Behind the Gold: Olympians — It’s a family
Shaun White was humbled, walking on stage to receive his Burton Olympic competition uniform. Teen Maggie Voisin wiped away a tear. There were hugs all around as Olympians gathered on the stage at the base of Mammoth Mountain’s Unbound Terrain Park for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Olympic Nomination Ceremony presented by Visa.
In just two weeks, the first medals will be hung around the necks of proud athletes from all corners of the globe. An Olympic medal is a symbol of excellence; a source of intense pride. Joining the Olympic fraternity is immensely emotional.
Most of U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s nearly 110 Olympians qualified in far-off places with a handful of teammates on hand. This weekend, the Toyota U.S. Grand Prix closed out the Olympic selection run with every single member of the snowboard and freeski team there to enjoy it, to don their new North Face and Burton jackets, and soak in the emotion of the crowd.
This is the story of Olympians, fresh and ready to challenge the world. Nervous, but well tested – each of them filled to the brim with enthusiasm that only the five rings can generate.
Hailey Langland is a quintessential California girl, just 17 years old and having the time of her life. Now she’s headed to Pyeongchang.
“I didn’t even think it was possible to go to the Olympics until last year. I had invitations to these big contests like X Games and that was cool to me. But then my coaches told me the Olympics were a possibility. And here I am!”
Kelly Clark is headed to her fifth Olympics. She has three medals in four tries – including the 2002 gold in halfpipe snowboarding. More than her medals, Clark is most known for her dedication to progressing her sport and helping nurture others. At 17, Chloe Kim is half Clark’s age.
“I love the Olympics – I’ve given my life to pursuing this dream,” said Clark. “But it’s easy to get caught up in a lot of things. You should not treat the Olympics as a destination or something that defines you. It should be a part of your snowboarding career. We wouldn’t be here unless we loved what we did.”
Chloe Kim loves to tell the story of when she was a young girl and spotted Kelly Clark in a lift line at Mammoth Mountain. She sheepishly approached her, tugging at her Burton jacket.
“Are you Kelly Clark?” Asked the young girl.
“It’s nice to know you have all these people who have been through it all before to help you,” said Kim. “I called Kelly the other day and she helped me through it. It’s really nice of these guys to help – they just really look out for us.”
Shaun White has found fame and also some heartbreak along his Olympic road. And while he is seen by many as being in a lofty world of stardom, he always seems most comfortable around his sport brethren.
“It’s fun for me because I’ve been through it all. To see these guys be so excited – yeah, it’s an experience of a lifetime to be an Olympian. You don’t really know what that is until you go. You become a part of this bigger thing. It’s fun for me that we’re all going together.”
Jake Pates got a taste of it two years ago winning the Youth Olympic Games halfpipe snowboarding contest. Now he’s on to the big show.
“It’s super crazy,” Pates said. For so many years I’ve been idolizing the other people on this team. It’s a super cool journey and nice to see all the hard work pay off. To represent the USA is a dream come true,”
Nick Goepper was a part of the slopestyle skiing sweep four years ago. It was a grueling road, but he’s going back again.
“It feels great to be able to say I’m on the way to my second Olympics,” Goepper said. “It’s not something a lot of 23 year olds can say.”
“Not so fast,” said Voisin, laughing. “Sorry, Nick, not many 19 year olds can say they’re headed to their second Olympics. I’m just proud I’m heading to Korea with these guys.”
It was a bit bittersweet for Gus Kenworthy, who had hoped to qualify in both halfpipe and slopestyle. It came down to the very last event for each. And he’s going to Pyeongchang in slopestyle, anxious to get on the medals stand again.
“It was more emotional not making the pipe this time,” he said. “I definitely cried some tears in my hotel room. It’s nice redemption to make it in slope. The last Olympics went by in a flash, a whirlwind. This time I want to soak up the experience, really be there for it and make memories that will last my lifetime.”
Maggie Voisin was just 15 in Sochi, injured just before the opening ceremony. She’s worked for four years for a chance to try again.
“I’m just super grateful to make it to another Games,” she said. There was a lot of emotion when I called my mom to tell her. I told myself that day four years ago I would do whatever it took to get back. It’s been a roller coaster four years but I did what I wanted to do.”
Four years ago Shaun White went to Sochi with big goals. He left unfulfilled.
“You get to these goals in life and it’s not always what it seems,” said White. “You can be the Olympic champion but you sacrifice things along the way. It’s all about your moral compass – is it something you want to pursue, these dreams. Sitting here today, I’m much more of a happier person and comfortable with who I am and what I’ve accomplished than ever before.
“You’re wearing your flag and representing your family. I’m proud to be in a sport that’s ever changing.”
Around 110 skiers and snowboarders will join Team USA in Pyeongchang beginning Feb. 9. At the heart of it all will be family.
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