In Pursuit of PyeongChang: Veterans and Young Guns
● By Alesha Damerville
Image from U.S. Ski and Snowboard
By Dan Greeson and Zach Taylor
And if you grow up here? If your parents strapped skis to your two-year-old feet or if they moved here so you could train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club? You know in your heart of hearts that it is a long, long shot, but someday, you could be wearing Olympic gold.
At 89 Olympians and counting, the question is: who will be the next skier or rider to represent Steamboat on this international stage?
Steamboat Magazine, in conjunction with the Steamboat Ski Resort, Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and a host of community members, has identified 33 athletes who have world-caliber potential. Meet the stars of Ski Town USA.
The best way to stay focused in the Olympic starting gate is to rely on experience. While there’s no guarantee that having been in Sochi or at the X-Games will result in an invite to the 2018 Games, veterans may be the best-situated for a shot at PyeongChang. Fourteen athletes with Steamboat ties represented their countries in 2014. Of those, a handful are still on the international circuit, with varying degrees of likelihood they will make an encore appearance at this year’s Olympics. Meet these intrepid pros.
**Taylor Fletcher, 27, Nordic
How much does humility play into your sport?
I’d say everyone on the circuit is pretty humble and we all get along pretty well. There are tensions from team to team, obviously – that’s normal in any sport. But if we called each other to hang out, we would all go out. We talk to each other on a daily basis whenever we are traveling around Europe. It’s like a small community of athletes that are always together.
**Bryan Fletcher, 31, Nordic Combined
How long did it take you to jump for the first time? Did you ever chicken out?
No, I was kind of one of those adrenaline junkies as a kid, so as soon as I signed up for the sport I was ready for the next bigger hill. Todd Wilson down at the Winter Sports Club can attest that the first time I jumped the K90 I did it without his permission. I asked another coach who said I could jump. Todd was pissed. It was an “I asked Mom and she said no, so I asked Dad” kind of situation.
**Arielle Gold, 21, Snowboard Halfpipe
How are your mom and dad reacting to all the excitement you and your brother are creating internationally? They must be so proud of you.
Our parents have been amazing throughout this entire process. They’ve sacrificed everything to give us the opportunity to pursue this dream, and I know how excited they are about the prospect of Taylor and I going to our second Olympics. My mom will probably still cover her eyes for the qualifiers though.
Taylor Gold, 24, Snowboard Halfpipe
What has been your greatest accomplishment so far?
Winning the U.S. Open in 2014, just because that event is the longest running snowboard event so there’s a lot of history behind it and a lot of guys who have won that event are legends in the sport.
Matt Ladley, 26, Snowboard Superpipe
If you had one day in Steamboat, free of all responsibilities, what would you do?
I assume it snowed two feet – wake up, harass the boys at Powder Tools and pick up my board, rip the mountain until it’s tracked out and then see how many times I can get my snowmobile stuck in the backcountry. Then dinner at home with family and friends and a couple drinks downtown to finish it off.
These young athletes have put in their time: they have spent spring afternoons bouncing off air bags, summer mornings launching themselves into the chilly waters of Bald Eagle Lake, autumn days in the weight room and cold winter nights on the north face of Howelsen Hill. They have taken their coaches’ advice to heart, listened to stories from Olympic veterans and watched as their idols took home the gold. Their pay-off could be a sudden transformation from protégé to mentor. If not the heroes of 2018, they are Steamboat’s stars of tomorrow.
Annika Belshaw, 15, Ski Jumping
Do you have any celebrations you do after a good run?
No I don’t really do celebrations, even with a good jump. I just ski down because I’m happy on the inside.
Can you walk me through one of your training days?
I warm up by going on a short run, then I do “immos” which means going through the motion of the take-off of the jump, but just in shoes, on the grass or snow. Then I take my jumps on whatever jump we’re on that day.
Olivia Giaccio, 17, Moguls
What are you looking to get out of your entire ski career?
Winning the Olympics and World Cup tours are big goals, but there’s definitely more to gain from the sport and I feel I already have learned a lot. I’ve learned to persevere through any obstacle I might face and have the tenacity to respond to those and move toward my goals even though things might get in the way. It’s taught me how to work hard to achieve what I want and how hard work will inevitably turn into success.
Jett Seymour, 19, Alpine Skiing
What is the hardest part about what you do?
Giving up a lot of social life and missing tons and tons of school. You just have to be completely committed to the sport if you’re going to be fast in it.
Is there a lot of good sportsmanship in Alpine skiing?
At the start, most athletes will cheer for one another, and then at the bottom if someone has a super amazing run everyone will give them fist bumps. People I don’t even know have come up and hugged me and said, “That was amazing!” or things like that. The ski community wants to see everyone succeed rather than be super competitive.
Decker Dean, 17, Ski Jumping
What’s your favorite career moment so far?
Last year, I went to junior nationals and broke the hill record by quite a bit. It was 76 meters, but I went 79. It was such a good feeling.
Logan Sankey, 19, Ski Jumping
What is your favorite part about competing?
I love the rush of it. The adrenaline kick you get standing at the start, and the feeling of the crowd, and everything just melts away to the excitement of what you’re about to do. It’s something that can’t be replicated out of competition.
Sammy Schuiling, 18,
Was last year your rookie season?
I got my first World Cup start last season, when I was 17. I am definitely one of the youngest skiers on the U.S. Team.
What do you do in summer?
Skateboard, wakeboard and wake skate. I train at Bald Eagle Lake four or five days a week.
**Participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang