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Vermonters To Watch Out For In Sochi

Mikhail Metzel
Associated Press
A skier rides on a ski lift past a billboard promoting the bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in the Krasnaya Polyana area of Sochi.

They range in age from 16 to 30 and feature more newcomers than veterans. They are overwhelmingly female and are bunched primarily in the freestyle skiing and snowboarding events.

They include medal favorites, dark horses and the longest of long shots. Many are native born sons and daughters; others are transplants that came to the state to hone their skills to the highest level.

The thread that binds them is their deep-rooted connection to Vermont. They are the 13 women and three men who will carry the Green Mountain’s banner at the XXII Winter Olympics that begin Feb. 7 in Sochi, Russia.

Vermonters In Sochi: Olympic Athletes, Events And Results >>

Vermont has a proud history of producing Winter Olympians, primarily in the alpine ski events. From Andrea Mead Lawrence to Billy Kidd to Barbara Cochran, the state has been a U.S. stronghold.

That focus has shifted in the last two decades to the new on-snow disciplines. Half of the 2014 Vermont Olympians will compete in freestyle skiing or snowboarding. The Green Mountain’s Big Four in these events – Kelly Clark, Hannah Teter, Hannah Kearney and Lindsey Jacobellis -- have combined to win six medals, including three golds, in the last three Winter Games.

It’s not by accident.

“The reason you see so many of us is that the mountains and the people in Vermont make the investment,” said Clark, the West Dover native and four-time Olympian. “It’s unlike any place else. When I’m in other communities in other states, I don’t see this level of commitment.”

Medal contenders

Clark leads Vermont’s list of medal favorites. She is an iconic figure in women’s snowboard halfpipe, winning gold in her Olympic debut in Salt Lake City in 2002 and bronze in Vancouver in 2010.

Pushing Clark in halfpipe will be Teter, of Belmont. She took gold in Torino in 2006 and silver in 2010. Kearney, from Norwich, has a chance to become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic gold in women’s freestyle moguls.

Jacobellis, from Stratton, has another shot at redemption in snowboardcross. A premature celebratory move at the end of her 2006 run cost Jacobellis the gold medal and she failed to advance out of qualifying in 2010. After missing most of the last two seasons with knee injuries, Jacobellis won the Winter X Games gold for the seventh time last month.

There are only two Vermont-based alpine skiers on the U.S. team. Nolan Kasper of Warren will try to improve on his 24th-place slalom finish in 2010 but faces long odds on earning a medal.

Flip that script for 18-year old Mikaela Shiffrin, the Colorado native who used the training and experience she gained attending Burke Mountain Academy to become the premier women’s slalom skier in the world.

Shiffrin has already won seven World Cup races in two years and was the slalom champion at last year’s World Championships. This may be her Olympic debut, but she is considered the USA’s strongest alpine medal contender.

Nordic events

Andy Newell of Shaftsbury will compete in his third Winter Games in cross-country while East Montpelier’s Liz Stephen will race in her second. They head a Nordic contingent that includes first-timers Sophie Caldwell of Peru and Ida Sargent of Orleans in cross-country, and Susan Dunklee of Barton and Hannah Dreissigacker of Craftsbury in biathlon.

Newell, who became the first U.S. men’s cross country skier to reach a World Cup podium in 20 years back in 2006, was ninth in the team sprint in 2010. Stephen can build off a fifth-place finish in the 10-kilometer freestyle race at the 2013 World Championships.

Sargent is not considered a medal contender but did have five top-5 World Cup results in 2013. Keep an eye on Dunklee, the daughter of two-time cross-country Olympian Stan Dunklee. She missed a World Cup sprint medal by six-10ths of a second last month, only the third time in history an American woman had finished in the top four.

The Newbies and the Neighbors

Completing Vermont’s delegation are snowboarders Ty Walker of Stowe, Alex Deibold of Manchester and Jackie Hernandez of Londonderry, along with freestyle skier Devin Logan of West Dover.

Deibold and Hernandez will compete in snowboardcross.

At age 16, Walker will be second youngest member of the USA’s team, behind only 15-year old freestyle skier Maggie Voisin. Walker and Logan will race in the slopestyle events that are making their Olympic debuts.

New Hampshire’s lead dog will again be alpine kingpin Bode Miller of Franconia, who is making his fifth Winter Games appearance. At age 36, he will become the oldest U.S. Olympic alpine racer in history. Miller has won five medals, including three in 2010, and is peaking at the right moment. After missing last season after micro fracture surgery on his left knee, Miller was third in downhill and second in super-G at the last World Cup speed weekend leading into Sochi.

Across Lake Champlain, New York will look to another five-time Olympian in Vermontville’s Billy Demong. He won gold in 2010 in Nordic combined.

Lake Placid will follow Andrew Weibrecht, who won bronze in the super-G in his first Olympics in 2010, along with biathlete Lowell Bailey. Bailey, who has seven top-10 World Cup races since 2012, is competing in his third Olympics after earning All-American honors in cross-country at the University of Vermont.

Andy Gardiner is a former sports writer for USA Today and the Burlington Free Press, who lives in Burlington.
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