If all goes according to plan, at least three Bend athletes will make the trip to Sochi, Russia in early February to compete in the 22nd Olympic Winter Games.
Dakota Blackhorse-von jess, Nordic skiing
Dakota Blackhorse-von Jess is well known for racing in a backward-facing trucker hat, perhaps the better for his competitors to read its logo. He has been finding himself at the front of the pack lately.
On a sunny day in late October, he cruised to victory in a two-lap classic technique sprint race called Frozen Thunder. It was the unofficial season opener staged at Alberta's Canmore Nordic Centre. With this recent commanding victory over his American and Canadian rivals, the gregarious Blackhorse-von Jess has positioned himself to be one of the few Nordic skiers representing the United States at the 2014 Winter Olympics. The win was a welcome relief to the Bend Endurance Academy skier and coach who has been ramping up his training this fall in anticipation of the numerous Olympic qualifying races in the coming months.
"The short story is that I will be racing against the best in the world and I need excellent results in Europe in order to go to Sochi," said Blackhorse-von Jess in a recent statement. "Physically, I am prepared. Our plan is solid. Our motivation is high!" As of press time, the stout 27-year-old was en route to qualifying races in Finland.
In January, he captured a national title—his first—after winning the freestyle sprint at U.S. Nationals in Utah. And, earlier in the week, he took third in the classic sprint final. The podium, it seems, is becoming familiar territory for the Dartmouth grad.
His Bend Endurance Academy coaches report that Blackhorse-von Jess is in the shape of his life, but will need to repeat last year's successes at the U.S. Nationals this January—as well as perform well in Europe—in order to have a shot at Sochi. While results certainly play a big role, the ultimate decision as to who goes to the Olympics is left to the discretion of the U.S. coaches.
Laurenne Ross, Alpine skiing
Nearly two years ago, while flying down a Canadian ski course, alpine ski racer Laurenne Ross collided into orange plastic race netting at 75 miles per hour. The 25-year-old Alberta-born Bend resident was solemnly airlifted off the mountain. But, miraculously, Ross suffered only face lacerations and bruises—and, less than a month later, was back racing. And, with a broken pinky (from a different crash), Ross finished 14th at the Austrian World Cup, scoring valuable points for later in the season.
That's Ross—a smiling musician, artist, rock climber and U.S. Alpine women's team member who competes in slalom, super-G, giant slalom and downhill.
"Its hard to come back from such a mind-boggling crash," Ross said in a recent NBC video short on the U.S. Alpine women's team.
But come back, she has. After finishing among the top 30 in the World Cup standings (i.e. the best in the world) in 2012, Ross last season finished second in a World Cup downhill race in Germany and, racing at Squaw Valley, Calif., grabbed a U.S. title in super-G.
Now, her coaches think that Ross is a virtual shoe-in for the women's Olympic alpine team.
"Barring injury, it's very likely she'll make the team and have the potential to start in downhill, super-G and super combined," wrote Doug Haney, a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association press officer, in an email to the Source.
Last week, Ross and her high-profile teammate Lindsey Vonn, were fine-tuning their training at Copper Mountain, Colo. (Julia Mancuso, who had, earlier this fall, joined Ross and Vonn for a team camp in the Chilean Andes, was back in Hawaii for her unorthodox beach training).
Ben Ferguson, Snowboarding (halfpipe)
Earlier this fall, Ferguson, a fearless 18-year-old snowboarding phenom, told me he was already "qualified to qualify" for the U.S. Olympic team.
"I'm one of 12 U.S. men competing for the four spots on the halfpipe team," Ferguson explained. "If this year goes as planned and I land the runs I want to land I think there's a good chance I could make it."
Though the competition is stiff, the U.S. Snowboarding team athlete has proved he knows how to win. Last January, Ferguson won the gold medal in the halfpipe competition while competing in the inaugural Winter Youth Olympics. Later, in March, Ferguson was named to the U.S. Snowboarding Junior Worlds team.
The Dew Tour iOn Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colo. is the first opportunity Ferguson will get to prove himself this season. According to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, the early December event, along with the four Sprint Grand Prix events, will determine the athletes to be nominated for the U.S. Olympic team.
Ferguson already knows what he needs to do.
"It's all about double corks now," Ferguson said, before explaining further. "It's a like a double flip with some spin in there. You've got to have a couple double corks if you want to make the team. I've got two."