There’s no bigger stage than the quadrennial Olympics. Everyone enters the Games knowing who’s supposed to win each event, but each start is an opportunity for an upset. Here are a few of the events at the 2022 Games that left some athletes jubilant and others in disbelief...
Valieva falls to fourth
Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva was in the headlines a lot during the 2022 Winter Games. Entering the Games, it was a sure thing she would win gold in the women’s singles, just a matter of by how much. That’s why her collapse in the women's singles event could be the biggest upset of these Games.
After a week of intense scrutiny, Valieva was able to put the pressure out of her mind in the free skate, but her short program was a disaster. She didn’t land a single one of her quads cleanly, something she had done previously with uncanny consistency.
Valieva's struggles opened the door for her compatriot, Anna Shcherbakova, to win gold. Shcherbakova combined her ability to land quads with slightly more artistry than her teammate Aleksandra Trusova, who landed five quads in the free skate to take home silver. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Valieva’s collapse was Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto who all of a sudden found herself on the podium instead of sitting in fourth on the outside looking in.
Mikaela Shiffrin skis out three times
If Valieva’s collapse wasn’t the biggest upset of the 2022 Winter Games, then Mikaela Shiffrin skiing out of three races might take the cake. Just to be clear, there’s no doubt Shiffrin is one of, if not the, best Alpine skiers of all time. However, her showing in Beijing is one she might like to forget.
First, Shiffrin skied out at the fifth gate of the women’s giant slalom. Then, came the women’s slalom where everyone thought she’d redeem herself. She only made it a few gates further. Finally, the women’s combined saw her crash towards the bottom of the course after she put together a strong downhill leg. It was her final opportunity to win an individual medal at the 2022 Winter Games.
She did finish her two races in the Alpine speed events, but her technical events were supposed to be where she shined. To put it in perspective, she had skied out of a race only twice in the last four years in international competition before these Olympics.
Slovakia shocks U.S. men in shootout
Love them or hate them, shootouts are part of the game in hockey at the Olympics. That’s what was needed to determine the winner of the U.S. vs. Slovakia quarterfinal game.
It looked like the Americans were less than a minute away from advancing to the semifinal game, up 2-1. However, the Slovaks pulled their goalie for the 6-on-5 advantage and it worked. Marek Hrivik connected to deal a devastating blow to the U.S., evening the score at 2 all.
The game went to overtime where no one scored. Then it went to a shootout, where each team named five shooters for a best-of-five. Slovakia’s Peter Cehlarik finally ended the scoring drought. That was all that Slovak goalie Patrik Rybar needed to secure the upset. He didn’t allow a single goal in the shootout, stopping the Americans on all five of their attempts.
Slovakia advanced to the semifinals, where they were shut out by Finland, though they eventually went on to win the bronze medal against Sweden.
USA upsets heavy favorite China in mixed aerials
The United States won the mixed team aerials event to everyone’s surprise. It was the event’s Olympic debut and provided a number of exciting jumps.
China was heavily favorited to win the event, but 2021 world silver medalist Chris Lillis of the United States had other ideas.
Lillis completed a back double full-full-double full (five twists and three flips) -- an insane jump for a score of 135.00 in the final. China’s Jia Zongyang stumbled on his landing, opening the door for the U.S.
Ashley Caldwell and Justin Schoenefeld joined Lillis to make up the team competing for the U.S. Consistency was key as Caldwell and Schoenefeld’s jump received respectable scores of 104.31 and 124.43, respectively.
China, which jumped after the U.S. in the final round, needed a score of 136.29 to win, but came up short with a score of 122.17. The gold was the United States' first medal in aerials since 2010.
ROC beats USA in speed skating men's team pursuit
The U.S. took on the ROC in the semifinals of the men’s team pursuit. The American team of Casey Dawson, Emery Lehman, Ethan Cepuran and Joey Mantia was heavily favored to win the race after setting a world record in December. They had recently devised a unique strategy of not changing the lead skater, which helped them be more competitive in the event heading into the Olympics.
The U.S. sat Mantia, typically the leader of the team, in the semifinal in hopes of resting him for a gold-medal race, however the plan backfired. The ROC team circled the oval in an Olympic-record time of 3:36.62 to upset the United States.
The Americans rebounded to beat the Netherlands for bronze, meanwhile ROC skated slower in the final and was easily defeated by Norway.
Australia's wild 24 hours leads to first curling wins
It was a crazy 24 hours for Australia’s mixed curling team. Originally, curlers Tahli Gill and Dean Hewitt thought they were headed home after Gill tested positive for COVID-19. However, with 15 minutes before the forfeited their penultimate game, they were reinstated by a medical expert panel.
Their participation was significant because they are the first curlers to ever qualify for the Olympics for Australia. They started the Games with seven straight losses, which made their next two wins even more significant upsets.
The Australians first beat Switzerland 9-6 in a game they thought for sure they were forfeiting for the country's first Olympic curling victory. The duo only started curling together three years ago.
Then, they went and defeated defending the gold medalists from Canada in their final game of round robin play. Ironically, Canada’s John Morris helped coach the Australians into qualifying for the Olympics.
Kingsbury dethroned in men's moguls
Canadian moguls legend Mikael Kingsbury was attempting to defend his Olympic gold medal from 2018. He also has nine overall World Cup titles and the record for most World Cup moguls victories. Sweden’s Walter Wallberg spoiled that plan. In the third final, Wallberg edged out Kingsbury with a score of 83.23 to 82.18.
At only 21, it’s likely Wallberg is just getting started, despite already going to two Olympics. His gold was Sweden’s first Olympic gold medal in freestyle skiing. Kingsbury’s silver tied mogul skier Kari Traa for most career medals in freestyle skiing with three.