Big weekend for local Olympic hopefuls; two qualify for Sochi
VAIL — For freeskiers and their parents, 1260-degree spins or backflips into mogul fields is easy on the nerves compared to the Olympic team selection process.
Most of America’s freeskiing and snowboarding Olympic team members were named during the weekend after qualifying events wrapped up in a down-to-the-wire finish at various venues across North America.
In Park City on Saturday, local Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy senior Aaron Blunck made his Olympic bid official by guaranteeing himself a spot on the team after a strong performance in the final qualifier. While three halfpipe skiing spots were officially named, the freeskiing Olympic team could name another athlete this week. According to points garnered at the qualifiers, Ski & Snowboard Club Vail athlete Alex Ferriera would be next in line for the trip to Sochi. However, the athlete chosen for that fourth spot will be up to the coaches’ discretion, meaning Ferriera could be passed over for an athlete like Torin Yater-Wallace who has put up multiple podium performances against the Olympic field in the past but didn’t compete at qualifiers.
On the women’s side, that same dynamic could work both for or against local athletes Annalisa Drew and Heidi Kloser, both who are vying for spots on the women’s freestyle team, in different disciplines.
In Quebec, the moguls skier Kloser took fifth in the final Olympic qualifier of the season Sunday — second among Americans — with the only teammate to beat her the already-named Hannah Kearney. How many athletes will go and whom those athletes will be is up to the coaches discretion, but even if the moguls discipline is only represented by two U.S. women at the Olympics, Kloser’s chances are good as she’s currently ranked fourth in the world and second among the U.S. women. If the moguls team sends three or four women, Kloser’s spot at the Olympics seems inevitable.
However, more moguls skiers could mean fewer halfpipe skiers, lessening Annalisa Drew’s chances at a spot on the team. According to the criteria, Drew has earned a fourth spot, but four spots may not be issued to the halfpipe squad.
But after the dramatic weekend, it’s not all uncertainty.
In addition to Blunck, local athlete Kaitlyn Farrington also secured her Olympic spot on Sunday in Mammoth, Calif. landing an impressive run that included a difficult switch 720 to win the final qualifier.
For the family and coaches of Kloser and Drew, the weekend closed with a feeling of nervousness.
“It’s a crap shoot,” Mike Kloser, Heidi’s dad, said on Sunday. “We honestly don’t know. As it’s stands — fourth in the world, a second and a couple of fifths, ranked best next to Hannah for U.S. girls — it’s hard to imagine that she’s not going to get in, but she said she doesn’t think she’ll know for sure until at least tomorrow.”
“The umbrella of freeskiing for the Olympics is moguls, aerials, halfpipe, slopestyle and ski cross, and the way they allocate each spot in each discipline is really a question of ‘what’s your striking distance to a podium at the Olympics?’” said Drew’s coach, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail Freeski Program Director Elana Chase. “It’s going to be tricky. They’re going to sit in a room and name athletes with the other disciplines and then figure out who gets those fourth spots.”
But for the coaches and family of Blunck and Farrington, the weekend closed with exuberant relief.
“She’s an incredible, hard working athlete, and she made a major decision to come out and work with us, we had a plan, we stuck to it and she pulled it off. And I can not be any happier,” Ski & Snowboard Club Vail program director Ben Boyd said of Farrington.
“We planned the run we wanted, and thought about it and she just went out and did it, she knew what she needed to do. It was big,” said Farrington’s coach, Elijah Teter.
“It was one of the hardest decisions my wife and I have had to make, it’s very difficult to give your kid away, and that’s what we felt like, like we were giving him away,” Aaron’s father Michael Blunck said of sending Aaron away from his home in Crested Butte to attend the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. “But we knew we were doing it for a good cause … you want to let you kids live their dreams, and VSSA gave us that opportunity.”
“It’s a very surreal thing, he’s my son and I’m proud of him no matter what,” said Aaron’s mother, Lisa Blunck. “I don’t think of him as someone who does these big feats that people look up to, I just think of him as my son, and so when he does this it’s very surreal.”