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Nineteen Coloradans competed in skiing and snowboarding for the United States at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, and three of those Centennial State athletes will be coming home with Olympic medals.
Eagle-Vail’s Mikaela Shiffrin, 18, became the youngest woman ever to win the Olympic slalom with her two gold-medal runs at Rosa Khutor on Friday; Telluride’s Gus Kenworthy, 22, was part of an historic American podium sweep in the new-school sport of slopestyle skiing on Feb. 13, winning the silver medal; and Boulder’s Alex Deibold, 27, claimed snowboard cross bronze.
Overall, Americans won the second most medals at the Games (28) behind Russia’s 33. Of those 28, USSA skiers and snowboarders accounted for 17 — tying the record set in Vancouver in 2010 — including eight of the nine American gold medals (a new USSA record).
American alpine skiers tied their record for the second most medals ever (five), while American freeskiers claimed six of the 12 new slopestyle and halfpipe medals awarded, and America snowboarders claimed gold in both of the newly added events of men’s and women’s slopestyle.
Besides the three medal winners, several other Coloradans came close to realizing their Olympic dreams, and many are so young – including Shiffrin and Kenworthy – that they seem destined to repeat their golden quests at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Vail’s Heidi Kloser, a solid medal hopeful in women’s moguls, promises she’ll be back for Pyeongchang after injuring her knee during a training run at Rosa Khutor before the Sochi Games even began. Forever an Olympian, Kloser walked in on crutches in the opening ceremonies, becoming one of the most inspirational stories of the Sochi Games.
At age 21, Kloser will only be 25 when the Games come to South Korea – the native land of Vail’s Toby Dawson, an Olympic bronze medalist in Moguls at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics and a member of the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum Hall of Fame. Dawson helped secure the 2018 Games for South Korea, so there would be a certain symmetry if Kloser is finally able to compete in the Olympics there.
Shiffrin, meanwhile, joins Lindsey Vonn as the second Olympic gold medalist who calls the Vail Valley home, and the third who’s won a World Cup slalom race. Longtime U.S. Ski Team veteran and four-time Olympian Sarah Schleper, a tech specialist like Shiffrin who won a World Cup slalom in 2005, turned in a top-10 slalom result at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics.
Based on those results, Vonn, Shiffrin and Schleper are likely locks for the Hall of Fame in the Athlete category someday. Vonn has already won 59 World Cup race and is just four wins from setting the all-time women’s victory mark, but she didn’t win her first World Cup until she was 20 and her first Olympic medal (downhill gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games) until she was 25.
Shiffrin is way ahead of that pace with an Olympic slalom gold and seven World Cup wins and counting at age 18.
“I felt smitten when I realized right away that she was one of a kind and she wanted to know everything about skiing,” U.S. Ski Team Tech Head Coach Roland Pfeifer said in a press release.
“With the way she trains and the volume she trains, she is probably 25 already, so it’s kind of normal that she skis the way she skis because she trains so much,” he added. “She really thinks about skiing 24/7; she lives in Europe in the wintertime; and she is really full-on all the time. She’s really professional, and so it’s just normal that she gets these results.”
Steamboat’s Todd Lockwick, 37, set an American record by competing in his sixth Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. The Nordic combined stalwart didn’t bring home a medal in the typically Scandinavian-dominated sport – finishing sixth in Thursday’s Gundersen large hill 4x5k competition — but he already has an American first silver medal in that relay event from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“We’re all champions, and to be on this team and finish my career with this team, I have the most pride ever,” said Lodwick, who led the entire U.S. Olympic at those opening ceremonies where Kloser came in on crutches. “Carrying the Olympic flag was almost a medal in itself.”
And while the American Nordic program couldn’t repeat its historic 2010 medal haul, Lodwick leaves the program in capable hands with the rising Steamboat sibling stars of Byran and Taylor Fletcher, 27 and 23 respectively.
The future is also very bright in cross-country skiing, where Aspen’s Simi Hamilton, 26, was a member of the men’s team sprint classic relay squad that also finished sixth. He says he’s “encouraged for the future and will be training hard so we can be top three in that event someday in the Olympics.”
The future is already here for Colorado athletes in new-school snowboarding and freeskiing sports such as slopestyle and halfpipe skiing. Kenworthy claimed a silver medal in slopestyle skiing – an X Games staple just added to the Olympics in 2011.
“It’s been incredible,” Kenworthy said. “I knew the whole time that the USA had the potential to get a sweep. We have so many talented skiers. There are like 12 guys in the top 30, and a lot of them couldn’t make it because our team can only have four people maximum.”
In halfpipe skiing, another new sport, a trio of talented young Coloradans – Aspen’s Torin Yater-Wallace, Boulder’s Lyman Currier and Crested Butte’s Aaron Blunck – were among the medal favorites but had a tough time in the rain and sloppy snow of Sochi’s Rosa Khutor Extreme Park.
Only Blunck, a Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy student, made the finals, and he wound up seventh. But at age 17, Blunck, who called Sochi “an experience of a lifetime,” seems certain to be back for many more Winter Olympic Games.
In snowboarding, Deibold, who was born in Connecticut, raised in New Hampshire and is now based in Boulder, will be bringing home bronze after a long and finally fruitful pursuit of Olympic glory in snowboard cross. But Steamboat siblings Taylor and Arielle Gold will have to wait until 2018.
Arielle, 17, a world champion in halfpipe last year, was injured in training at Sochi – just like Kloser — and couldn’t compete in her event. Taylor, 20, didn’t make it to the finals in halfpipe, crashing in the final jump of his final qualifying run.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Shaun White was finally dethroned in men’s halfpipe and finished fourth behind Swiss gold medalist Iouri Podladtchikov, Japanese silver medalist Ayumu Hirano and bronze medalist Taku Hiraoka. Hirano is a Ski and Snowboard Club Vail athlete, as is women’s halfpipe gold medalist Kaitlyn Farrington, of Salt Lake City.
Editor’s note: This story was produced for the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum and a version first ran in the Vail Daily. The museum is located on the third level of the Vail Village parking structure, adjacent to Vail Village Covered Bridge. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call 970-476-1876 or go to www.skimuseum.net.