The firsts

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sochi-2014-logo1

by Paul D. Bowker, Peggy Shinn, Lawrence Murray

February 12, 2014 (ISN) – Team USA, Sochi spotlight: Nick Goepper; Freeskier, Erin Hamlin; luge, and Devin Logan; freestyle skiing.

Sochi Spotlight: Nick Goepper 

First-time Olympian Nick Goepper once pressure-washed and sanded a neighbor’s back deck in Indiana so he could raise some cash to attend a ski academy.

Times have changed for this 19-year-old from Lawrenceburg, Ind., a small farming community located about 30 miles west of Cincinnati. Instead of washing decks and skiing at Perfect North Slopes, a classic Midwest ski area in southeastern Indiana, he is ready for the biggest stage of all at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Goepper, who was ranked the No. 1 slopestyle skier in the world last year, will go after his first Olympic medal in the men’s slopestyle event Thursday Feb. 13, at Rosa Khutor Extreme Park. Slopestyle skiing is one of eight disciplines making its Olympic debut in Sochi. The women’s slopestyle skiing event was held Tuesday.

Goepper hopes to continue a gold-medal run by U.S. athletes in slopestyle. Snowboard slopestyle also made its Olympic debut over the first weekend of competition, and Americans won the gold medal in both the men’s and women’s events. Sage Kotsenburg won the men’s slopestyle and Jamie Anderson won the women’s event. The U.S. slopestyle skiing athletes cheered on their teammates at the snowboard slopestyle finals.

Goepper’s path toward Sochi began in 2011 when he was in Mt. Hood, Ore., and saw the news on his computer that slopestyle skiing would make its Olympic debut in 2014.

“I was not surprised, but I was insanely stoked,” Goepper told TeamUSA.org.

Since then, he has ruled the sport. He won the gold medal at the last two Winter X Games, including in January in Aspen, Colo. He was a bronze medalist at the 2013 FIS World Championships. Plus he has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 the last three years in the AFP World rankings.

Goepper was the first men’s slopestyle skier to secure a berth on the U.S. Olympic Team, qualifying after just two of five selection competitions.

“It’s a dream come true. It’s super fun. The Olympics add a bit more pressure, but we’re out here trying to get creative and have fun,” he said after finishing second in the Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix presented by The North Face at Copper Mountain, Colo.

Along his Olympic journey, Goepper has enjoyed some fun perks, such as appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman. At the Opening Ceremony in Sochi, he had his picture taken with snowboarding two-time gold medalist Shaun White and posted it to his Twitter account, @NickGoepper.

He enters competition Thursday as a solid favorite. A podium finish might just be the start of an Olympic run for Goepper. At 19, he would have more Olympic Winter Games in front of him.

“I think something really strange would have to happen for Nick to not win gold in Sochi,” said Mike Hanley, a longtime ski coach who trained Goepper at Windells Academy in Oregon.

When Goepper won the men’s slopestyle at the Winter X Games last month, he became the first man since Tanner Hall to win back-to-back gold medals in X Games Aspen slopestyle.

Joining him in the slopestyle competition Thursday will be fellow Americans Bobby Brown, Joss Christensen and Gus Kenworthy. 

Hamlin Wins First Singles Luge Medal For Team USA

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia — Erin Hamlin came to Sochi with a hope and a dream but no expectations. She had had great expectations going to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. As the reigning world champion, she thought it was her best chance to win an Olympic medal. Then she finished 16th.

“I knew that’s not how I wanted my Olympic legacy to end,” she said.

Now, after four solid runs at the Sanki Sliding Center, Hamlin is a legend in American luge. The 27-year-old three-time Olympian from Remsen, N.Y., is the first U.S. singles luger to win an Olympic medal. She finished third behind the German juggernaut of Natalie Geisenberger and Tatjana Huefner.

But on a damp night in Russia, the bronze medal felt like gold to Hamlin.

“I’m stoked,” she said with the smile never leaving her face. “I can’t even … who knew?”

She also broke a German/Austrian hold on the Olympic podium. Since 1980, only Germany and Austria have won Olympic medals in women’s luge. And since women’s luge debuted at the 1964 Olympic Winter Games, Italy is the only other country that has managed to steal the podium (and only twice) from the Germans and Austrians.

“It’s a huge moment in U.S. luge history, our first singles medal,” said Gordy Sheer, who won the first Olympic medal period for USA Luge with a silver in doubles at the Nagano 1998 Olympic Winter Games, along with partner Chris Thorpe. Sheer is now USA Luge’s director of marketing and sponsorship. Mark Grimmette and Brian Martin also medaled in 1998 with the bronze behind Sheer and Thorpe.

“It’s really a testament to our athletes, coaches and sponsors who have been sticking with us, what we’re doing all across the board,” he added. “It’s just a great moment, and it’s worth sitting down and celebrating.”

But Hamlin’s medal was somewhat unexpected. The 2009 world champion had not stood on a world cup podium in two years, and this year, her results had waffled between fourth and 10th.

In contrast to the 2010 Games, Hamlin came to Sochi relaxed and with no expectations. She just wanted to have four solid runs at the Sochi Games and enjoy the experience.

Hamlin also wasn’t certain how she would do on the relatively new Sochi track. In previous training, she had struggled.

“When we first came here, it took me a long time to get it,” she said. “At that point, I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh my gosh, this is how the next Olympics is going to go.'”

But in the past week, she settled in and began to feel the rhythm of the unique track, with its three uphill sections. Her six training runs were very consistent and put her near the front of the field, even though she was training in an old speedsuit and booties that weren’t aerodynamic.

“Erin’s a big race kind of person, as illustrated by her world championship in 2009,” said Sheer. “When I saw the training times, and I saw what she was wearing, I knew she was sandbagging, and she had a couple of tenths in her versus the rest of the field.”

In her first race run, Hamlin came down in second behind Geisenberger, but 0.037 of a second in front of Huefner, the defending Olympic champion. Second run, Huefner put 0.062 of a second back on Hamlin, bumping the American to third. Both women remained behind Geisenberger, the current world champion and 2012-13 overall world cup champion.

Hamlin went to bed Monday night in medal contention but slept better than she had slept all week.

“Watching Erin this week, especially the past few days, I’ve been really inspired by her,” said Summer Britcher, who finished 15th. “She’s in third place, and she’s stayed so calm and so determined and the way she’s been able to keep her cool is something I’m trying to do in future years.”

With solid third and fourth runs today, Hamlin threw her arms up after she crossed the finish line, then laid back in relief on her sled. Her friends and family, including brothers Ryan and Sean dressed in American-flag onesies, seemed to fill the stands.

“They started out with body paint in Torino, which they did again in Whistler,” said Hamlin with a smirk. “Here they got onesies, so they’ve learned to bundle for a Winter Games. But this is the warmest one yet, so they timed it badly.”

Kate Hansen was thrilled with 10th place at her first Winter Games. But not as thrilled as Hamlin, who was happily stunned by her feat.

“When I won worlds, I was the first American woman to ever win worlds,” Hamlin said. “So to be able to do this as well, I feel like I’m really hopefully paving the way for future generations of female lugers in the U.S.”

Devin Logan’s Comeback Story Culminates In Silver

Everyone loves a comeback story, especially at the Olympic Games.

U.S. slopestyle skier Devin Logan had to overcome a knee injury just to get to Sochi. Not only was she selected to the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, but she made history, claiming the silver medal in the first-ever Olympic freestyle skiing slopestyle event.

“I felt great, I’m really happy with my skiing,” Logan said. “I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Logan’s first-run score of 85.40 was good enough to secure second place. The 20-year-old shared the podium with Canadian skiers Dara Howell (94.20) and Kim Lamarre (85.00). She had high praise for her fellow medalists.

“We are the first ones,” Logan said. “We have made history.”

A three-time X Games medalist, Logan suffered an injury to her right knee in the summer of 2012. The depth of the injury was significant — a torn anterior cruciate ligament and torn meniscus, with multiple microfractures. Sidelined for the season, she used the opportunity to become an AFP and FIS certified judge to help develop a better understanding for her sport.

“It was awesome,” Logan said of her experience as a judge. “I learned what the judges are looking for. So, when I was planning my tricks for the run, I had their thoughts in the back of my head.

“It was really difficult watching all of my friends skiing and having fun,” she said. “But I kept myself busy, and this is my comeback story. I feel amazing. The knee feels great. And it’s a good comeback.”

Now, that comeback has culminated in a visit to the Olympic podium.

Competing in a 22-member field, Logan was on point early, posting scores of 79.40 and 80.40 in her first two qualifying runs.

The warm weather made the snow conditions difficult for executing a lot of tricks. Undeterred, Logan landed a switch on the same leg that she had previously injured.

“You can’t control mother nature,” she said. “Every other competitor is dealing with the same conditions, and you just have to go with it, and know when you’re skiing too fast or too slow.”

Joining Logan in the final were U.S. teammates Keri Herman and Julia Krass, who finished 10th and 11th. Herman — the reigning world cup slopestyle champion — was excited to see Logan take the podium.

“Devin and I had been saying, ‘it’s going to be one of us up there,’ preferably both, but one’s better than none,” Herman said as she watched Logan’s second run in final. “This is awesome. This is so awesome. She’s sitting in second. This is amazing. She’s the best. That’s my girl. That’s my roommate right there.”

Also waiting for Logan at the finish line was her mother, Nancy Logan, who was all smiles.

“She had to climb over several fences,” said Nancy Logan. “I wasn’t expecting it, but she made me cry.”

Devin Logan is looking forward to 2018, when she will try and do what she almost accomplished at these Games — competing in both slopestyle and halfpipe. For now, she will focus on enjoying the rest of her Olympic experience, which includes her 21st birthday next week.

“I’m going to have a blowout, why not,” Logan said. “You only live once.”

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