Vermonters Headed To Vancouver Olympics

01/26/10 7:34AM By Susan Keese
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AP Photo/Mike Groll
Hannah Kearney, of the United States, reacts to her first-place finish in ladies' moguls freestyle World Cup skiing event in Wilmington, N.Y., on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010.

(Host) The twenty-first winter Olympics get under way in British Columbia in less than a month.

And as VPR's Susan Keese reports, Vermont will be well represented.

(Keese) Olympic freestyle skier Hannah Kearney is on a mission.  The 23-year-old Norwich resident competed in Italy in 2006, and placed a disappointing 22nd.

(Kearney) "Last time I went to sort of experience the Olympics, just test the waters, and it did not turn out very well for me. So the number one goal I have for the Olympics is to win a gold medal this time."

(Keese) Kearney won the 2009 World Cup Season Championship. She's been training hard and says she's much stronger than she was four years ago.

Her workouts have included leaping into a swimming pool with skis on to practice jumps, which constitute a quarter of the score in her event.

(Kearney) "I do a back flip as one of my jumps, and this is by far the best way to practice that, to eliminate the risk of trying something on snow for the first time."

(Keese) When it comes to back flips, the U.S. Snowboard team has plenty of excitement in the works.

Reigning gold medalist Hannah Teetor of Belmont will return as a top competitor in the half pipe this year. Also on the half pipe team is West Dover native Kelley Clark, who won the gold in 2002.

Also on the snowboard team is 2006 silver medalist Lindsey Jacobellis. The part-time Stratton resident lost the gold in the snowboard cross in 2006 when she grabbed her board near the finish and fell.

(Bower) "So some of the top female athletes on the Olympic Team are Vermont natives."

(Keese) Ricky Bower coaches the half pipe team and he's excited about the prospects.

(Bower)  "The two women on the half pipe team have a phenomenal chance of walking away from the Olympics with some medals - as well as they will put on an incredible show of acrobatic prowess."

(Keese) Bower spoke on his cell phone while traveling from Park City, Utah to Aspen, where the team will compete in the X-games.

When it comes to extreme sports, cross country skiing isn't usually what comes to mind. But Andy Newell of Shaftsbury says that's a misconception.

(Newell) "To me, cross country skiing is kind of the original extreme sport. To see these guys and girls push themselves so hard."

(Keese) Newell is one of two Vermont Nordic skiers headed for Vancouver. Liz Stephen of Montpelier will also compete.

Newell earned his unofficial reputation as an extreme cross country skier at Stratton Mountain School -- where he was often seen on the half pipe on his narrow cross country skis.

He won't be doing that at the Olympics. But he says his best event, sprinting, is pretty exciting.

(Newell) "There's athletes racing around on a pretty narrow course in close contact with each other. There's broken equipment and poles breaking and people crashing and it's a pretty exciting thing to watch for someone who has never seen it before."

(Keese) Newell says it's hard for U.S. Nordic skiers to compete with Northern European countries, where cross country skiing is as big as baseball is here.

In 30 years, the United States has won just one medal in the sport. That was Putney native Bill Koch's silver in the ‘70s.

But Newell says this could be the year to break that losing streak.

For VPR News, I'm Susan Keese.

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