As the world’s best athletes gear up to go for the gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Team USA ice skaters are speaking out about the former Olympians who inspired them.
The Games will feature competitions in 15 sports disciplines, and one of the most anticipating events, as always, will be figure skating.
Team USA skaters including Nathan Chen, Adam Rippon, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue will show off their talents on the sport’s grandest stage next month. Of course, for many of these new Olympians — many of whom are still in their 20s— it wasn’t so long ago that they were at home watching their favorite athletes compete in Sochi, Vancouver, Turin or Salt Lake City.
“I have a few Olympic inspirations — Evan Lysacek, who was the first Olympian I ever watched on TV,” figure skater Vincent Zhou, 17, tells PEOPLE. “I look up to Michael Weiss because he gives back to the community now.”
For ice dancing couple Evan Bates and Madison Chock, they find inspiration from the most decorated American ice dancers in history.
“I would say Meryl Davis and Charlie White are huge Olympic inspirations for us,” Chock says. “They are always such good sports whether the results go their way or not — and most of the time it did go their way, and they were still the most gracious competitors you could ever meet.”
Ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue say they don’t have to look very far to find their Olympic inspirations.
“I think my Olympic inspiration is actually our coaches, Marie-France [Dubreuil] and Patrice [Lauzon],” Hubbell says. “They really help all of their students kind of handle the stress and the nerves and the doubt that comes into your mind because they’ve lived that experience.”
Figure skating champion Nathan Chen, 18, says Michael Phelps, “the G.OA.T.,” is his inspiration, while Karen Chen (no relation) named Kristi Yamaguchi, Michelle Kwan, Yuna Kim and Mao Asada as her inspirations.
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Adam Rippon — the first openly gay U.S. athlete to qualify for the Winter Olympics — has found motivation from his athletically gifted friends, including fellow figure skater Ashley Wagner.
“My Olympic inspirations are my friends and my fellow athletes,” he says. “I think it is really cool when you see your friends, and people that you know and are close to, achieve their dreams.”
But, Rippon adds that he does take time to reflect and marvel at his own achievements and his journey to success even after experiencing serious injuries.
“Sometimes I look in the mirror, and I’m my own inspiration,” he says. “Because if you can’t be your own inspiration, who is going to inspire you?”
The 2018 Winter Olympics will air live starting Feb. 8. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.