Editor’s note: During this Winter Olympic season and leading up to the 2015 FIS Alpine World Championships, this weekly series will tell Colorado’s rich ski and snowboarding history and heritage through stories about the sport’s heroes and legends.
Eighteen Coloradans competed in skiing and snowboarding for the United States at the Sochi Winter Olympics, and two 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, and 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.
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 Comeback Kid
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.
Locks for Hall of Fame
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 races 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 said.
‘We’re All Champions’
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 podium, 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 Lockwick, who led the entire U.S. Olympic team 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 Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, 27 and 23 respectively.
Future is Now
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.
David O. Williams wrote this story for the Colorado Ski & Snowboard Museum. 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.