U.S. Ski & Snowboard announces Olympic alpine team
U.S. Ski & Snowboard continued rolling out its announcements of athletes qualifying for the Winter Olympics, and a number of locals are slated to head to Pyeongchang as members of the US alpine team.
Many skiers like reigning World Cup champion Mikaela Shiffrin and local athlete Bryce Bennett had already locked up their places on the team with performances during the World Cup season; while several others were announced in a Wednesday, Jan. 24, statement from U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
The Olympic team comprises mostly of veterans with 16 of the 22 athletes having participated in a past Olympic games, but a number of first-time Olympians, like Bennett, are looking to shake things up in South Korea.
“It’s going to be a pretty crazy experience, but at the end of the day, we’re here to compete,” said Bennett in an interview with the Sun on Jan. 17. “I’m going into it one run at a time and figure out how I can do it the best I can. Definitely, there’s no holding back. There’s no accumulating World Cup points or worrying about world ranks. It’s all or nothing. It’s a good opportunity to just let it go and see what happens.”
Bennett, 25, qualified for the team on Jan. 12, after putting together a standout performance on the slopes of Wengen, Switzerland, where he claimed a top 10 finish, and in doing so, fulfilled a lifelong goal by stamping his ticket to Pyeongchang.
Also making his Olympic debut will be Truckee’s Mark Engel, 26, who earned his way onto the team after a busy two months on the World Cup and European Cup circuits. Engel’s best finish of the year in World Cup racing came on Jan. 4 during slalom at Zagreb, Croatia, where he finished in 24th place.
Engel was raised in Truckee and learned to ski at Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort. On Wednesday, Jan. 24, Tahoe Donner announced a partnership with Engel, making him the resort’s first official sponsorship of a local athlete.
“We’re excited to support a local U.S. Ski Team and Olympic athlete who was raised in Tahoe Donner and took his first turns here,” said Robb Etnyre, Tahoe Donner General Manager in a statement. “Mark is more than an incredible athlete. His character and values represent the ideal role model for young racers in Truckee and North Lake Tahoe. We’re proud of Mark’s accomplishments and will be cheering him on in Korea next month.”
As a Tahoe Donner ambassador, Engel will participate in select Tahoe Donner events throughout the year, according to a statement from Tahoe Donner, to promote various on-mountain ski programs supporting its Downhill Ski Resort.
“Tahoe Donner has been a foundation in many aspects of my life growing up,” said Engel in a statement. “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.
“Each Olympic cycle has been so different from the others, each filled with different successes, challenges, stages of life, people, continents, and experiences. Each has been special for their own reason and sometimes difficult, painful, and exhausting,” said Cook in a Facebook post on Jan. 24. “The last 4 years have been some of the most passionate and fun years I have ever had, but at the same time they have seemed like a constant fight, nothing coming naturally, everything coming down to talking myself into putting my heart and body on the line, doubters ever increasing, and age setting in. THAT is what makes this Olympic selection so special to me. I have fought my heart out to make this team and I am very excited to head to Korea and make this experience special in its unique way.”
Joining Cook and making his second Olympic appearance will be another skier who cut his teeth on Tahoe’s slopes.
Tim Jitloff, 33, has produced solid results in his past two races on the European Cup tour with a sixth-place finish in Giant Slalom on Jan. 22, in Folgaria, Italy, followed by a second-place finish in the same event the next day. 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.
Also returning to compete in the Olympics will be the winningest female ski racer of all time Lindsey Vonn, two-time Olympic champion Ted Ligety, and two-time medalist Andrew Weibrecht.
The alpine squad will have their first Olympic race on Feb. 11 with men’s downhill. The women will open the Olympics with giant slalom the following day.