it very inspiring because there are many people my age that compete to the highest level, and it’s absolutely insane,” said Gabriella Lee, a senior. “It’s also super cool to watch the different categories of skiing and snowboarding, especially because it is such a big part of my life.”

Lee began skiing when she was 2 or 3 years old. Since then, her family has tried to go skiing every weekend in the winter if possible. At the same time, Lee played on a competitive travel softball team. Choosing to focus on softball, she now only skis for fun.

“I love the freedom of skiing. You have so many options, like skiing by yourself or with friends, your speed, your technique, and where you go,” Lee said. “I don’t race anymore, but when I did, the practices had specific focuses based on what the coach wanted you to do. Now, I try to go on new and challenging runs and enjoy the time with my friends and family.”

For Samantha Shetty, a junior who first learned to figure skate when she was 4 years old, watching the Winter Olympics has always been fun and insightful in helping her improve her skills.

“What I look for with the Olympics and what my coach has been telling me to do is look at the techniques that the skaters use,” Shetty said. “I would take note of what they’re doing while they’re doing their jumps or moves or spins and try to emulate those techniques.”

Winter Olympic Sports by Grace Wu

After taking a break from skating, she resumed the sport, now having 10 years of experience and dedicating six to seven hours each week to the sport. Not only does Shetty work on her skills individually, but she also shares what she has learned with her family through watching the Games.

“It’s a really fun time with my family to point out the things that I can or can’t do and use it as an opportunity to show them the things that I want to be able to do sometime in the future,” Shetty said.

Many Olympic athletes grew up the same way. Watching previous Winter Games motivated them to enter and continue a sport, pushing them to evolve into role models for the new generation of athletes today.

“I was watching the reruns as I got older, and just being able to watch all the figure skaters there do these amazing jumps and programs was really inspiring,” Chen said. “I think that sort of love for jumping and rotating was just something that clicked immediately.”

If the Olympics was not the first competition that attracted them to the sport, many athletes gained inspiration from watching professionals during their time, such as the case of Mikaela Shiffrin, a 26-year-old American alpine skier.

“I remember being aware of ski racing, loving to ski as it was such a big part of my life, and watching videos of the World Cup skiers,” Shiffrin said in the “Just Women’s Sports” podcast. “I had all my favorite racers, and I always just thought, ‘He’s the best in the world, and I want to be the best in the world.’”

Influencing one generation to the next, winter sports continue to produce athletes eager to push boundaries.

“There are so many different possibilities of what you can do with [winter sports],” Shetty said. “It’s very exciting, and I love being able to learn new skills, perfect them, and continue to push what I can do.”