The Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs
Sochi Olympian Send Off in Steamboat Springs
Four years ago in Sochi, Colorado sent more Team USA athletes to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics than any other state except California – a whopping 19, in fact, including five teenagers.
And you can expect The Centennial State to represent again Feb. 9–25, 2018, in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Several high-caliber Colorado athletes are already on many an Olympic must-watch list, with some expected to come home with shiny bling around their necks.
Why so many?
Home to epic terrain, mountain-sports meccas and world-class Olympic-training facilities, Colorado has long been a fertile training ground for future medal winners.
Among the 100-plus events spread out over 15 sports that comprise the winter competition, here are a few key Coloradans to watch when the games get underway next month.
For 31-year-old Nordic Combined athlete Bryan Fletcher, the obstacles he overcame to compete at all may be stiffer than the challenges he faces in the South Korean snow.
Growing up in Steamboat Springs, Bryan Fletcher first fell in love with skiing at age 4, a year after he was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I remembering asking at some point, ‘Am I going to die?’ ” he recently told NBC News. “They were like ‘No, of course not, you just have to do this, get through this sickness, so you can be a normal kid again.’ ”
But facing chemotherapy at such a young age – and battling the side effects it caused, including a stroke at age 5 – was anything but normal.
He persevered, though, and now attributes that struggle as the fire that lit his fighting spirit as an Olympic athlete. Twice a week during that time, his ski-loving parents would drive him to Denver for treatments – then straight back to Steamboat to hit the slopes right afterward.
He writes on his own website: “For those of you who have never been to Steamboat, you should know it’s a ski town through and through. It didn’t take long before I was completely wrapped up in everything about it. My father had me on his back skiing before I could walk.”
With so much incredible Colorado terrain right in his backyard, he didn’t have to give up the sport he loved, even during cancer treatment. Four years of chemotherapy later, he went into remission at age 8.
“Going through something like that, it gives you a little bit of maturity at a younger age, but you also realize that there is more out there than just the competition,” he told NBC. “You're not so focused on, ‘I have to do well in this competition to be happy or to be fulfilled in life.’ I'm grateful just to be out there with the opportunity and try to achieve a better me every day.”
No stranger to Olympic success, 22-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin from Vail hopes to increase her medal count at this year’s games.
The accomplished alpine skier brought home slalom gold at the 2014 games in Sochi, becoming the youngest competitor (18) to ever win that Olympic event. She just missed the medal podium in the giant slalom as well, coming in fifth.
Shiffrin also has won four World Championship medals (with her 2017 title making her the first woman to win three consecutive slalom world titles in 78 years) and she’s also currently ranked No. 1 in World Cup standings. She now has the second-most World Cup victories of any U.S. female skier, trailing only Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, whose vying to stage a comeback at the 2018 games.
How does one enjoy so much success at such a young age? By starting early. Shiffrin’s family says she began skiing down her snowy driveway at the ripe old age of 2.
Although she grew up in Vermont, her family traveled to Vail so often to ski that she eventually fell in love with this Colorado resort town enough to make it her home.
A native of Silverthorne, snowboarder Chris Corning won both silver and bronze medals in the 2017 World Championships and multiple World Cup events, but still hopes to add Olympic gold to his resume during his Olympic debut next month.
Although Chris says he enjoys camping and dirt biking in the Colorado wilderness every chance he gets, he started snowboarding at age 7 and has dedicated much of his life to the sport.
Interestingly enough, Denver snowboard maker Never Summer has been designing boards for Chris ever since he first began the sport, even though they didn’t even make “kid-sized” boards back then.
“We have had other athletes riding our boards over the years — very talented riders for sure — but Chris has always been one that really stuck out,” Never Summer co-founder Tim Canaday recently told the Denver Post. “He’s so well spoken and such a great person to represent our brand. We have nothing but great expectations for him.”
They’re not the only ones.
Pegged by NBC News as one of the sports “biggest rising stars,” Corning pulled off two stunning tricks at recent Copper Mountain and Breckenridge competitions to secure his spot on Team USA. After nailing a switch backside 1260 and a backside triple cork 1440, we can’t wait to see what he has in store on the world’s biggest sports stage.
Olympic City, Olympic State
If you can’t make it to the winter games in South Korea, you can still celebrate the Olympic spirit at a variety of attractions and events in the same state these stellar athletes call home.
In Colorado Springs, take year-round tours of Olympic Training Center, a 35-acre complex offering interactive exhibits showcasing the inspiration it takes to “go for the gold.” (It’s also where real Olympic champions and future Team USA hopefuls live and train, which is very cool.)
On Feb. 9, the city will host an Olympic Celebration downtown, coinciding with Opening Ceremonies in South Korea. You can watch the live broadcast on a 17-foot-wide LCD screen and see five-time gold medal speedskater Eric Heiden in person, plus enjoy live Korean-themed entertainment, interactive activities for kids and, of course, plenty of good food — including hot chocolate, a beer garden and an ice bar.
Famous for producing more winter Olympians than any other town in America — a whopping 89 so far! — Steamboat Springs will host an Olympian Send-Off on Jan. 27 to wish the town’s new generation of athletes good luck.
Steamboat also offers future and wannabe medalists the opportunity to “Ski with an Olympian” with 1964 Olympic silver medalist Billy Kidd, the city’s Director of Skiing, or join the “Nelson on Nelson’s” mogul clinic hosted by World Cup Mogul Champion Nelson Carmichael on select Sundays at Nelson’s Run.
You can take a guided or self-guided Olympic Heritage Walking Tour at the Tread of Pioneers Museum, which celebrates the area’s Olympic cred and features a comprehensive exhibit on the history ski jumping. And a visit to Howelsen Hill afterward puts you in a 40-acre historic ski and recreation site celebrating local Olympians inside the lodge.