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January Full Of Excitement, Stress For Northwest Olympic Hopefuls

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
Slalom specialist Hailey Duke of Sun Valley

The month of January promises to serve up lots of excitement, angst and pressure for the many Olympic hopefuls from the Northwest.

They’ve got about three weeks left to qualify for a spot on the U.S. team bound for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in early February.

More than two dozen skiers, snowboarders and skaters from Oregon, Idaho and Washington have a plausible shot at making the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. Relatively few American athletes have secured their Olympic berths so far. Most slots are still up for grabs.

A lot of the Northwest athletes are what you might call “on the bubble,” meaning they have to post career-best performances or see a rival stumble in order to punch a ticket to Sochi.

Alpine skier Hailey Duke of Sun Valley feels the pressure.

“You know, it’s do or die," she says. "You go out there and either you perform or you don’t. You better leave it out there. Otherwise, you’ll have questions for the rest of your life.”

Duke has a claim on comeback-story-of-the-year if she makes the Olympic team. She had brain surgery last February to remove a benign tumor.

Now here she is on her home mountain slicing through a slalom training course with authority.

“My skiing is just now starting to evolve into what it used to be a long time ago," says Duke. "So it is exciting to feel it. Is the stress there? Absolutely. I have to get myself to the race. I don’t have the national team behind me.”

Duke is by no means unique trying to return to peak form in the nick of time. Another Sun Valley skier Wing Tai Barrymore is coming back from double knee surgery.

U.S. ski team coaches and officials will wait until practically the last possible moment to finalize their team selections. In many disciplines, athletes will get the happy or sad news between January 20 and January 26.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.