By Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger
Vermont long has cultivated winter Olympians who collect headlines, be they Andrea Mead Lawrence (the first American skier to win gold twice in a single games, in 1952), Bill Koch (the first U.S. cross-country competitor to medal, in 1976), or Kelly Clark and Ross Powers (the nation’s first two snowboarders to top the women’s and men’s tallies, in 2002).
But three athletes with state ties are now making Summer Games history — simply by making the Summer Games.
Montgomery runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Burlington rugby player Ilona Maher, and Vermont Academy graduate and rower Brooke Mooney are part of a 600-person team representing the U.S. in Tokyo.
Although a slew of Vermonters have won gold medals in the Winter Olympics, only about two dozen have even competed in more than a century of Summer Games — the most recognized being the late 1912 long jumper Albert Gutterson, whose name is affixed to the fieldhouse of his alma mater, the University of Vermont.
Today, Purrier St. Pierre is giving Gutterson a run in the publicity department, with an eclectic array of media outlets reporting how the 26-year-old U.S. record holder for the indoor mile and 2-mile is set for the Games’ 1,500-meter race.
Exhibit 1 from The New York Times: “Even as she goes about establishing herself as one of American running’s rising stars, Purrier St. Pierre remains a self-described homebody.” It reported from Montgomery, tagged “a maple-scented speck on the map” that’s “the covered bridge capital of the world … She and her now-husband rode a tractor to the prom.”
Or this second take from the national Farm Journal: “This dairy farmer’s daughter grew up on her family’s farm where she would head to the barn before school each morning to milk 40 cows,” it reported. “This marks the first time the farm girl fueled by milk will compete in the Olympics.”
Montgomery runner Elle Purrier St. Pierre’s Facebook page features this photo of the Vermont Olympian with her husband, Berkshire farmer Jamie St. Pierre.
Or this third quote in Women’s Wear Daily, which described in tailored detail her T-shirt, shorts and running shoes: “I definitely learned a work ethic on the farm growing up, and that’s something that I carry with me in my career every day at practice and while I compete as well,” Purrier St. Pierre said. “But at this level, you know everybody knows how to work hard.”
The latter publication reports that as Purrier St. Pierre competes in the women’s 1,500 meters, “back in Bernie Sanders country, locals in her hometown will be pulling for her at a viewing party at the Phineas Swann Inn & Spa,” a bed-and-breakfast in Montgomery Center.
The inn is advertising two early morning public events, the first on Aug. 4 at 5:30 a.m. (the semifinals are set to air on NBC at 6 a.m. EDT) and the second on Aug. 6 at 6:30 a.m. (the finals are set to air on NBC at 8:50 a.m. EDT). “I wished the time zones liked us better,” an inn staffer said.
On the rugby field, Maher can tell you how she lettered in field hockey, basketball and soccer at Burlington High School before moving to her current sport at age 17. But the 24-year-old instead is making a name for herself by sharing cellphone tours of the Olympic Village.
“If you’re looking for a laugh, or for a new social media favorite,” the pop culture website Popsugar.com recently reported, “Ilona’s TikToks are a great place to start.”
Maher and the 12-woman U.S. rugby team beat China, Japan and Australia in the knockout round before falling to Great Britain in the quarterfinals on July 30.
And on the water, Mooney — originally from Peru, Vermont — is making waves. The 25-year-old grew up as a cross-country skier who scored at several junior national championships before a coach suggested she try rowing during her senior year of high school.
Mooney and the nation’s eight-women rowing team finished fourth in the finals on July 29, having won at the last three Olympics.