On the Road to Gold
Parkites Look for Victory in Vancouver
Photography: ASP RedBull, Mike Schirf, Jonathan Selkowitz, Gary Dicky, Brian W. Robb, Kirs Dobbie, Hemmersbach/NordicFocus, J. Fritz/T. Kelly
On February 12, 2010, the XXI Olympic Winter Games will commence in Vancouver, British Columbia, and for the 17 days following, an estimated three billion TV viewers around the world will watch to see what the late Olympic sports commentator Jim McKay called, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, the human drama of athletic competition.”
This human drama includes a large Park City contingent. For the 2010 Games, experts predict the U.S. will enter what appears to be one of its strongest ski teams ever. Locals don’t bat an eyelash at such predictions, as those gunning for Vancouver have been seen working hard day-in and day-out, their stories unfolding in our backyard. Parkites may have the upper hand when it comes to being great skiers. Not only do we have great snow and incredible resorts, but Park City has been headquarters to the U.S. Ski Team since 1973. Now known as the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the organization recently built the state-of-the-art Center of Excellence, a training center for our national skiing and snowboarding teams. Athletes from around the country have flocked to town to take advantage of the Center’s amenities. Here are several locals to watch this winter in their quest for gold:
Alpine’s Speed Racers
For the alpine squad, it’s all about fast, furious action to beat the clock and other competitors by sometimes hundredths of a second in the five racing disciplines of downhill, super G, slalom, giant slalom and combined (one downhill run, one slalom). Several young 20-year olds from Park City are leading the pack.
Olympic champion Ted Ligety (25; 2006 Olympian) started skiing as a tot and racing at 10 with the Park City Ski Team. “I started doing it, and I definitely fell in love with it pretty quickly,” he says. He’s been leaving his mark on the ski racing annals not only with an Olympic gold medal (before he was even 21 years old), but also with a World Cup giant slalom title, a World Championship bronze medal, three U.S. titles and regular rankings as one of the top World Cup racers on tour. When he’s not competing, you may just find him skiing powder at Park City Mountain Resort’s Jupiter Bowl.
Another thoroughbred in the U.S. Ski Team stable is TJ Lanning (25) who also worked his way up the ranks of the Park City Ski Team and onto the national squad. Lanning’s career has been a “roller coaster” as he says, scattered with injuries and greatness. While he doesn’t dwell on the setbacks, his résumé is impressive, including a national downhill title along with three other U.S. championship medals and being a part of one of the most historic days in U.S. ski racing when five men, the most ever, stacked the top-10 with 2nd, 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th (Lanning) place finishes at a World Cup downhill last winter.
Park City Winter School graduate Megan McJames (22) has impressed U.S. Ski Team coaches since first making the team. She’s captured four NorAm titles, including the overall title, a U.S. championships silver medal, and has become a regular on the World Cup tour. McJames is hoping to make her first Olympic Team. “Going to the Olympics would be a goal, and it would be really cool,” she says. (Editor’s note: Check out McJames’ blog from last season on our Web site at parkcitymagazine.com).
An anchor on the U.S. Team is Lindsey Vonn (25; 2002, 2006 Olympian), who can be found training in Park City each summer. She is the only American woman to have won two World Cup overall titles (2008, 2009) as well as two downhill titles and the super G trophy. Her list of accomplishments continues to grow, including four World Championship medals. It’s Olympic glory that eludes her, but is in her grasp for 2010. Vonn finished second in the downhill at the 2008 pre-Olympic World Cup on Franz’s Run at Whistler. Is it a precursor of things to come? “I’m really excited for Vancouver. It’s definitely a challenge, as this year there is going to be a lot more pressure and expectation, but my goal is to try to get one Olympic medal. I would be very happy with a bronze. I have never won an Olympic medal before.”
High Flying Freestyle
Freestyle skiing started in the 1960s, mixing elements of alpine and acrobatics into a new school of skiing that continues to evolve. At the Olympics, it consists of aerials, moguls, and making its Olympic debut in Vancouver, ski cross.
Park City has become a hub for freestyle skiers with many contributing factors including having the Utah Olympic Park, a training venue for all ages. Also, Deer Valley Resort has hosted nearly a decade of World Cups, the 2002 Olympics and the 2003 World Championships. In 2011, the resort will become the first venue to host Worlds twice. It’s no surprise that great freestyle skiers live here.
Two-time Olympian and World Cup champion Jeret ‘Speedy’ Peterson (28; 2002, 2006 Olympian), has a “no guts, no glory” attitude that has served him well. He is an innovator dedicated to pushing his sport's boundaries. The creator of the hardest jump in aerials, the “Hurricane” (which consists of five twists with three flips at 50 feet above the ground), Peterson is all about winning on his terms. At the 2006 Games, he went into the final round in third place but wasn’t about to win a medal the easy way. It was the “Hurricane” or bust. He finished seventh but was pleased with his pursuit. A year later at the Deer Valley World Cup, Peterson made history, winning twice within 24 hours with his “Hurricane” and setting a world record for the highest score. He finished the pre-Olympic season ranked third in the world and is gunning to take his jump to Vancouver, win or lose.
Born in Boston, Emily Cook (30; 2006 Olympian) started out as a gymnast before becoming a freestyle aerialist. She made the U.S. Ski Team right out of high school in 1997 and moved to town. “Living in Park City has helped so much. I love the community support here in Park City,” she says. While she made the 2002 Olympic Team, her dream was shattered when weeks prior to the Salt Lake City Games, she broke both her feet in training. Determination was her mantra, and she made her way back to compete at the 2006 Torino Games. While she already had a World Cup podium placement under her belt, it was in the 2008 season that she had her biggest break winning her first World Cup in Moscow. “The difference maker this year is consistency,” Cook says. “I’m sticking with the plan and doing the work I need to do to be the most prepared I can be, and that will make the difference this year. The Olympics are going to be incredible.”
World Champion moguls skier Nate Roberts (27) has had a love affair with moguls since his first competition at age 7. From then on, he dedicated himself and progressed up the ladder with a career that now includes two World Championship medals (gold and bronze), two U.S. titles, and the pièce de résistance, winning on home turf at the 2007 Deer Valley World Cup. At the time, he said the win “is like a dream.”
Making Nordic Strides
As you enter Park City, you can’t help but notice the Utah Olympic Park ski jumps tucked into the mountainside or the cross-country trails in the meadow along Highway 224. It is facilities like these and the 2002 Olympic tracks at Soldier Hollow in the nearby town of Midway that have helped build a strong Nordic community in the Wasatch Back. “The Nordic program has been building momentum for decades, at least a solid decade of growth in the right direction,” says U.S. Nordic Ski Team Director John Farra. “We gain a lot of strength from our home base. The jumps and Soldier Hollow, which is an awesome course, it’s all part of our strength.” Nordic skiing is the oldest Olympic Winter sport and is comprised of cross-country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined, which, as the name implies, combines both elements of Nordic skiing. There are several dedicated Nordic athletes out of Park City making a name for themselves.
Westminster College student Liz Stephen (23) has more than homework on her mind as she looks to make her first Olympic Games. She’s been a quick study having taken up cross-country skiing competitively as a teen. Stephen has an Under-23 World Championships bronze medal and five U.S. titles, as well as a Canadian title on the Olympic trails. She narrowly missed the podium, finishing fourth in the team sprint when the World Cup stopped at the Whistler Olympic Park last January. “Not only is she an Olympic hopeful, but also a legitimate athlete to go in and have some solid results,” said Farra. “We are not just hoping she makes the Olympic Team, we’re hoping that she does
For Parkite Rosie Brennan (21), cross-country skiing wasn’t her first sport of choice (alpine skiing was). She started hitting the cross-country trails in eighth grade and by the time she graduated from high school, she was a top-10 racer at the Junior World Championships. Now a collegiate skier at Dartmouth College, she is one of the top-ranked cross-country women in the nation.
For Nordic combined skier Bill Demong (29; 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympian), who was born in Lake Placid, New York during that town’s Olympic heyday in 1980, it has been an amazing journey. His path to success is built from blocks of triumph and disappointment. Demong came painstakingly close to a medal at the 2002 Games in the team event, finishing fourth, a U.S. highwater mark. It was after the Salt Lake City Games that Demong moved to Park City full time. “Having world-class ski jumping and cross-country facilities was the reason to come to Park City,” he says. “The multitude of trails and great bike paths groomed for cross-country in the winter time have made the training amazing.”
It was a fractured skull from a swimming pool mishap in Europe at the start of the 2003 winter that was a turning point for Demong and what he says was “a blessing in disguise.” While it derailed his competitive career for over a year, it helped head off potential burn-out in a demanding sport. With a lot of hard work, Demong is back on track. He is on his way to becoming the most decorated American Nordic athlete, finishing third in the World Cup standings two years in a row (2008, 2009) and winning three World Championship medals including gold. Last winter at a string of Olympic test events at the Whistler Olympic Park, he chalked up another win on the World Cup as well as a second place finish. “This season is about using all of my experience to be able to trust the work I’ve done from years past and through the final weeks of my build-up into the Games. It’s about having fun and enjoying what will be a great Olympics for all to enjoy!”
Fraternal twins Brett & Eric Camerota (25, 2006 Olympians) got their start in Nordic combined with the National Sports Foundation before being named to the U.S. Team. Eric is a three-time World Championships competitor. Brett got a taste of the 2010 Olympic trails last January at the pre-Olympic World Cup at Whistler Olympic Park.
When ski jumper Anders Johnson (20, 2006 Olympian) competed at the Torino Games, he was the youngest ski jumper in history and at age 16, the second youngest to be selected to the U.S. Olympic Team. Johnson, standing in line behind his older sister Alissa, first jumped off a beginners ski jump when he was 3 years old. He has been hooked ever since. (At print time, Alissa, a world-class jumper, still fights for women’s ski jumping to be included in the Olympic line-up.)
These are just a handful of our many aspiring Park City Olympians. Tune-in to NBC in February and cheer them on to victory!
Juliann Fritz has worked at two Olympic Winter Games. She has loved skiing since her dad first taught her as a toddler.