Olympic preview: Truckee-Tahoe athletes reach Pyeongchang
Opening ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics were held early Friday morning at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, in South Korea, and among the hundreds of athletes entering the stadium, several call the Truckee-Tahoe area home.
Gone are local stars Julia Mancuso and Travis Ganong, but in their place comes a new generation of athletes looking to make their own names by claiming Olympic medals.
Truckee’s Bryce Bennett, 25, will make his Olympic debut as a member of the men’s alpine squad. Bennett burst onto the scene this season as America’s most consistent skier, and on a course in Pyeongchang that both he and his coaches said suits his strengths, the 6-foot, 7-inch Bennett has the potential of throwing down a couple of runs to land on the podium in South Korea.
“The Olympics are just that ‘thing’ you dream about as a young kid in grade school, literally,” Bennett posted on his Instagram account on Jan. 27. “When I would come (to) from one of my typical day dreams my teacher would usually be yelling, ‘Bryce, pay attention in my math class!’ Little did she know, I hated math and loved skiing … what my teacher and I both knew for sure was that we had no clue what my future would hold. I mean … I thought I did, and I think she did too, not in a positive way.
“I just wanted to say I didn’t make it happen, WE made it happen. Without the love and support I’ve received through this career I would not be where I’m at today. A thank you doesn’t even begin to give it justice.”
Another local making his first Olympic appearance in alpine is Mark Engel. The 26-year-old skier was raised in Truckee, skiing for Sugar Bowl Ski Team, and will enter the Olympics as the first professional athlete Tahoe Donner has ever sponsored.
“Tahoe Donner has been a foundation in many aspects of my life growing up,” said Engel in a statement from Tahoe Donner. “I look forward to working with an organization that has provided me, and the greater Truckee community of ski racers, with such a rich and rewarding experience.”
Truckee’s Stacey Cook, 33, will return for her fourth Olympic games, and was chosen, according to TeamUSA.org, as one of the team’s seven discretionary picks. Cook was born in Truckee, went to Truckee High School, and is part of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Team. She has been involved in the past three Olympics, competing in six different events. Cook’s best result came in 2010 at Whistler, British Columbia, where she finished 11th in downhill.
Cook suffered a brutal crash during her last race on the International Ski Federation (FIS) World Cup tour while competing in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany on Feb. 4. Midway through her run she went down, and slid into the wall where she took a massive hit before being bounced back onto the course. The Truckee local later posted she was OK, and ready to race in her fourth Olympics.
“There’s a weird kind of confidence you can take from doing an 80+ (mph) body slam into a wall followed by a face bashing into the ice,” Cook posted to her Facebook page the following day. “It’s knowing that I can take a hit and carry on, knowing I am strong, and knowing that I am physically and mentally ready for the biggest challenges. I’ve learned from past Olympics not to let circumstances dictate outcomes. I’m on my way to Korea with a sweet black eye and some sore lower legs but am confident in my therapy program to get me on snow soon and enjoying every aspect of the Olympic experience. I am oh so thankful for my protective gear that I believe allowed me to defy what seems possible and walk away from this one!”
Joining Cook on the team is another skier, who cut his teeth on Tahoe’s slopes. Tim Jitloff, 33, has produced solid results on the European Cup and World Cup tour this season, finishing his last World Cup race in 20th place. Jitloff competed in the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, and finished in 15th place in giant slalom. He joins the team as a discretionary pick, according to TeamUSA.org.
Sugar Bowl Academy also has a pair former students who will be competing in alpine. Alice Robinson, 16, will become New Zealand’s youngest ever winter Olympian, according to Olympic.org, and will be a member of the country’s alpine squad. Also making a first Olympic appearance will be alumnus Michel Macedo, 19, who will represent Brazil as a member of the country’s alpine team.
The area will also have returning freestyle skiing halfpipe Olympic gold medalists, Maddie Bowman, of South Lake Tahoe, and David Wise, of Reno. Also competing will be Brita Sigourney, who is from Carmel, Calif., and grew up skiing Alpine Meadows. She competed in skiing’s inaugural Olympic halfpipe event at the 2014 games in Sochi, Russia, and reached the finals for a sixth-place finish. Sigourney is also a three-time X Games medalist and first woman to land a 1080 in halfpipe competition.
In snowboarding, South Lake Tahoe’s Jamie Anderson, 27, will return to defend her 2014 Olympic gold medal in slopestyle. Anderson qualified for the games back in December after finishing second during the Dew Tour’s stop in Breckenridge, Colo.
After claiming the inaugural snowboard slopestyle gold medal in 2014, Anderson will have a chance to win the first big air gold medal when the event debuts at the 2018 Olympics.
Joining Anderson will be first-timer Hailey Langland, 17, of San Clemente, Calif., who is a member of the Tahoe Snowboard Ski Team (formerly Tahoe Select). Langland has had a monster season, winning big air at the 2017 X Games in Aspen, Colo. She earned her way onto the team with a third-place finish at Mammoth on Saturday, Jan. 20.
The strong roster of U.S. riders gives the American squad a chance for its first podium sweep in women’s snowboarding, Anderson said.
“I think we are totally capable of it,” Anderson said. “We have some amazing riders. It really just comes down to one day in four years. It’s pretty dramatic. Hopefully we kick some ass.”
In women’s halfpipe, Chloe Kim, 17, of Torrance, Calif., will enter the games as a favorite to win gold. Kim, a member of Mammoth Mountain Snowboard Team, qualified to compete in the 2014 games, but she was too young to compete. She enters the games as a three-time X Games gold medalist.
Also joining Kim, is fellow Mammoth snowboard team member, Maddie Mastro, 17, of Wrightwood, Calif. Mastro claimed her spot on the team after the final halfpipe competition in Mammoth.
Also competing on the team are former gold medalists Shaun White, Kelly Clark, and Lindsey Jacobellis.
Alpine skiing is scheduled to begin on Sunday, Feb. 11 with men’s downhill. Slopestyle and halfpipe qualifications begin on Sunday as well.