Colorado will boast the second-most athletes at the Winter Olympics, which officially opens Friday in Beijing.
What to know: Our Olympians will compete in more than a dozen different disciplines from figure skating to skeleton.
Colorado is sending roughly two dozen athletes with local roots, according to Team USA’s official tally. Five are from Steamboat Springs.
- We are tied with Minnesota for the second most and only trailing California in terms of representation at the games.
- But the Colorado presence is greater because so many athletes from other states come to live and train in Colorado.
By the numbers: Dating back to the early 1900s, Colorado has sent at least 97 athletes to the Winter Olympics, according to a study from Been Verified, ranking sixth in the nation.
- Colorado has hauled home the 11th most medals of all states.
We put together short profiles of our local competitors to give you a sense of what makes them so special:
The face of this year’s U.S. ski team is one Colorado knows well: Mikaela Shiffrin.
What to know: She’ll compete for five gold medals. Downhill and super-G are speed events with just one run each; slalom and giant slalom are technical events with two runs (best aggregate time wins;) and combined is one downhill and one slalom run (aggregate time).
About her: The 26-year-old, who lives in Edwards just outside Vail, is heading to her third Olympics.
- Shiffrin already has three Olympic and 11 World Championship medals, plus 73 World Cup wins — nine shy of Lindsey Vonn’s all-time record among women, Axios’ Jeff Tracy writes. And Shiffrin isn’t even close to finished.
- Her last few years have been a rollercoaster off the slopes, though, with her dad dying in February 2020, suffering a back injury last October and getting COVID six weeks ago.
Of note: One thing that’s helped her through the tough times is her new relationship with Norway’s Aleksander Aamodt Kilde — the gold-medal favorite in men’s downhill and super-G.
The team: Joining her on the women’s team is Nina O’Brien, 24, a slalom specialist who lives in Denver and is making her Olympic debut.
- She competed in the World Championship last year and placed 6th in the team parallel event.
- She attends Dartmouth and is involved in a group that elevates women’s voices in sports.
- The 23-year-old is making his first Olympic appearance in Beijing, after finishing sixth in the 2021 World Cup standings.
- His father is the former U.S. Ski Team coach, and his mom was a NCAA companion and pro racer.
- His idol is Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokić. “The best passing big man in NBA history. Always one step ahead of the game,” Radamus says.
- “Most countries have their athletes develop much younger at age 12 to age 15,” she told a Western Slope TV station.
What to know: The sport combines cross-country skiing and rifle-shooting, a tricky blend when breathing so hard.
- The U.S. has never medaled in the sport.
About her: Reid competed in 2018, finishing just outside the top 10 in two relays.
- Her mother was an Olympic medalist, and her uncle was a five-time Olympic gold medal winner, both in speedskating.
- Her hobbies include brewery tours, and she says she misses Colorado craft beer more than anything when on the road.
Colorado is the home and training ground for two U.S. women who will compete in the primetime Olympic figure skating competition.
Monument’s Mariah Bell enters as the U.S. women’s champion — at age 25, she’s the oldest national title holder in 95 years. And she’s proud of it.
- “I want it to be a known fact that skating doesn’t end at a certain age,” she said of her discipline, per The New York Times.
- She finished second in 2020 at the U.S. championships.
About her: The Oklahoma-born, Ralston Valley High School alumna started skating at age 4 and trains in Irvine, California, with Olympic bronze medalist Adam Rippon.
- She started skating to be like her older sister, who currently performs with “Disney on Ice.”
Alysa Liu is the youngest competitor on the U.S. women’s figure skating team at age 16.
- Her U.S. title at age 13 made her the youngest winner.
- She calls the San Francisco Bay area home but recently began training in Colorado Springs.
- She didn’t compete at the U.S. nationals this year because of a positive COVID-19 test.
In pairs skating, Brandon Frazier of Colorado Springs is half of Team USA’s figure skating duo — alongside partner Alexa Knierim.
What to know: The 29-year-old took to the ice after six years on roller skates as a child. This will be his first trip to the Olympics.
- The pair petitioned to compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics after withdrawing from January’s qualifying U.S. Figure Skating Championships, where Frazier tested positive for COVID-19.
- The twosome was the top-scoring U.S. pair at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, where they finished seventh overall.
On the ice, the women’s team is the defending champion, and the men are competing without current NHL players, making both tournaments high-stakes affairs.
- She was part of the 2018 gold medal team.
- Hensley won a high school 2012 state championship at Green Mountain High School and was inducted into the Colorado Sportswomen of the Year Hall of Fame during her senior year in college.
On the men’s team, Nick Shore is a Denver native who played at the University Denver.
- The 29-year-old forward is the most experienced member of the young team with time spent on four NHL teams and international play.
- As a kid, he played with the Littleton Hawks and Colorado Thunderbirds.
What to know: As a teenager, Walczyk’s family packed up and left Rochester, New York, for Summit County so he could pursue his skiing career.
- He trained with the Ski and Snowboard Club Vail and was the highest-ranked American men’s mogul skier in the 2020 Freestyle World Cup standings.
- “I had to stick it out through some pretty tough scenarios,” the athlete told Summit Daily, noting “political struggles with the U.S. team.”
In women’s moguls, Avon’s Kai Owens is competing in her first Games at age 17.
- She earned rookie of the year honors and was the youngest U.S. mogul skier at a World Cup competition. Before moguls, she tried Nordic, alpine and slopestyle.
- She was adopted from China and relished the opportunity to compete in Beijing, she wrote on Instagram.
Steamboat Springs is a mecca for nordic skiing and it’s fitting that two of its athletes will compete in the Winter Olympics.
What to know: The Nordic combined competition involves ski jumping followed by cross-country skiing.
Fletcher, 31, is a long-timer who first joined the U.S. national team in 2009 and his teammates jokingly call him “Old Man.” He is a four-time Olympian.
- His strength is the cross-country part of the competition, but he will compete in the normal and large hill disciplines, as well as the team contest.
- His brother, Bryan, is also a competitor, and their father is a ski patroller.
Good, 25, started as a freeskier but switched to nordic at age 9.
- The two-time Olympian is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and attends the University of Utah.
- He’s looking to improve on his distant finishes in the normal hill and large hill disciplines from the 2018 Games.
- She recalls her cross-country skiing start as “woefully slogging along the ski trail as my dad got in his workout and circled back for me every few minutes.”
About her: She grew up in Carbondale and skied with the Aspen Valley team before attending college at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
- The 23-year-old’s first World Cup medal came in 2020 in a 10km event.
- When she’s not skiing, she likes baking, oil painting and fishing.
Not many people get to say they are a five-time Olympian. Then again, few are willing to throw themselves down an ice luge face-first.
- Her best Olympic finish came in 2014 in Sochi, when she finished fourth. She ended up in 13th place in 2018 in PyeongChang.
Of note: It’s no surprise, but Uhlaender says she craves speed, and loves to ski, snowboard and even kiteboard.
- In the off-season, she competes in USA cycling as a sprint specialist.
The U.S. snowboard cross — known as SBX — teams are packed with Colorado-bred talent.
What to know: Snowboarders race down a course with high-banked turns and jumps where contact with competitors is frequent and the competition is intense.
Dierdorff calls Steamboat Springs home and attended Colorado Mountain College.
- He started racing at age 10 and is the first and youngest American to win a Nor-Am title.
- In the off-season, he works in construction framing houses.
- He is expected to compete in the first Olympic mixed team snowboard cross competition with Lindsey Jacobellis.
Telluride’s Kearney is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. snowboard team and two-time Olympian.
- He says he started to love snow when his family took him on a ski trip to Telluride.
- In his spare time, he plays drums and guitar in a metal band.
On the women’s side, three competitors have Colorado ties.
- This is the fourth Olympics for the Salt Lake City native.
- Her best finish came in 2014 in Sochi when she landed in 4th place.
Stacy Gaskill, a 21-year-old from Golden, is looking to break in.
- The Colorado native started skiing at age 2 and transitioned to boarding when she was 8. She has two top-10 World Championship finishes and 51 World Cup starts.
- Of note: She is also a competitive ultimate frisbee champion, named to the U24 Women’s National Team for Ultimate Frisbee in 2019, and in 2018, she was the youngest player on Molly Brown, which is Denver’s top women’s frisbee team.
Meghan Tierney, 25, is entering the Olympics after her best finish of the year on Dec. 18, when she placed sixth at the FIS Snowboard event in Italy. (She missed the final Olympic qualifier thanks to a positive COVID case.)
- The Eagle resident’s previous World Cup showings allowed her to snag the fourth spot on the women’s snowboard cross roster.
- The Ski and Snowboard Club Vail alumna placed 17th at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018 after overcoming a broken back.
- Her brother Chris Tierney is also a pro snowboarder who attended the Olympics four years ago.
Ski and snowboard halfpipe
In one of the Games most-hyped events, snowboarders and skiers will perform dazzling aerial tricks three stories high in the icy trench known as the halfpipe.
What to know: It’s not just Shaun White performing; Colorado is well-represented in this contest and poised to medal.
- The competition is judged on the amplitude, difficulty, variety and execution of the tricks, as well as the flow of the run.
In the snowboard competition, two Coloradans will face off.
- He is coming back from a knee injury in 2016 and building on his XGames gold medal in 2020.
- His sister Arielle, also competed in the Olympics.
- He took third in the North American Cup at Copper Mountain in 2019 and 2020.
- In his off time, the 22-year-old coaches skateboarding.
In skiing, four Coloradans will represent Team USA.
Aaron Blunck, who hails from Crested Butte and is a member of the ski club at Vail, is a favorite to medal with his backward double flips and huge jumps.
- He started skiing at 18 months and began competing at age 8. He won his first medal, a bronze, at the Youth Olympic Games at age 15.
- In the 2014 and 2018 Olympics, he finished seventh.
Aspen’s Alex Ferreira, 27, is hoping to win his first-ever Olympic gold medal after taking the silver in PyeongChang in 2018.
- Ferreira grew up in Aspen. His dad, Marcelo, was a professional soccer player in Argentina, and his mom, Colleen, has run 10 marathons.
- In 2018, he created an alter ego named “Hotdog Hans” and made a short film in which he tears down the mountain in old-man makeup akin to Kyrie Irving’s “Uncle Drew.”
Birk Irving is a product of Winter Park, where his family is big into skiing.
- His dad is a ski patroller, and his mom is a former racing coach. His sister also competes.
- He landed his first 360-trick at age 5 and signed with a sponsor at 7. He won gold at the Youth Olympics in 2016 at age 16.
- The Aspen native started competing after getting inspired by the XGames and other Colorado competitors like Ferreira and Gus Kenworthy.
- “I didn’t see a lot of the girls at the time and wish that I had seen more of them,” she told The Aspen Times. “Now that I am a high-level athlete, that representation is important to me. I want to make myself accessible to younger athletes.”
Snowboard Giant Slalom
The alpine snowboard world is all about the edges, going from frontside to backside, carving through the course.
Cody Winters, 21, is one of the up-and-comers making his debut in the 2022 Olympics.
- The Steamboat Springs native will compete in the parallel giant slalom, a trip he funded by creating his own window-washing business at age 18. It’s appropriately named Winters Window Washing.
- He also competes in snowboard cross, but he’s on the rise in alpine racing after placing in the top 15 in a handful of races this season.
Snowboard Slopestyle and Big Air
Two Colorado snowboarders will work double-duty in Beijing to bring home gold in Slopestyle and Big Air.
What to know: The slopestyle course includes a series of rails riders that will slide at the top and then three large jumps where they will perform aerial stunts.
- Big Air is one jump — a big one — where the athletes fly 50-plus feet in the air while performing somersaults and flips.
Meet the competitors: Silverthorne’s Red Gerard, 21, is looking for a repeat gold medal after winning his first in the slopestyle competition at the 2018 Olympics.
- He’ll get another chance to improve on his 5th place finish in Big Air.
About him: He was the youngest snowboard gold medalist in Olympic history and started competing at age 11 before turning pro in 2016.
Fellow Silverthorne resident Chris Corning, 22, came home with a fourth-place finish in the debut of big air snowboarding in the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang.
Zoom in: Corning hopes to nail a front and back 1800, a trick with five lateral spins and four vertical flips, this time around. The athlete has made a name for himself in slopestyle and big air, after winning his first World Cup at age 15.
Of note: When he’s not chasing snow, Corning likes to dirt bike, wakeboard and go camping. He hopes to go to culinary school someday.