By Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger
Alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin stood atop the Beijing 2022 Olympics giant slalom hill as a television announcer recalled how she won a gold medal in the same race at the last Winter Games.
Seconds later, the 26-year-old fell cold on the steep, slippery course, wiping out for only the 14th time in 229 competitions.
“She was going for gold again,” former champion Lindsey Vonn told NBC viewers.
“She has a lot more chances in these Olympics,” two-time gold medalist Ted Ligety reassured.
Indeed, Shiffrin — a graduate of Burke Mountain Academy in the Northeast Kingdom — has four more events, including her best, the slalom. But her stumble (“Yeah, I am human,” she posted on Twitter) was just one of several challenges faced by Olympians with Vermont ties upon the opening of the Winter Games.
Shiffrin’s teammate Nina O’Brien, also schooled at Burke Mountain Academy, crashed across the finish line in her second giant slalom run, requiring emergency responders to carry her away “alert and responsive,” according to a U.S. ski team spokesperson.
“We are so heartbroken for Nina,” Shiffrin posted on Twitter. “She showed so much heart and fire in her skiing today, and it all got shredded to pieces on the final turn. This sport … this sport is SO damn hard. It’s brutal, and it hurts far more often than it ever feels good.”
Two-time slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson, whose mother owns the Weaving Dreams alpaca farm in Hartland, found herself denied a snowboarding three-peat — although her family and friends still cheered from home as the USA Network beamed their watch party to the nation.
Anderson was bested by two competitors from Down Under, Zoi Sadowski-Synnott from New Zealand and Tess Coady of Australia, as well as fellow American Julia Marino, who studied as a 14-year-old at Stratton Mountain School.
Fellow Stratton-trained Jessie Diggins, who won the United States’ first-ever gold in cross country skiing in 2018, finished sixth in the women’s 15-kilometer skiathlon — and, while it didn’t put her on the podium, a welcome improvement from her 11th-place standing at the halfway mark.
“My goals for today were to keep fighting, to never give up, to ski with the best technique I could,” Diggins was quoted by Rutland journalist Peggy Shinn, who’s covering the games for TeamUSA.org.
Missing out on a medal, in fact, could be a sign of history repeating itself.
“Four years ago, she finished fifth in the 2018 Olympic skiathlon,” Shinn noted. “Eleven days later, she and Kikkan Randall won the U.S. first Olympic gold medal in cross-country skiing.”
In the men’s skiathlon, University of Vermont graduate Scott Patterson finished 11th, the best Nordic finish by an American man since Vermonter Bill Koch’s silver in the 30-kilometer in 1976.
In the skiing and rifle marksmanship sport of biathlon, the Vermont trio of Sean Doherty, Susan Dunklee and Clare Egan joined teammate Paul Schommer in finishing seventh — the nation’s best-ever result in the Olympic mixed relay.
In alpine skiing, Starksboro resident Ryan Cochran-Siegle came back from breaking his neck a year ago to place 14th, the top American finish in the men’s downhill and then securing a silver metal in Super G (see related story). Cochran-Siegle’s mother, 1972 slalom gold medal winner Barbara Ann Cochran of Richmond’s Cochran’s Ski Area, appeared on NBC’s live coverage of the race and of Friday’s opening ceremony.
On the same network, NBC number-cruncher Steve Kornacki, known for analyzing electoral college maps, broke down the Team USA geography. He noted that while the three largest cities of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago had no 2022 Olympians, but the Vermont town of Landgrove, population 177, had one (Ben Ogden, a Stratton Mountain School graduate and University of Vermont student)!
Kornacki concluded: “Who says small towns can’t kindle big dreams?”