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In this month’s issue, we introduced you to six local athletes who are strong contenders for the U.S. Olympic Team in a variety of sports. But with our snowy climate and fit populace, it’s not surprising that there are more than just a half-dozen competitors to watch out for. Here, four more names you need to know.
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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Teenage girl from Colorado becomes a sports prodigy, producing world-class race times and winning prestigious international events before turning 18—the young age at which she’s recognized not just as an Olympic hopeful, but a favorite. Yeah, we could be talking about swimmer Missy Franklin—but we’re not. Meet alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin (pictured, above).
Hailing from Eagle-Vail, the girl with the golden hair was the 2012 World Cup Rookie of the Year in her first season competing against the pros (age: 16). Since then, Shiffrin has stacked up podium finishes in slalom, her specialty. (It’s one of the two technical disciplines of alpine skiing, emphasizing short, quick turns between gates.) Most notably, she took home gold at the 2013 world championships and earned the slalom overall World Cup title last year—the youngest skier to do so in nearly 40 years. With Sochi looming on the horizon, Shiffrin is setting herself up well: She landed the top spot at this season’s opener.
“I don’t really want to say, ‘Yeah, I view myself as a favorite,'” Shiffrin said during a press conference prior to the start of the season. “But it seems like there are a lot of people who are excited about a young kid coming up as an Olympic hopeful, and that’s nice that they believe in me. I would love to believe that going to Sochi, skiing my best, I have the ability to win a medal in giant slalom or slalom. I always want to win, but there’s some time between now and then and some races between now and then, and a lot of things to come in my life.”
And she’s just getting started.
Already a two-time Olympian (sixth in 2006, 11th in 2010) and two-time World Cup champion, Uhlaender—the daughter of former Major League Baseball player Ted Uhlaender—is once again considered a front-runner in skeleton, where individuals sled down a frozen track headfirst. The Vail native can only hope that the third time is the charm for an Olympic medal. It’s not unlikely: She finished last season as the top-ranked American and the world No. 2 after capturing her first world championship.
This Cherry Creek High School graduate has been a consistent slopestyle skiing contender since winning two gold medals in his first Winter X Games appearance in 2010. With the event making its Olympic debut in Sochi, the 22-year-old Breckenridge resident stands poised to qualify among a very competitive American field and then seal his place among the world’s best with a podium finish.
Like most mountain-town kids, this 17-year-old from Crested Butte has been skiing since he was just 18 months old. But after the halfpipe skier’s impressive rookie debut last season at the X Games, where he placed seventh, Blunck has surged all the way to third in the world rankings for the specialty. After officially being named to the U.S. Freeskiing Halfpipe Pro Team (he’s one of just seven men) in November, Blunck managed two podium finishes in the first Olympic qualifiers (second at the Dew Tour in Breckenridge and first at Copper Mountain). Another top performance in qualifiers should be all this teen needs to qualify.
—Mikaela Shiffrin: courtesy of Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski Team; Katie Uhlaender: courtesy of Pat Hendrick; Bobby Brown: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing; Aaron Blunck: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Freeskiing