January 22, 2014
The smile on Keri Herman’s face Saturday stretched from Park City to Sochi. There was giddiness in the air as the athletes joked around in the green room, backstage at the O.A.R. concert. The girls giggled as they posed with Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora. Devin Logan lit up even more when she got a guitar pick from the band. In just a few minutes Coach Janks would be giving them new North Face jackets in front of thousands of fans. Suddenly all the hard work, soreness and tears were swept away. They were going to Sochi as the first Olympic freeskiers.
Just three years ago a similar group of athletes gathered at Park City Mountain Resort to put on a World Championship show in front of an International Olympic Committee observer. His input led to the April 6, 2011, decision that may very well change the face of the Olympics when freeskiing makes its debut with halfpipe and slopestyle.
Saturday night brought tears to many eyes, including those of teen Aaron Blunck’s parents when they realized that their son just two years out of his introduction to the sport through The North Face Park and Pipe Series was going to Sochi.
A few years ago, Lyme disease cut rising star Angeli VanLaanen’s career short. Ever the battler, she fought it and clawed her way back, hitting the podium in the season opener in New Zealand. The math was clear in Saturday’s finale she needed a top-three, nothing less. So, she went out and won in classy style to become an Olympian.
Amidst the thousands jammed around the stage Saturday night were David Wise’s wife and daughter. Ever at his side throughout the grueling five weeks of qualifying, tonight they could smile with pride. Daddy was going to the Olympics.
Along with all the smiles that evening were plenty of tears. Freeskiing pioneer Jen Hudak beamed with pride as she watched her sport the one she had led to the Olympics step up for its proudest moment. Deep inside, her heart was in tears after a knee injury had kept her out of the pipe. Ever the positive role model, she choked them back and let the athletes know how proud she was of their accomplishment.
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At the press conference, the young Blunck spoke with the wisdom of a veteran about how he choked up watching his mentor Simon Dumont, who injured a knee the day before, take a celebratory run down the pipe knowing that his Olympic dream was over. "It was heartbreaking for us to see our mentor go out. ‘Simon, thanks for all you did for our sport.’"
After the biggest performance of his life, Lyman Currier couldn’t put the huge, gold pickaxe prize down as he strutted around the press conference. Father David, a 1972 Olympian, reminisced about a time when 12-year-old Lyman had a chance to forerun the 48 Straight halfpipe in Sun Valley. He had been in the pipe hundreds of times. But on comp day, it was different. He stood paralyzed at the top unable to drop in until his hero Simon Dumont put his arm around him and said, "Hey, Lyman, I’m Simon Dumont. Let’s take a few laps together." That’s what freeskiing is about.
In the last 22 years, Olympic sport has seen the evolution of freestyle and snowboarding into the Games, and now freeskiing. Each group brought its own identity and style. But each shares the sense of family. It’s never about ‘me.’ It’s always about ‘us,’ and ‘our’ sport.
Despite throwing what one judge said was the best slopestyle run in history, Park City All-Star Joss Christensen didn’t have quite enough points to join the Saturday night Olympic celebration. He got his "You’re going to the Olympics" call on a lonely stretch of highway between Park City and Aspen Monday night from U.S. Freeskiing Slopestyle Coach Skogen Sprang a coach’s favorite moment, to tell his athlete he’s going to the big show.
Christensen pulled the car over to take the call, cell phone crackling. "Oh, man, I can’t believe it. I’m so excited I can’t even talk. I just can’t believe it happened."
The next month will tell more stories. Today, 16 athletes are headed to Sochi, their lives forever changed, as they became Olympians at Park City Mountain Resort.
One of the most experienced communications professionals in skiing, Tom Kelly is a veteran of eight Olympics and serves as vice president, Communications, for the Park City-based U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. A Wisconsin native, he and his wife Carole Duh have lived in Park City since 1988 when he’s not traveling the world with the team.