13 Winter Olympic Hopefuls from Colorado to Watch in February 2018
In less than two months, athletes from nearly 100 countries will gather in the mountains of PyeongChang, South Korea to kick off the 23rd Winter Olympics. Each one there, decked in their country’s colors, will be ready to fight for gold medals in the 102 events spread out over the 15 winter sports — alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsled, cross-country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, hockey, luge, Nordic combined, short track, skeleton, sky jumping, snowboard, and speed skating — that comprise the winter games.
Colorado, home to world-class training facilities and winter mountain-sport meccas, is sure to field a few gold medalists. Just last week the state confirmed its first official U.S. team member, snowboarder Chris Corning. Here are 13 Winter Olympic hopefuls from Colorado that you should keep your eyes and ears on as the countdown to the 2018 Winter Games begins.
1. Chris Corning
Only last weekend, after standing as the top American finisher two weekends in a row at the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix at Copper Mountain and at Breckenridge’s Dew Tour finals, did Chris Corning find out he’d officially secured one of the three spots on the U.S. Olympic snowboard team.
As the reigning world silver medalist in big air snowboarding and bronze medalist in slopestyle, the 18-year-old from Silverthorne is more than ready to make his Olympic debut in South Korea. He’s the first and only Colorado athlete to secure an official spot on the 2018 U.S. Winter Olympics team so far.
This year’s Olympic competition is particularly exciting for Chris, as it’s going to be the first time big air snowboarding is included in the Winter Games. For the event, athletes get three chances to impress judges on one giant jump. They take off down a long, 40-degree ramp and launch themselves into the air, spinning, rolling, and flipping as much as they can muster, trying to impress the judges with new and embellished tricks. Scores are tallied according to height, difficulty of the trick, style and landing quality.
As one of snowboarding’s “biggest rising stars,” according to NBC, Chris flashed two impressive tricks during his runs at the Copper Mountain and Breckenridge competitions — a switch backside 1260 and a backside triple cork 1440 — effectively setting the stage for the greatness that’ll be showcased in PyeongChang.
2. Mikaela Shiffrin
Sport: Alpine skiing
For most teenagers, successfully graduating high school by the age of 18 is a significant achievement. For Mikaela Shiffrin, that was the age during which she won her first Olympic gold medal — making her the youngest slalom champion in Olympic alpine skiing history… no big deal.
Shiffrin grew up flip-flopping between the mountains of Vail and Vermont with her family, perfecting the elite precision and neck-breaking speed her craft demanded. As a slalom racer, Shiffrin made her world stage debut at age 16 in 2011; she won the U.S. National Championships that year, held at Winter Park, and become the youngest American ski racer to claim a national alpine title.
After that, she trained furiously, eschewing traditional teenage activities in exchange for a rigorous training and competition schedule, and truly it paid off. She now ranks in first place for the 2018 alpine skiing competition season. All of this to say: big things are expected of Shiffrin this Olympic go-around.
3. Gus Kenworthy
Sport: Freestyle skiing
Wherever snow touches the ground, Gus Kenworthy is a force to be reckoned with. Or, as the Olympic sports organization U.S. Ski and Snowboard puts it, Gus is “a rare halfpipe and slopestyle double threat.” He’s one of the most decorated freeskiers commanding audiences on the slopes to this day; numerous medals in X Games around the world and an unprecedented six consecutive Association of Freeskiing Professional overall titles are pinned to his name.
The London-born, Telluride-raised powerhouse started skiing shortly after learning to walk, and got his first big break after garnering interest from ski film production companies via videos he’d make and upload to the web himself. What followed next was a quick ascension through the ranks of elite freeskiers, creating industry-defining films about his craft.
A year after competing in his first Olympics (Sochi 2014), Gus was the first male action sport athlete to come out as gay — a public decision he has said was met primarily with positivity, and which has helped him command his competitive edge. Being his true self at all times has helped him refine his performance while pushing the envelope of halfpipe and slopestyle jumps.
Back in the 2014 Winter Games, the first year freestyle skiing was included, Gus stood on the podium alongside fellow U.S. teammates Joss Christensen and Nick Goepper for the third U.S. podium sweep in the history of the Winter Olympic Games. Though Gus only walked away with a silver medal that time, this go around he’s definitely gunning for gold.
4. Svea Irving
Hometown: Winter Park
Sport: Freestyle skiing
Svea Irving was barely two years old when her feet were shoved into ski boots for the first time. Her dad, a ski patroller, and her mom, a former alpine ski racer, were more than delighted to sign her up for the park’s Pipe team as soon as she showed the slightest bit of interest.
By the time she was 10 years old, Svea was showing all the signs of a world-class athlete: dedicated, disciplined, self-driven. Now, aged 15, Svea is based in Granby, where she’s a sophomore at Middle Park High School, and trains mostly on the halfpipe at Copper Mountain in the afternoons.
During her time off from high school or when she’s taking online classes, she travels to places like California, Utah and Switzerland for extra training and competitions. Just last year, Svea started qualifying for larger, more serious competitions that pushed her skills and her psych to new levels, resulting in a serious bid for the Olympic freestyle ski team.
Though the training is demanding on the teenager, both physically and mentally, Svea told Vail Daily that it’s the split-second feeling of fear that’s kept her motivated and excited to compete at higher levels. “It’s really thrilling going off jumps or going through the halfpipe throwing these tricks. It just makes you want to do more of it.”
5. Bryan Fletcher
Hometown: Steamboat Springs
Sport: Nordic combined
Just before his third birthday, Bryan Fletcher was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Though he was little, growing up in snowy Steamboat Springs with ski-fanatic parents had Bryan out on snow before he could even walk. But with cancer, his parents wondered what his life was going to look like, should he survive. And if he did, what about skiing? Would he ever be able to ski again?
“It was this diagnosis that started my amazing journey as a Nordic Combined athlete,” Bryan explains on his website. “While still battling cancer, I was introduced to the world of Ski Jumping and Nordic combined… I was hooked from day one.”
In Nordic combined, athletes will jump off of two hills, one large and one small, followed by a 10-kilometer cross-country race. While undergoing chemotherapy, Bryan would divide his time between treatments and ski-jumping, which helped keep his spirits up. “But I didn’t stop at the jumps; I wanted to push myself further and took my ambitions to the cross-country trails, which in turn made me a Nordic Combined athlete,” he writes.
Bryan first secured his spot on the U.S. Ski Team in 2004, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he debuted on the Olympic team, where he helped the U.S. men’s team place sixth in Sochi, and where he placed 22nd on the large hill, 10-kilometer individual race, and 26th in the normal hill, 10-kilometer individual race. If he lands his spot on the 2018 U.S. team, Bryan will certainly put up a good fight for the American flag.
6. Lindsey Vonn
Sport: Alpine skiing
Lindsey Vonn is always on a mission. This season, it’s twofold: first, break the record number of World Cup victories, established by Ingemar Stenmark’s 86th World Cup win in 1989. Second, score a second (or third) Olympic gold medal in South Korea.
While this season has started off slowly for Lindsey — returning from a serious broken arm, a fresh back injury, and nursing an old knee injury — last weekend the 33-year-old female powerhouse just cinched her 78th World Cup title in the French Alp’s Val d’Isere, inching her closer to Ingemar’s record. But now, with the Olympics just around the corner, she’s recentering her focus, saving her energy and revving up for go mode in South Korea.
It won’t be Lindsey’s first Winter Games if she makes the U.S. team. In 2010, Lindsey won gold in the downhill race and bronze in the super-G, but after missing the 2014 Olympics due to a knee injury, she’s ready to reclaim her gold medals in PyeongChang. This year, there’ll be tough competition in both races even just considering the other competitive Colorado female athletes, but with her recent World Cup performances and the fire evident in her, it’s safe to say she’s got more than a fighting chance.
7. Katie Uhlaender
Katie Uhlaender has been around the Olympic block before, three times in fact. And just last month — three-and-a-half years after narrowly missing third place in the 2014 Winter Games’ skeleton race (by 0.04 seconds) — Katie received confirmation of what she’s been working towards her whole life: she is officially an Olympic medal-winner.
In November, the International Olympic Committee stripped two Russians of their skeleton medals after confirming doping violations. Taking the gold medal from Elena Nikitina bumped everyone up a spot on the podium, bringing Katie on board for third place. While the Russian doping controversy has now caused the committee to consider a nationwide ban, Katie is using the momentum sparked from her newfound bronze medal to carry her through these last few weeks of training and competition. This season, she’s gunning for her fourth Olympic appearance on the skeleton sled.
“It’s not easy, it’s not glamorous, but it’s satisfying,” Katie told NBC about training for this season’s Winter Games. Needless to say, skeleton — the sport where individual racers zoom down an icy track, sometimes faster than 80 miles per hour — is not only technically complex but mentally challenging, too.
When Colorado Springs’ KOAA asked Katie if she’ll be on the podium in real time this February, Katie said: “I don’t know. You tell me. Life is so unpredictable. That’s the thing I’m learning is the results aren’t something I should be focusing on. If I can focus on being at my absolute best I’m praying that’s enough… now I’m not chasing a medal. I’m chasing my moment.”
8. Stephen Garbett
In 2010 Stephen Garbett was in the hospital, again. He’d just gotten his appendix removed and, unlike what is normally predicted for a recovery from such a routine surgery, his body was cooperating — it was shutting down and no one knew why. So he stayed. He rested. He watched a lot of TV. Not exactly the sound of an athlete’s journey to elitism.
Except that it was winter and the year was 2010, and Stephen found the Olympics to be the only thing worth watching on TV. Particularly he liked watching the skeleton races, which he had never before seen. Fast forward a few years and Stephen is now entering his fourth season on the National Men’s Skeleton Team.
“Being in the hospital taught me one thing,” he told Mile High Sports. “Life is short. Be brave, set a goal, and believe.”
9. Nathan Weber
One of the newest members on the U.S. Bobsled team is rookie Nathan Weber. But among other, non-sports circles, he’s perhaps better known as Green Beret Nathan Weber.
It was while going through special forces military training that Nathan decided he wanted to spend his free time training to become a competitive bobsled athlete. In 2010 he graduated with his Green Beret, and in 2012 he kick-started a self-motivated campaign to rise above other U.S. bobsledders while still on military deployment overseas. Six years later now, he’s making his national team debut, setting his sights on a seat in one of the (hopefully three) U.S. sleds that’ll travel to PyeongChang.
10. Mikaela Matthews
Everyone has their rituals. For Michaela Matthews, it’s painting her nails a sparkly color the night before big competitions. Then, right before she runs, she plays her music extra loud so as to drown out everyone else in her proximity. That way it’s just her and the gate, the slope extending out below.
Just a month before the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Michaela fell while training, shattering her humerus and now has a nine-inch plate and 13 screws in her arm. While it wasn’t easy, especially mentally, Michaela has made a comeback.
This past season Michaela claimed her first national title, and has pinned a promising array of top-ten finishes at a few World Cup podiums — culminating in her ranking as the sixth-best woman mogul skier in the world — making her a strong contender for the 2018 Olympic team.
11. Mariah Bell
Sport: Figure skating
To open the 2016-2017 season, Mariah Bell’s first year competing on the elite figure skating world stage, she snagged three medals in a row — a silver at the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City, a bronze at Slovakia’s Nepela Trophy and another silver at Skate America in Chicago. Not a bad way to kick off your serious international debut.
But really, it all started when Mariah was just three years old. That’s the year her parents laced up skates on her feet for the first time, because her older sister Morgan (who now skates for Disney on ice as Frozen’s Anna) was skating and Mariah didn’t want to be left out.
This season, Mariah is not only hoping to keep the momentum of her skating career going, she’s hoping secure a spot on the Olympic team and has her eyes where they’ve always been: looking forward and up on the podium.
12. Simi Hamilton
Sport: Cross country
Growing up in the mountains of Aspen, Simi Hamilton could have been a number of elite mountain athletes — mountain biker, white-water paddler, climber, ski mountaineer. While he dabbled in all of these pursuits, ultimately he settled down in cross country skiing. A good foresight on his part, too, seeing as by the time he entered his early 20s, he was establishing himself as one of the top cross country sprinters in the world.
Now with two Olympics, three World Championships team placements, a remarkable World Cup stage win during the Lenserheide Tour de Ski in 2014, and two World Cup podiums, Simi’s eyes are on PyeongChang.
If he can get there, Simi is excited about how that can reflect the hard work he and his community have put into his skiing over the course of his life. As he told the Aspen Times: “Even if I don’t win a medal, I think the most important part that I can do is go to the Olympics knowing I did everything in my power to try to achieve that goal. Regardless of what happens, regardless of how fast I race, I think I’ll be proud of myself and I hope my local Aspen community will be proud of me.”
13. Torin Yater-Wallace
Sport: Freestyle skiing
Nearly exactly two years ago, Torin Yater-Wallace wasn’t training for anything, let alone a spot on the U.S. national ski team. He was just trying to get healthy again. During the early winter of 2015, “a fluke life-threatening septic infection” had put Torin in a medically-induced coma for ten days.
Thankfully his health is back up and running, and in the two years since, he’s managed to rock the halfpipe skiing scene like no other. His professional skiing career essentially started in 2011, when as a skinny teenager Torin debuted at the Winter X Games in Europe and came home with a bronze medal. More medals have followed in the time since, catapulting his name to international recognition among halfpipe enthusiasts.
Though Torin went into the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi as a crowd favorite pining for gold, he ended with results that would mark one of the worst competitions in his career, not even making the finals. But in the years since, all things considered, Torin has learned a lot and is ready to give it another go. As he told Team USA, “The Olympics was never something I was around as a kid… It’s an addition, to be honest. Getting a medal there would be icing on the cake. It’s never something I set my mind out to do (before), but now that it’s here, it’s something I’ve set my mind to… I’m always very keen to be successful in every event I can.”