Top five sports stories of 2015
Unfortunately, not every year will feature local athletes bringing home a slew of Olympic gold medals like 2014 did. However, 2015 saw plenty of exciting stories (and local athletes still won their fair share of hardware).
From new water ramps at the Utah Olympic Park to a hometown victory for freeskier Joss Christensen to eight straight titles for a Park City High School team, 2015 was a year to remember.
1. Utah Olympic Park unveils new water ramps
The Utah Olympic Park opened its new water ramps in late June, the culmination of a $3 million renovation project. The seven new ramps — which cover sports from aerials to moguls to freeskiing/snowboarding — and accompanying pool remodel will allow athletes in various winter sports disciplines to keep their skills sharp during the summer months. They also make Park City an even more important destination for aspiring Olympians.
Philanthropist Spencer F. "Spence" Eccles, for whom the new facility is named, issued a $1 million challenge grant to help raise the money for Project Big Air.
"It’s overwhelming to think of what was there and what’s there now," he said at the grand opening ceremony. "It’s the only one in the world like it. All this can only happen where? In Park City, through the community support bringing worldwide attention to the commitment and success in maintaining our Olympic Legacy venues for future Olympic Games."
The old freestyle ramps were originally built in 1993. The new ramps, project organizers hope, will keep Park City at the top of the Olympic training scene for the next two decades.
2. Joss Christensen wins at Park City Grand Prix
Heading into his last run at the U.S. Grand Prix men’s slopestyle skiing final in Park City in late February, Park City’s Joss Christensen was in ninth place, only leading a skier who couldn’t compete due to injury. Meanwhile, fellow Parkite McRae Williams stood atop the standings with a score of 90.00.
Christensen, though nervous, rose to the occasion in his hometown, wowing the crowd with a score of 92.00 in his final run to take home a gold medal.
For Christensen, there’s not much that can beat winning a competition at home.
"Taking a win here means so much to me," he said after the victory. "I’m really stoked. McRae killed it — he threw down such a good run and I thought he was actually going to win, even after my run. I was just shooting to be a little bit below him."
In 2016, slopestyle skiers will be notably absent from the Park City Grand Prix lineup. Instead the competition, which will be held the first weekend of February, will feature halfpipe skiers and snowboarders.
3. PCHS boys’ golf squad wins eighth straight title
The Park City High School boys’ golf team looked unstoppable again this year. Despite having three new members on their state tournament roster, the Miners cruised to the 3A title in early October, winning by 20 strokes over second-place Tooele.
Playing at Soldier Hollow, a course Park City is intimately familiar with, certainly helped, but credit is due to senior co-captains Mitchell Schow and Drew Fleming. Schow shot a seven-under-par 65 on day one of the tourney and followed with a 66 on day two. Fleming shot a two-under 70 on day one and an even-par 72 on day two.
Park City Coach George Murphy said the Miners were eager to finish strong after playing well on day one.
"We came into [day two] and I said, ‘Hey, we’re not going out there just to try to hold onto this lead. Go win this thing,’" he said. "They came in with pressure and they felt it. I couldn’t be more proud of them."
Despite losing Schow and Fleming to graduation, next year’s Park City squad should once again be considered a title favorite in 3A.
4. Porter Hancock finds new motivation
It’s been more than three years since Porter Hancock was paralyzed in a South Summit football game. Though the road to recovery has been long and challenging, Hancock has found a new sport — wheelchair rugby.
He said it has been great to be part of a team again.
"Once I figured out I could play a sport, especially a competitive sport like rugby, which is about as physical as it can get for people in wheelchairs, I’ve been hooked," he said in February. "It was about two and a half years ago I went to my first practice. At that time, I couldn’t do much, so I just sat there and watched. I went a couple times that year and then, the year following, I actually got cleared to play."
Despite his injury, Hancock is optimistic about the future and hopes to one day get around without the help of a wheelchair.
"As all the technology advances, you can only be optimistic," he said. "Through technological advancements and all that they’re doing there, they’re getting closer and closer as the days go on. I’d be a perfect candidate for anything like that they may have that would be able to regenerate or reconnect the spinal cord. I know that I will walk again someday."
5. U.S. aerialists dominate Deer Valley
Regardless of how the Americans do, the Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup is always one of the most popular sporting events of the year in Park City.
This year, though, the U.S. aerials team put on a show, claiming three medals (one gold, two silvers) in one of its best performances at Deer Valley in early January.
On the women’s side, Ashley Caldwell flipped her way to the victory, with teammate Kiley McKinnon finishing second. In the men’s competition, Mac Bohonnon earned the silver medal.
"I can’t even tell you the last time that happened for the USA," Bohonnon said after the competition. "And to do it in front of a home crowd is just unbelievable."
This winter’s Deer Valley Freestyle World Cup is scheduled to take place Feb. 4-6.
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