Kloser makes Olympic team
Also born in Vail was Katie Uhlaender, a Breckenridge skeleton racer who was named to the Olympic team on Saturday. Uhlaender, a veteran of the ‘06 and ‘10 Games, will be joined by teammate Noelle Pikus-Pace, also a 2010 Olympian. The U.S. has not won a skeleton medal since the sport was reintroduced to the Olympics in ‘02, but Uhlaender’s presence on the team could change that. Uhlaender won the World Championships in Lake Placid in 2012 and said in October that this year has been the first pain-free training she’s had since ‘09. She suffered a preseason concussion during a training run at Lake Placid, but she has bounced back to register two top 10s in World Cup races. “ ... I’m doing this for me,” Uhlaender said. “I’m chasing my dream.”
UPDATE: 1/21/14 8:45 a.m., Heidi Kloser has made the Olympic team. This story will be updated.
VAIL — The only thing cooler than competing in the Olympics would be to have a neighbor from childhood there competing, too.
Those are the words of Sylvan Ellefson, who will know by 10 a.m. Wednesday if he made the Olympic squad for cross country skiing.
Ellefson’s childhood neighbor and friend Heidi Kloser is in the same situation — Kloser’s expecting to know some time today whether she made the Olympic squad for mogul skiing.
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Both athletes arrived back home Monday night after weeks of traveling and competing.
Both were happy to be back home, where they should be able to relax, but neither was relaxing.
For Kloser, the anticipation felt Monday night was a lifetime coming.
“I’ve wanted to go to the Olympics as long as I can remember,” Kloser said. “Honestly, I cannot remember a year or a day that I did not have a dream of going to the Olympics.”
Her parents, Mike and Emily Kloser, verify the young athlete’s whole life has led up to this dream of competing at the highest level.
Ellefson said just what that competition would be was, for Heidi Kloser, a matter of choice.
“You could see from a young age how determined that girl was, I knew that she was going to be successful at whatever she decided to do,” he said.
For himself, on the other hand, the Olympic vision hasn’t always been so clear.
“I always thought the Olympics would be really cool,” he said. “I just never though I would make it to this level.”
Both Ellefson and Kloser are vying for discretionary spots on the team, meaning they didn’t meet the criteria necessary for an automatic entry.
They both have impressive results as of late, Ellefson became a national champion in the 30K freestyle and Kloser recently became the only other woman on the team besides 2010 Games gold-medalist Hannah Kearney to hit the podium this season.
Both in Kloser and Ellefson’s cases, the competition is tough.
Kloser’s not only competing against her own teammates — including three other women who have had fourth-place World Cup finishes this season — as a discretionary pick, she’s also competing against all disciplines of freeskiing as the team includes athletes from halfpipe, slopestyle, aerials and ski cross.
Her coach, Garth Hager, said she’s at an advantage as the only athlete besides Kearney to hit the podium this season. But last season, Heather McPhie had five World Cup podiums and Eliza Outtrim had four — both will be hoping for spots this year, and it’s possible the team will only take three women, including Kearney.
‘THERE’S ALWAYS MORE’
No matter what happens this week, the season so far has been successful for both Kloser and Ellefson.
“It’s already been a fairy tale season for me,” Ellefson said. “I wanted to set myself up for success, and that can mean just being talked about at the meeting where they will select the team or actually being named to the team.”
Kloser said Olympics aside, she feels that she is capable of being the best in the world in World Cup mogul skiing, a timed competition which takes skiers down a bumpy course that contains two jumps. The time, as well as scores on the run and the jump are factored together for a score. Kloser’s often the fastest down the course and has more difficult tricks in her repertoire than she’s been using. While she hasn’t been using the trick yet in her runs this season, Kloser is one of the few women who have completed a “back full” (backflip with a full twist) and a “cork 7” (off-axis 720-degree spin) in a mogul run.
“There’s room for improvement and room to throw even harder tricks,” she said.
And in a sport where athletes are peaking in their mid-to-late 20s (Kearney is 27, Outtrim is 28 and McPhie is 29), Kloser, 21, has time to grow, and she knows it.
“I’ve definitely been looking forward to the Olympics my whole life, but the Olympics isn’t everything,” she said. “There’s always World Cup titles, World Championships, pushing the sport, inspiring young people and all that sort of stuff.”