Some area athletes are gearing up to compete for Team America slots in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is just around the corner in February and making Olympic history will be the women’s ski jump event. After numerous denials from the International Olympic Committee, women ski jumpers will finally make their debut in Sochi. “Momentum in ski jumping has been building,” shares Gene Brown of Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove. “Women have rallied hard since the Vancouver (2010) Olympics to make this happen.” While no women at Norge are headed to the Olympics just yet, there’s a chance that Norge Ski Club skier Michael Gladser of Cary could represent the U.S. men’s team in Sochi. At press time Mr. Gladser was training in Park City, Utah, for the trials December 28-29.
Mr. Brown says the struggle has been recruiting enough women worldwide mainly because of the dangers of the sport. “Everything is pretty much the same between the men and women’s competitions, and they can hit speeds of 60 mph coming down the hill,” he explains. “The risk is there, but it’s the adrenaline and excitement that makes this sport so popular.”
Another Chicago-area athlete – Katie Ebberling of south suburban Palos Hills – is a strong contender for the bobsledding team, and she’s only been bobsledding since 2011. “I played volleyball at Western Michigan University, was approached by a bobsledding recruiter and thought I’d try it out,” explains the 25-year-old. “The sport intrigued me from the beginning; it was something my body had never experienced.”
Ms. Ebberling says she’s always had that Olympic dream in the back of her head. After making the U.S. national team and winning a bronze and silver medal in 2012 and 2013, respectively, Ms. Ebberling decided to act upon that dream. “To make the national team right out of the gate was a huge leap of faith,” she admits.
As for the need for speed, Ms. Ebberling says bobsledding is just the cure. “It’s that adrenaline factor; you put everything you have into starting the sled as fast as possible before jumping into it.” Bobsledders can go as fast as 80 mph on those tracks, she explains. She’s currently training in Lake Placid, New York, and has a full sledding season before the Olympic athletes are announced January 19.
One of the more popular winter sports to watch is curling. Let’s face it, there’s something both addictive and humorous about watching a team yell and maniacally swipe brooms to guide a sliding rock. And Carolyn Lloyd, who plays at the Chicago Curling Club, says she can’t blame you. “It looks fun on TV because you have no idea what’s going on and all these insane people are yelling at each other,” she says laughing. “But it’s a totally different sport once you’re on the ice and realize how difficult it is to play. At home, you don’t see the hours of practice that go into making these incredible shots on TV.
Then there’s one of the fastest and arguably the most dangerous winter sport: luge. Luge athletes are basically human bullets blasting down curvy, icy snow tracks, hitting 87 mph in some cases. Despite serious risk, the sport continues to grow in popularity among both athletes and spectators.
Perhaps it’s the speed and hold-your-breath intensity that transfixes viewers when athletes zoom down that icy track. And if the luge experience is on your bucket list, one of the four luge tracks in the U.S. is nearby in Michigan at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex. Three-time Olympian Frank Masley designed its 850-feet long track, and anyone at any skill level (age 8 and up) has the chance to really get a feel for the Olympic thrill.
Hopefully, when the 2014 Sochi Olympics air February 7-23, we’ll see some Chicago-area Olympians. Cheery thought!
Kris Edlund Photograph