Colorado is host to some of the nation’s top athletes hoping to earn a spot in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Their athleticism is astounding and their life stories impressive. Across the board these athletes attribute their success to their families, coaches, friends and a dedication to training.
Alice McKennis, Alpine Skiing
“My dad is big skier and so he really got my sister and I love skiing too. We spent our summers on a big ranch in New Castle and then in winter we moved to different ski resorts. We skied a lot at Sunlight when we were really little and soon got hooked on racing and competing,” states McKennis. She continues, “He wanted us to be around other talented athletes and to get exposure to good coaching so we spent the winters in different mountain towns like Vail, Steamboat and Aspen.” Following her mother’s death at age five, her father, Greg, home schooled the two girls.
McKennis entered her first World Cup Tour in 2010, was ranked 20th overall and made the 2010 Olympic team—all in her rookie season. “I knew it was the season where I would either make it or break it and I really needed to step up my game. That year I became better and faster by trying to chase down my teammates,” she says. Touring Europe for the next few years gave her tremendous international experience and exposure. In St. Anton, Austria, McKennis took her first gold medal at the 2013 World Cup and finished 10th overall. “It’s funny, in Europe it’s a different race culture and they always refer to me as the U.S. Cowgirl,” she shares with a chuckle. As a Super G and Downhill athlete, McKennis trains side by side with Coloradans Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and others and says, “It’s great because to a certain extent it’s a team sport, and we are all friends and this is a great group of girls. It’s the best support system.”
“My best lesson came from my dad who really taught me that hard work pays off. And I wouldn’t have accomplished any of this without my dad and my sister, Kendra.” Watch McKennis at the World Cup in Beaver Creek Nov. 29 to Dec.1.
Gus Kenworthy, Freeskiing and Half Pipe
Gus Kenworthy’s family moved to Telluride when he was a toddler; from a very early age he remembers wanting to be outside in the snow and skiing. “I was basically a shadow to my older brothers, following them around and trying to copy their every move,” Kenworthy shares. Reflecting on his Freeskiing and half pip focus, Kenworthy describes, “It didn’t take long though for me to realize that the aspect of mogul skiing I liked best was the jumping, which was a conveniently timed revelation because that was around the same time that Telluride Ski Resort was beginning to build their first terrain parks. After a few seasons spent learning and honing my skills, when I was about 14, I started competing in local slopestyle competitions, and as I earned stronger results, I continued to venture out into bigger events until I was on the full blown professional international circuit.”
It hasn’t always been easy street for Gus in his athletic career. “Losing my best friend Hoot when I was 14 was a really huge obstacle in my life. He passed away in an accident during a photo shoot on the mountain and for a while I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to ski again. After a lot of thinking and deliberating I decided that he would have wanted me to keep skiing and to work as hard as possible to make it to the top, which was his dream as much as it was mine.” Now living in downtown Denver, when Kenworthy is not training he spends his hours photographing and reading. “I am a little bit obsessed with Instagram and I love exploring new places and finding beautiful and interesting things to photograph. I also really like reading novels and going out to the movies.”
Kenworthy describes his support system, “My family is amazing! My mum is the sweetest little lady ever and is one of the only people I know who is completely selfless, almost to a flaw. She’s goofy and fun and acts much younger than her age and she, my dad and my stepdad have always been 100 percent encouraging of me and my career; and they’ve done anything in their power to help me get to where I need to be. I also have amazing brothers who stand behind me 100 percent and help me out a lot in my career.”
Jeremy Abbott, Figure Skater
Jeremy Abbott is a Colorado athletic icon. Born in Aspen, ice skating from the age of two and competing from age of four, his career is dotted with historical success. “I’m very proud of my three U.S. national Championship titles in ’09, ’10 and ’12. And, I’m honored and proud to be the first American male to win the Grand Prix skating finals in 2008,” explains Abbott. 1980 Olympic champion Robin Cousins performed at the ice arena in Aspen when Abbott was four. “My mom took me to the show and Cousins influenced me so much that from that moment on I wanted to go to the Olympics. Today, the really cool thing is that Robin is choreographing my short program,” Abbott explains.
“I credit my first coach, Peggy Behr, with not only teaching me so much but for also letting me go. She told my mom that I had a lot of talent but if I wanted to take skating seriously and move to the next level, then I needed to start training with the elite skaters at the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the coaching of Tom Bakrajsek. He instilled in me the confidence and belief that I could reach my goals,” reflects Abbott. Four years ago Abbott switched coaches and moved to Detroit, where he currently lives and trains. “I am skating now with the Detroit Skating Club.” Abbott performed in the 2010 Olympics and placed ninth overall. “Making the Olympic team is a dream I’ve had since I was five and being part of that experience was everything I had trained for.”
When he performs in national and international performances, Abbott appears untouched by nerves. “I’m usually shaking like a leaf. Me, my body and my brain have to be so prepared because the more prepared I am, the calmer I am as well,” states Abbott.
In preparation for qualifying for the Olympics, Abbott is focused on controlling the long program and putting in the work on the newly choreographed short program. He is competing in numerous competitions and will learn his Olympic fate a month before the games begin.
Abbott will be performing at a show at the Aspen Ice Garden—the rink he learned to skate—Dec. 14. No doubt his most supportive fan club of his mother, stepfather, father and sister will be cheering from the stands.
Continue reading the full story in our December/January issue...
Kathy Smith is a freelance writer, chef, athlete and mother of four, who contributes to many local magazines. She loves to cook and eat, train and compete and read. While she loves to train and compete, she chooses to be an observer at these talented athlete’s performances.
Daniel Junge is a documentary filmmaker, director and won an Academy Award and 2 Emmys for his film "Saving Face." Learn more in recent CE!