At the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, our athletes will prove their American mettle. Here are a few of the Western champions giving us gold fever.
Western states seem to spawn more than their share of Olympic athletes. When it comes to winter sports, maybe it’s because you could hardly do better than the mountains of Colorado and California and the active, outdoor-loving lifestyles of both states. It’s no coincidence that Colorado and California are the homes and training grounds of many of our elite amateur athletes hoping to medal at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.
Beginning on February 8 (opening ceremonies on Friday the 9th) and ending on February 25, the games will give us a chance to get to know some of the competitors as they bring their A games to the world’s most prestigious competition.
Here are some of the competitors from the West we’ll be watching.
Veteran Snowboard Superstar: Shaun White
Going for snowboard gold will be Shaun White, who reportedly trained for the 2010 and 2014 Olympics on private half-pipes in Silverton, Colorado, and Perisher, Australia. For the 2018 Games, he did the majority of his training at his home base in Mammoth Mountain, California.
He goes into the PyeongChang Games with 2006 and 2010 half-pipe Olympic gold to his credit (he also holds the record for most X Games golds).
White’s not just trying for a comeback after his disappointing crash and fourth-place finish in the last Winter Games in Sochi: The 31-year-old snowboard superstar has been recovering from a horrible half-pipe crash last October while training in New Zealand that required 62 stitches to his face. And that came on the heels of a September wipeout in practice that sent him to the hospital. Looks like doctor-prescribed rest isn’t really part of his regimen.
Melt-Your-Heart Ice Queen: Karen Chen
On March 31 at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland, Karen Chen glanced at the scoreboard and saw teammate Ashley Wagner, the face of U.S. figure skating for the past three years, had faltered in her free program.
“So I knew I needed to skate pretty close to clean in order to keep our country’s hope up for earning three spots in the upcoming Olympics,” Chen, 18, said in an email. “At first, it was overwhelming. Right when that thought came into my head, my body felt tense all of a sudden. Because I wanted to prove to myself I can do it — that I could skate very well under pressure.”
Chen did indeed. The young talent finished fourth. Then this past January she put together two great performances at the U.S. Figure Championships to make the Olympic team.
The daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Chen is a California girl, born and raised in the small town of Fremont in the San Francisco Bay Area. She belongs to a San Jose skate club but trains in Southern California near L.A., in Riverside.
A bronze medalist at two ISU Challenger Series events, the 2015 U.S. national bronze medalist, and the 2017 U.S. national champion, Chen placed fourth at the 2017 World Championships, she began to figure skate at just 5 years old. Ten years and many grueling training sessions later, she broke out at the 2015 U.S. Championships with a bronze medal, after sustaining a nearly career-ending ankle fracture a year earlier.
Chen’s short program score at nationals in 2017 was the highest ever recorded in ladies’ figure skating at a U.S. Championships.
She has just written her first book, Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice. Published in November 2017 by Harper Collins, it’s an inspirational read for young girls who want to dream big.
“I am so excited to be able to share my story with my fans and with fellow skaters,” Chen said in a press release. “I wanted to show people that if you work hard, never give up, and believe in yourself, you can achieve success. I hope readers will take away a message about the importance of dedication and resilience, and apply it to their own challenges and goals. Every day I continue working toward my dreams, and I look forward to what the future will bring.”
Downhill Dominator: Lindsey Vonn
First, the controversy: In an interview Lindsey Vonn said she would represent the United States and not the president in the Olympics and would not accept an invitation from the White House if she were to win. Her comments made the news and blew up social media, where the backlash saw messages wishing, among other things, that she’d break her neck.
Soon after, she injured her back during the super-G in St.Moritz in December. But going into the Olympics, she’s back on top in a big way: On December 16, Vonn was focused not on the controversy but on the course when she won the super-G in Val d’Isere, France, earning her 78th World Cup victory. Three weeks later she earned a spot on the 2018 Olympic team.
However polarizing her personal politics might be, Vonn’s impressive record as a champion skier can’t be denied.
Hurtling down a mountain at 80 miles per hour is not a point of fear for Vonn — nor is crashing or being helicoptered off a mountain. In her long career on the slopes, this lovely blond ski racer has been there and done that.
At age 32, the multiple Olympic gold medalist and World Cup women’s record holder is on a quest to become the world’s best skier — and she’s almost there.
The most winning female ski racer in American history, Vonn grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota, and began skiing at age 2. Nine years later, she moved to Colorado with her family to train at Ski Club Vail.
Most of her summer is spent in South America, at training camps in Chile and Argentina. After training in the Southern Hemisphere during the summers, she travels to Europe for the “real season.”
We caught up with Vonn last September, just hours before she was catching a plane for Chile to — you guessed it — follow the snow.
Coming back from a broken arm in late 2016, it was clear Vonn was in Olympic form once again. “It has taken real stamina and determination,” Vonn said. “I love skiing, and, regardless of my injuries, they are not keeping me from my dreams and what I have left to accomplish in my skiing career. Hard work and determination make up for a lot.”
Her training, she says, is intense. “I’m getting exhausted just thinking about it. I work out four to six hours a day, five to six days a week, depending on which training cycle I’m in, concentrating on core strength, balance, and flexibility, with cardio, weightlifting, and, cycling thrown in for good measure. I’m in great shape and looking forward to getting back to the snow.”
Vonn left for South Korea at the beginning of February. “I need to be at my location several days before competing to conquer jet lag and get acclimated to the weather and time change,” she said. “As I travel with my own chef and trainer, I live in a bit of a cocoon and look forward to the competition.”
We do, too.
Going For Gold: More Western Olympians
Here are some of the other athletes we hope to see on the podium at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics this month.
Mikaela Shifrin, Eagle-Vail, Colorado. At 18, she took slalom gold in Sochi in 2014, making her the youngest skier ever to earn the top medal in her discipline.
Jamie Anderson, South Lake Tahoe, California. The 27-year-old earned gold in the Sochi debut of women’s slopestyle, a sport she’s been at since age 9.
Mirai Nagusa, Arcadia, California. Passed over for the Sochi team, the 24-year-old figure skater has amassed loads of winning hardware and placed fourth in the 2010 Olympics.
Gus Kenworthy, Telluride, Colorado. The freestyle skier has been in the news recently for coming out as gay; after the Sochi Olympics he made the news for coming home with not just a silver medal but with a bunch of rescue puppies, who now have happy homes with him.
Ted Ligety, Park City, Utah. The 37-year-old new dad and alpine racer has already won two Olympic golds (in the combined event in 2006 and giant slalom in 2010) and competes now with the new perspective of parenthood.
Nathan Chen, Salt Lake City. The 18-year-old reigning U.S. champion is an Olympic newbie but nonetheless the guy to watch for his amazing ability to land quads and push the envelope of figure skating.
U.S. Men’s Bobsled Team: Carlo Valdes (Newport Beach, California), Justin Olsen, (San Antonio), Evan Weinstock (Las Vegas), Nick Cunningham (Monterey, California). Everyone will be missing Steven Holcomb, who took the four-man bobsled team to gold in 2010 in Vancouver, and who tragically was found dead in May 2017 at the age of 37 in his room at the Lake Placid training center. We’ll be remembering Holcomb and cheering on these guys.
Chloe Kim, Long Beach, California. Hailed as the future of the sport, the high-achieving half-pipe snowboarder speaks Korean and has applied to Harvard.
U.S. Training Center Tours
If you want to see where Olympians put in countless preparatory hours, you can tour the United States Olympics Center and Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. You can also tour Utah Olympic Park near Park City, which hosted events during the 2002 Winter Olympics. You can see the impressive ski jump and accompany a professional pilot on a wild ride down the sliding track, the venue of bobsled, skeleton, and luge events during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.