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Athletes to watch for at the 2026 Milano Cortina Games

Athletes to watch for at the 2026 Milano Cortina Games
Posted at 1:45 AM, Feb 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-20 18:41:19-05

The athletes below either played a role in winning medals at the 2022 Winter Olympics or showed indications of future brilliance. It’s never too early to see who could be back in 2026 for the Milano Cortina Games in Italy...

Juraj Slafkovsky, hockey

The 17-year-old had the best two weeks of play out of anyone in the men’s tournament, despite being the youngest player on the ice. He led the tournament with seven goals. If the Olympics handed out MVP awards, he’d win it for Slovakia. He helped lead the squad to the bronze medal. Slovakia’s first ever medal in hockey.

The only thing that could stop him from reappearing in 2026 is if NHL players are held out of the tournament again. Slafkovsky’s draft stock exponentially rose in the tournament and is expected to be taken in the 2022 NHL Draft.

SEE MORE: Slafkovsky Sizzle: Relive all of the teen's Olympic magic

Jordan Stolz, speed skating

Sticking with teenagers, Stolz had a breakout Olympics. He competed in the men’s 500m and 1000m races. While he didn’t finish in the top 10 in either, he’s young for speed skating and is expected to come back in 2026 as a serious medal contender.

Before the Olympics, he was already beginning to make a name for himself in the 1000m by holding the fourth best time in the 2021-2022 season. Before the Games, he set an American record in the 500m with a time of 34.11 at the World Cup event in Salt Lake City in December. Seeing as it was his international debut, we’re likely to see his name rise in the standings over the next four years until 2026.

SEE MORE: Jordan Stolz: From his backyard pond to Olympic ice

Kokomo Murase, snowboard slopestyle and big air

The 17-year-old snowboarder made her Olympic debut in the women’s slopestyle and big air events. She started with slopestyle where she finished 10th overall, with her highest score of 49.05 on her second run.

Next, came big air where she was expected to be a contender. She clinched the bronze with a combined score of 171.50.

While she may have wanted more in Beijing, she’s likely only just beginning her international career. She won the overall title in the slopestyle and freestyle at the 2021-22 FIS Snowboard World Cup. Expect to see the Japanese competitor in the big air event as a gold-medal favorite in 2026.

SEE MORE: Sadowski-Synnott, Murase, Iwabuchi lead big air qualifying

Suzanne Schulting, short track

Schulting had an historic Olympics winning four medals. Her first medal came in the women’s 500m, when she clinched a second-place finish with a time of 42.559. She then defended her Olympic title in the women’s 1000m with a time of 1:28.391. She’s the only skater to win the event outside of South Korea or China to win gold in the event.

She was also part of the women’s 3000m relay team that clinched gold with a time of 4:03.409.  She’d close out her 2022 Winter Games by securing a bronze medal in the women’s 1500m. In total she earned medals in four out of the five events in which she competed. The only event she didn’t earn a medal was the mixed team relay.

No other female short track skater had ever taken home four medals from a single Olympics. She also set the world record in the women’s 1000m race.

While the Netherlands has historically dominated in long track speed skating, the future looks bright with the 24-year-old Schulting leading the way in short track.

SEE MORE: Suzanne Schulting sets Olympic record in women's 500m

Alysa Liu, figure skating

The 16-year-old figure skater made her Olympic debut at the 2022 Winter Games. She was the youngest athlete representing Team USA. She landed all seven of her jumping elements in the free skate, even her triple axel, but it was later called underrotated by the technical panel.

Liu was the first U.S. woman to land a quadruple jump in a competition, and the first woman in the world to land a quad and triple axel in the same program at a competition. While she has temporarily stopped performing the quad, it’s an element the U.S. figure skaters will need moving forward to compete with the ROC for medals at future Olympics.

She was the top American finisher at seventh place with an overall score of 208.95. We could see Liu, who won her first U.S. title at 13, return for another Olympics at the age of 20 in 2026.

SEE MORE: Joyful Alysa Liu tops U.S. women after free skate

Jutta Leerdam, speed skating

Dutch skater Jutta Leerdam made her Olympic debut in 2022. She finished fifth in the women’s 500m and claimed silver in the women’s 1000m with a time of 1:13.83.

She has won three world titles, including individual 1000m and two team sprint titles. She also won the European Championships prior to the Olympics.

She is part of the young Dutch speed skating group that will continue the country’s dominance in the sport as some of the stalwarts, like Ireen Wuest, eye the end of their careers. At 23, it’s likely Leerdam will be back in 2026.

SEE MORE: Miho Takagi of Japan bests USA's Brittany Bowe in 1000m win

Casey Dawson, speed skating

The speed skater almost didn’t make it to the 2022 Games after testing positive for COVID-19. Despite testing positive before the Opening Ceremony, he had troubles getting four negative tests in a row. He cleared protocols right before his 1500m race and arrived just 12 hours before the start. Obviously, not ideal for your Olympic debut. He finished 28th after using Haralds Silovs’ skates when his bag was lost in transit.

While his individual race didn’t go as planned, he had a better experience in the team pursuit. After being stunned by the ROC in the semifinals, the team regrouped and captured bronze against the Netherlands.

The 21-year-old just started competing at the senior level, so he’s likely just getting started. Expect to see Dawson in 2026 leading the way in the men’s team pursuit and racing the 5000m and 1500m events.

SEE MORE: Casey Dawson’s mad dash to the Olympic starting line

Eileen Gu, freestyle skiing

There’s no doubt Gu was one of the most visible athletes of the 2022 Games. She became the first freestyler to win three medals at one Olympics, which this was the first opportunity for that achievement with the addition of big air.

She dominated the halfpipe event, her best event, scoring the two highest marks of the day. She managed a 93.25 in her first run and a 95.25 in the second. She almost won three gold medals, coming up clutch in her final run of slopestyle to even find the podium.

She’ll only be 22 in 2026, so there’s no doubt she’ll be looking to defend her two Olympic golds and improve upon her silver in slopestyle.

SEE MORE: Eileen Gu throws down double 1620, 1440 to win big air gold

River Radamus, Alpine skiing

Radamus turned heads with his memorable hairstyles, but it’s his racing that’ll bring him back in 2026. He placed fourth, just .26 seconds off the podium in the men’s giant slalom. Radamus finished 15th in the super-G. In his final event, he won all four of his races in the team event, helping Team USA to a fourth-place finish.

He turned 24 while in Beijing for the Games, so he likely has one more run at trying to find the podium in Milano Cortina in 2026.

SEE MORE: River Radamus falls just short of podium in best-ever finish