R U Ready To Rock?: Our Winter Olympics Guide With NW Athletes On Team USA

Development Of The City

With the opening ceremonies just days away, Vancouver seems well positioned to declare the games a success: all of the competition venues have been built on schedule, most of them completed two years in advance, allowing ample time for practice and other events to serve as testing for the venues.

Not only are the event venues complete, many are LEED Gold or Silver certified, and most of them were completed near or under budget. The costs for these projects were shouldered by many various entities, including the local and national governments, Cypress and Whistler Blackcomb Resort, and Vancouver International Airport, to name a few, and these investors insist that the money won’t go to waste, as all of the venues have “legacy mode” plans. For example, after the Olympic games, the Richmond Oval, which will have hosted the long track speed skating events, will be converted to a community fitness facility. Sports medicine and wellness services will also be developed in the Oval, along with retail and food services.
At Whistler, the Athlete Village will be converted to housing for Whistler residents, who have found themselves practically marginalized by the controlling interests of condo associations and rising real estate costs.

The Nordic event venues will add a new dimension to the world-class winter vacation destination of Whistler. Fourteen kilometers of cross country and biathlon course, and another 20 to 25 kilometers of recreational trails will complement the existing Nordic recreation opportunities in the Whistler area, expanding the resort’s appeal as a destination for Nordic ski vacationers and as an event for future competitions.


While the Canadian athletes at the 2010 games battle to win their first gold medal at home, there will be a few athletes from the Pacific Northwest giving them a run for their money. Keep your eyes out for these local athletes from Washington and Idaho:

NATE HOLLAND, BORDERCROSS (Sandpoint, Idaho): Nate Holland returns this year for his second shot at Olympic gold. In Torino, Holland fell and finished 14th overall. Since then, he has focused on his return to Vancouver, winning several X-games medals along the way. Holland grew up in Sandpoint, but lives now in North Lake Tahoe, where he also enjoys summer sports, including wakeboarding and surfing.

JR CELSKI, SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATING (Federal Way, Washington): Celski, who spent his childhood in Federal Way, won his spot on the Olympic team with a silver medal at the Olympic trials in September, despite finishing only six of eight planned races, after a severe laceration of his left quad during the event. Celski’s trophy case already includes a World Cup gold medal and a World Championship silver medal. After moving to northern California to train at age 13, Celski graduated from Lakewood High School at age 17 and will be attending UC Berkeley next year.

PATRICK DENEEN, FREESTYLE SKIING (Cle Elum, Washington): Patrick Deneen grew up in Cle Elum and began skiing at the Summit at Snoqualmie one month shy of his first birthday. Deneen is a member of the U.S. Freestyle Skiing Team, and was the World Cup Rookie of the Year in 2008, when he won three podiums on the circuit. He also won the World Freestyle Skiing Championship in Japan in 2009. Deneen skis 60 days every summer at Mt. Hood, when he’s not experimenting with jumps on his trampoline or riding his horse in the Cascades.

NICOLE JORAANSTAD, CURLING (Seattle, Washington): Born in Seattle, Joraanstad currently resides in Madison, Wisconsin and works full time in Human Resources for TDS Telecom while training with her U.S. Curling teammates. She has won three consecutive U.S. National Curling Championships and will be competing as the “second” on Skip Debbie McCormick’s team this year at the Olympics.

TORIN KOOS, CROSS COUNTRY SKIING (Leavenworth, Washington): Raised in Leavenworth as the son of a former US Olympic biathlon competitor, Shaun Koos, Torin grew up racing mid-distance track events. However, Koos began to distinguish himself in cross-country skiing while competing for the University of Utah, and has pursued his cross-country career since that time. Koos, returning to the Olympics for a third time, will be racing for gold in the individual sprint event at the Olympics, which is the event he’s had the most success with on the World Cup circuit, finishing 3rd in Estonia in 2007.

SCOTT MCCARTNEY, ALPINE SKIING (Crystal Mountain, Washington): A lifelong resident of Washington, McCartney grew up skiing at Crystal Mountain, the son of two volunteer ski patrollers there. During his last Olympics, McCartney’s mother was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer; this year, his whole family, including his mother, will be in Whistler to cheer him on as he goes for gold in the Downhill and Super G events, his specialties.

CHRISTIAN NICCUM, LUGE & BOBSLED (Seattle, Washington): Niccum and his partner, Dan Joye, will be one of two U.S. teams competing in the doubles luge event. Niccum has won three World Cup championships in doubles; however, a crash in an Olympic qualifying run kept him from competing in the doubles in Turin. Racing in the singles luge in Turin, Niccum finished 23rd and this year is hoping to finally make the podium in an Olympiad.

APOLO ANTON OHNO, SPEED SKATING (Seattle, Washington): U.S. Speedskating super star Ohno is returning this year for his third Olympics, hoping to add to his five medals in short track events—if he wins two more this year, he’ll surpass Bonnie Blair as the most decorated American Olympic medalist. Though he has been the top U.S. short-track skater since 2001, his celebrity status has been enhanced lately with appearances on TV shows and magazine covers, and the Seattle native even won the fourth season of “Dancing With The Stars,” shortly after returning from the games at Turin.

KAREN THATCHER, HOCKEY (Blaine, Washington): Karen Thatcher has been a member of the U.S. Hockey team since 2007, helping the team win the World Championship in 2008 and 2009. Thatcher, born on February 29, only saw the sixth anniversary of her birth in 2008, has been playing hockey for 20 years. This year, with the Olympics practically in her back yard, Thatcher and her teammate hope to stay on top of the womens’ hockey world.


LINDSEY VONN: If you haven’t yet heard of US Alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn, there’s a good chance you’ll know a thing or two about her by the end of the month. The 25-year-old Minnesota native has dominated skiing’s World Cup events recently, with 28 victories under her belt—more than any other US skier in history except Bode Miller, whose record of 31 could be history by the time the 2010 Games come to a finish. Vonn has a chance to win all five Alpine events this year—a feat unprecedented in Olympic skiing history.

It won’t be easy, though. An injury to her wrist on December 28, 2009 and a capable pack of competitors will test her strength and superiority, and while Vancouver will be the third Olympiad in which she’ll compete, the increased scrutiny and hype of being the favorite will add pressure to the test. Fortunately for Vonn, competitor Lara Gut of Switzerland, whose camera presence and talent would surely have given Vonn a run for her money this month, will not compete, leaving the chase to Vonn’s teammate, Julia Mancusa, a 2006 gold medalist, and to Maria Riesch (GER), Kathrin Zettel (AUT), and the rest of the sport’s top ten.

TANITH BELBIN: Tanith Belbin was born in Ontario, but the 25-year-old ice dancer will be competing for the US this year in Vancouver. With her partner, Ben Agosto, she has won her event’s Nationals competition four times, and though the pair has qualified for two previous Olympic games, they had to settle only for silver in 2006 at Turin. The pair was banned from Olympic competition in 2002 because Belbin, who has lived in the States since 1998, was not a citizen. Her citizenship was only granted in 2005, after petitioning with her fans for a special act of Congress which was sponsored by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), passed on December 28, 2005, and signed by President Bush on December 31, 2005.

Agosto and Belbin have announced plans to retire from competition after the 2010 season, and undoubtedly there could not be a better way to finish than with a gold medal.

STEPHEN COLBERT: Yes, that Stephen Colbert. The one who went to Iraq and had President Obama use his authority as Commander-In-Chief to shave the “recruit’s” head. The one who tried out for the US Bobsled team (and failed to make the team). He’s the same guy who raised $300,000 for the US Speedskating team after their primary sponsor filed for bankruptcy. The money has been donated entirely by Colbert’s devoted fans, dubbed the “Colbert Nation”, and their moniker will be emblazoned on the quick thighs of the US Speedskating stars of all calibers, including Seattle native, Apolo Anton Ohno.

The US Speedskating team has a distinguished history in its sport, having earned 75 medals (32 gold) in Olympics competition since 1924. With two Washington state natives on the team, Anton Ohno’s star power, and Shani Davis’ status as the reigning standout from the 2006 games, speedskating should be an enjoyable event for American spectators this year. Factor in the standout Richmond Oval facility and the possibility of a Colbert Nation uprising, and you’ve got one heck of a show.

Other U.S. Athletes to watch: Shaun White has qualified again in the snowboard halfpipe competition along with Scotty Lago and Kelly Clark. Bode Miller and Ted Ligety will again compete in men’s downhill skiing. Shani Davis will represent the U.S. in speed skating, and Tim Burke will be an athlete to watch in biathlon.


In preparation for the events, 200 of the region’s major employers have signed pledges to reduce their workers’ requisite road travel, with more than twice as many still developing similar plans. “On-street public parking will be virtually non-existent in the downtown core and the city’s population will swell by tens of thousands of people every day,” says Terry White, VANOC’s Head of Services and Operations.

Locals have been encouraged to develop “Travel Smart” plans during the games in an effort to reduce local traffic in downtown Vancouver by 30 percent. Residents will face road closures for expanded bike and pedestrian zones, reduced parking availability, and are being encouraged to buy special bus or train passes available for the duration of the games.

For visitors and locals alike, getting around Vancouver will be facilitated primarily by TransLink, the city’s integrated transportation system of buses and commuter trains. The Canada Line extension of the Vancouver area light rail transportation system will allow for more attendees to stay in areas near the airport but still attend events in Richmond, and VANOC is also encouraging event attendees to walk, bike, or take the bus. Travel to the Olympic venues at Cypress and in Whistler will be provided by the Olympic Bus Network, which requires advance reservations and is available only to event ticket holders.



About a year ago, when OTM published “Ski School Confidential” we got a tip from coach Roger Taggart, of the Schweitzer Alpine Racing School, to keep an eye out for a former SARS racer who might be heading to the 2010 Olympics: Will Brandenburg. In his third year as a member of the U.S. Ski Team, Brandenburg is currently recovering from a 2009 knee surgery surgery and he just made the final cut for the Vancouver Olympics as we went to press. He didn’t expect to make it at the time of this interview. The final Team USA also included Cross-country skier
Holly Brooks, a Seattle native.

Q: Where are you now, and what kind of races are you competing in during the period leading up to the Olympics?

A: I’m in Wengen Switzerland now, training for Europa Cup races and hopefully bouncing back and forth between racing Europa Cup and World Cup. The World Cup is the highest level of Ski Racing, and the Europa Cup is the level below that. It’s kind of like going from 3A baseball to the majors, except that a lot of the best skiers still race a lot of Europa Cup races.

Q: How has your knee injury affected your training/competitions this year?

A: The knee injury has been really hard to come back from, not only physically but mentally. I didn’t run gates from January 2009 until late October 2009. The knee is feeling better and better and I’m training as much as I can in between races. Every day I am feeling more comfortable on my skis.

Q: Where will you be during the Olympics? Do you have goals specific to the Olympic events? [Brandenburg was named to the Olympic teamat the end of January, after this interview took place.-ed.]

A: You make the Olympics by scoring enough World Cup points (basically, by being top 30 in a world cup race). For me, that would be a very BIG step in my career, as I have never been top 30 in a world cup, and haven’t raced a World Cup start in over two years. To be truthful I am not focused on the Olympics right now, but continuing to develop my skiing. If it happens, great, but I’m excited about where things are going and the opportunities in front of me with or without making the Olympics.

2014 is when I should be more in my prime as a ski racer. It would be really nice to get a shot at 2010 so I would know what to expect in 2014.

Q: Is there anything from your position as a ski team member that you would tip folks at home to watch for during the Olympic competition?

A: Almost every Olympics there is a surprise guy and girl who people don’t know or expect to do much and then they have a huge day. I could see that guy being Jimmy Cochran this year, as he is really starting to ski better Slalom then he ever has before.

Q: How do you balance being competitive with your teammates?

A: Ski racing is an individual sport. On race day, I’m really just trying to focus on myself and to ski as fast as I can. Some of the best coaching and training is to ski with other fast skiers, so we are always pushing each other to get better. It’s very easy to keep it fun.

Q: Ski competitions of Olympic caliber are not something that people in the Spokane/Coeur d’Alene area get to attend in person very often. Do you have any advice for people who will be attending the Olympics races? What should they expect of a ski racing event of this size?

A: Bring a cowbell, cheer loud, and have fun!

Q: What advice do you have for any local kids who are aspiring to be Olympians?

A: Go for it! You have to work hard the whole way but enjoy every step of the journey because that’s the most important part.

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