The 2018 Winter Olympics will kick off in PyeongChang in February — so it's high time you start getting to know all of this year's star athletes before the games. And what better way to do it than by checking that "follow" button on Instagram? Thanks to social media, sports stars like legends Lindsey Vonn and Shaun White and young talents Nathan Chen and Chloe Kim are more accessible to fans than ever before, even if they're competing in and around mountain ranges and indoor rinks thousands of miles away in PyeongChang.
Click through below to discover the winter games athletes whose names — and Instagram usernames — you should definitely know by now. And when the events kick off on Feb. 9, you'll find yourself with a behind-the-scenes view of what's going down in South Korea, brought to you directly from the competitors themselves.
In 2014, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy became one of the biggest stories of the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi. Not only was he one of three Americans to sweep the medals for the slopestyle event, taking silver, but also because, in a perfect viral story, Kenworthy discovered a group of homeless pups and used his social media profile to help get them the support they needed, including new homes with him and his family and friends. His story, however, didn't end there. In 2015, he came out publicly on the cover of ESPN's magazine, becoming one of his sport's only out athletes. Since then, he's been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights; qualified handily for his reappearance at the 2018 Olympics; and has managed to keep up a steady stream of popular Instagram posts. Plus, you can bet he'll be keeping an eye out for some more international puppies.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist snowboarder Shaun White has been a mainstay on the U.S. team since 2006, first gaining fame as the fiery-haired, boundary-pushing boarder who would attempt ever-wilder halfpipe tricks. His time in the spotlight has seen him evolve into an articulate and fashion-forward sport leader — and one of the most popular personalities of the 2014 Games, even though he finished fourth in his event in Sochi. Most recently, he took a tumble that required 62 stitches to his face, but still managed to clinch his Olympic spot for PyeongChang.
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Today went from the worst, to one of the best days of my life. I fell on my first two runs for finals, and ended up landing my 3rd and final run! Not only did I win the competition, I ended up getting a perfect 100 and securing my spot on the US Olympic Team! Thank you to everyone who has supported me and stood by my side. We’re going to Korea💪🏼 #Olympics #Victory #Thankful 📸: @ryanwach
Lindsey Vonn is also one of the U.S. team's most notable names and longtime Olympic competitors. She's made (and broken) countless records in her years across events in alpine skiing, including winning the U.S.'s first-ever gold medal in women's downhill in 2010 and holding the most World Cup titles of any woman in skiing. Sidelined due to injuries in 2014, she served as a commentator only in Sochi. But for 2018 she's back in the running, and will be gunning for major medals. Not that her Instagram is all business: as a de facto team leader and longtime star, she's gained more than a million followers for her posts, which are in turns glamorous and very inspirational, from her intense workouts to her ability to overcome injury and obstacles.
Figure skater Adam Rippon found himself the center of media attention after qualifying for men's individual finals this year, marking him as the first ever openly gay male athlete on the U.S.'s Winter Olympics roster. (He would be joined by Kenworthy shortly after.) It's also Rippon's first go-round at the Winter Olympics, although he was the U.S. national champion in 2016. But between his candid photos, fun Instagram Stories (including inside looks at training programs), and close friendships with star fellow skaters (like Ashley Wagner and Nathan Chen), he's already made clear he's a personality to watch — and isn't afraid to state his opinions candidly, including political ones.
Few athletes seem to have as much fun in the mountains as Chloe Kim, the 17-year-old snowboarding sensation. Whether she's hanging out with fellow boarders or world-famous DJ Steve Aoki — or building her own jumps for kicks — Kim is the friend you'd want to hit the slopes with, if you had the chance. She also has serious snowboarding chops, winning two gold medals in the 2016 Youth Olympic Games (a first for an American) and qualifying back in 2014 for the Sochi games, although her age (she was just 13 at the time) meant she had to bow out. Kim is already well on her way to name recognition in the U.S., while her Korean-American heritage brings extra A-list status when she visits the country. Count on Chloe for the best of the behind-the-scenes shots.
Erin Jackson has only been a long track speed skater for four months. But the former figure skater and inline speed skater managed to learn the specifics of the precision sport with enough mastery in just that short time to make the U.S. Olympic team, surprising many with her unexpected jump to team qualification. In doing so, she's making history as an African-American woman representing the U.S. in the speed skating. Not that she's planning on sticking to the sport forever: she's already got her degree in materials science and engineering, and plans to continue with a Master's. Follow Erin for insights into the world of speed skating, interspersed with some fun roller derby tidbits.
Another star of the ever-popular figure skating lineup is Nathan Chen. Chen, who's favored to wow crowds at PyeongChang thanks to his intensely difficult routines on ice, is also the defending U.S. national champion for two years now, a title he's kept after completing five quadruple-jumps in a single routine. But perhaps the most impressive part? Chen is just 18. And like any savvy teen, he has a social media presence full of surprises: whether he's showing off workouts, snapping photos with fellow celebrities (like basketball star Stephen Curry) or sharing news about his costume designs (Vera Wang has been tapped to create his looks for the ice), Chen's youthful feed offers a peek into his wild — and wildly cool — life as a star young athlete.
Few athletes come with as much hype as Mikaela Shiffrin. The 22-year-old reigning Overall World Cup champion has been breaking records since she started racing as a kid, and is often lauded as one of the most aggressively focused skiers in the game today. Back in 2014, she became the youngest slalom champ in Olympic history. But in the intervening four years, she's expanded her repertoire to become a major — and dominant — competitor in all the women's ski events, putting her smack in the spotlight for this year's Games. Still, Shiffrin seems to be coping with the pressure pretty well; when she took a spill at a recent race, she came back to post about it self-deprecatingly on her Instagram. "Put me in coach," she joked, adding, "We push the limits, we get better; we fall, we get up; it’s never predictable, and no one is invincible...and THAT is flippin’ awesome."
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Stranger things have not happened...😶🤭🤗😁😁😆😆😆 #redbib #downhill #CantStop #sheskis #givesyouwings #eleganceisanattitude BIG thank you to all of the course workers, race organizers, everybody who worked so hard to pull of this race today after a big snowstorm and the power outage!! The track was 👍💪👌!
If you're looking for fitness inspiration, look no further than the many athletes of the U.S. men's bobsled team, all of whom tend to keep up a steady stream of #fitspo and workout posts. Steve Langton, a three-time Olympian who made history in Sochi by winning the U.S.'s first bobsled medals in decades, stands out from the pack both for his longstanding history with the team as both a two-man and four-man event competitor, and his keen eye for landscape photography. He always seems to be venturing around the U.S. — and, soon, abroad — in search of beautiful scenes which end up on his Instagram feed. Seems likely he'll keep up the pattern once he lands in South Korea, too. Also see: Sam Michener, Hakeem Abdul-Saboor, Chris Kinney.
Maia & Alex Shibutani
Maia and Alex Shibutani coined themselves the "Shib Sibs" years ago — it's even their joint Instagram handle — and have been ice dancing in tandem since they were kids. Now they're heading to PyeongChang for their second Olympics, after finishing ninth in Sochi. They're known for making crowd-friendly choices like choreographing a routine to a Michael Jackson medley, and for their impressive cohesiveness as a pair. Both their duo Instagram and their personal ones are regularly updated with everything from adorable throwback pics to Olympic updates... and the occasional appearance of their two incredibly fluffy Maltese puppies, Lily and Po. (Yes, Lily and Po have their own Instagram account, too.)