These athletes from the Northwest are going to the 2022 Winter Olympics
The presence of 13 skiers, skaters and sliders with ties to the Pacific Northwest should add intrigue to the 2022 Beijing Olympics, although the upcoming sports spectacle beset with extreme COVID precautions, a diplomatic boycott and scarce snowfall hardly needs more drama. Several late additions to the Team USA Olympic roster upped the regional representation at next month’s Winter Games to similar levels as in past editions.
“Going into this season I was very uncertain of what it would hold, but it’s been full of so many great experiences and it’s pretty hard to believe that I also get to go to the Olympics,” said first-time Olympian Novie McCabe of Winthrop, Washington, after learning she was added to the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team roster this week.
“The Olympics have always been the dream and it’s surreal to have actually made the team," the 20-year-old McCabe said in a statement posted by U.S. Ski & Snowboard.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic injects an extra dose of uncertainty and fluidity to the 2022 Olympic team because a positive COVID-19 test from this point onward could result in an athlete being barred from entering China. Many Beijing-bound athletes described laying low in recent days and taking every possible precaution to limit their exposure to infection.
“I am a little nervous just because we have to take a few flights to get there. There is a risk of catching COVID on the flight, and then you’re not able to participate in the Games because you were unlucky and got COVID on your travel there,” said short track speedskater Corinne Stoddard of Federal Way, Washington, during a Zoom interview. That interview was coincidentally interrupted briefly by a delivery person dropping off a fresh supply of KN-95 face masks.
COVID-19 cases have already upended the Olympic men’s ice hockey tournament. In December, the National Hockey League reversed course on its plan to pause its season so that the world’s best pro players could skate at the Beijing Games. The NHL’s planned Olympic break will instead be used to make up dozens of regular season games that were postponed due to COVID-19 outbreaks among NHL teams.
The NHL’s withdrawal is a major bummer for pro players such as Everett, Washington-raised forward T.J. Oshie, now of the Washington Capitals, and Seattle Kraken starters Philipp Grubauer and Alex True. Grubauer probably would have tended goal for the German Olympic team and True was a lock to go to Beijing with the first-ever Danish Olympic men’s hockey team.
But as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. The hastily reshaped U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team now includes 15 collegians. Matty Berniers, a top prospect of the Seattle Kraken and the second overall pick in the 2021 NHL draft, will take leave from his University of Michigan hockey team to show his stuff in Beijing.
The contingent of Northwest Olympians have steered clear of commenting on the political tensions overhanging these Winter Games, including host China’s human rights record. Other area figures who have greater liberty to speak out without concern for their safety or participation in the games are flinging stones and arrows at Beijing and the International Olympic Committee.
"It’s so offensive that these Games are set to take place in the shadow of some of the world’s most egregious assaults on human rights and human dignity," said Oregon Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in a fiery speech on the Senate floor last month. Merkley went on to compare the 2022 Beijing Games to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Nazi Germany.
The Beijing Olympics are scheduled to begin on Friday, February 4, and run through Sunday, February 20. Preliminary round curling and hockey action actually starts a few days before the opening ceremony.
Here is a list of the athletes born and bred in the Northwest — or who have another strong tie to the region — on the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team.
Tommy Ford (giant slalom) The Bend, Oregon, native becomes a three-time Olympian thanks to a coaches' discretion selection to the 2022 Olympic team. Beijing will mark this giant slalom specialist's return to elite competition after a bad crash last January in Adelboden, Switzerland. The 32-year-old has spent much of the past year rehabbing, but was the best U.S. male in his discipline during the year before.
Katie Hensien (slalom/giant slalom) This Washington native, who grew up racing at Crystal Mountain Resort, has been on a steady rise, which will culminate with her Olympic debut at the Beijing Games. Hensien lists Redmond, Washington, as her hometown. But the 22-year-old is actually a globetrotting multitasker, skiing part-time on the World Cup circuit in Europe while also pursuing a computer science and business degree with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship remotely through the University of Denver. Since 2017, during summers she coaches the next generation of up-and-coming female ski racers at Keeley's Ski Camp on Mount Hood, where she herself was a camper more than a decade ago.
Jacqueline Wiles (downhill, Super-G) The hard-charging, 29-year-old veteran U.S. ski team member made a successful bid for the Olympic team in 2014. The Portland native was nominated for the team again in 2018 but did not race in Pyeongchang because of an untimely injury. Now she is preparing for her third Olympics. Wiles skied for the White Pass, Washington, racing team in her teens. She graduated from Canby High School in 2010.
Luke Winters (slalom) Winters is an alum of the Mt. Hood Race Team and a former junior national champion in slalom. The Gresham, Oregon, native clinched his spot on the 2022 U.S. Olympic team with good results this winter on the top level World Cup circuit. The 24-year-old’s most impressive race so far this season was a tenth place finish at the Adelboden World Cup slalom in Switzerland earlier this month.
Novie McCabe (10 km Classic and/or sprints) McCabe's selection puts another feather in the cap of the highly regarded Methow Valley Nordic Team, of which she's an alum. McCabe was on the U.S. national team developmental roster until her Olympic team selection. The Winthrop, Washington native is a first-time Olympian at age 20. She's enrolled at the University of Utah when not on the road with the U.S. Ski Team. McCabe's mother Laura competed in cross-country skiing at the 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics.
Jean-Luc Baker (ice dancing) Years of hard work paid off for Washington state-raised Jean-Luc Baker who is going to the Olympics for the first time with ice dancing partner Kaitlin Hawayek. Figure skating is a family affair for Baker, as his mother skated for Great Britain in the 1988 Winter Olympics and his father competed at a World Junior Championship in pairs figure skating.
Baker's parents immigrated to Washington state from England when he was a youngster. He learned figure skating with the Seattle Skating Club at a rink in Mountlake Terrace while attending Harbour Pointe Middle School and Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. Baker moved to Detroit to further hone his craft after graduating from high school in 2012. He met his current ice dance partner there and the pair now trains in Montreal.
Matty Beniers At age 19, Beniers is the youngest player on the 2022 U.S. Olympic men's hockey squad. The highly-touted Seattle Kraken prospect and first-round draft pick is currently a sophomore forward at the University of Michigan. The Michigan hockey team will have to figure out how to begin its NCAA playoff run without Beniers and two other top players who are temporarily joining Team USA.
Short Track Speedskating:
Corinne Stoddard (500m/1000m/1500m/relays) The latest in a long line of Olympians to emerge from the Pattison's West Skating Center in Federal Way, Washington, and its dominant inline speedskating team. Stoddard is a Bonney Lake High School grad who was born in Seattle. She skated on the Beijing Olympics ice sheet last October at the first World Cup event of the 2021-22 season.
Eunice Lee (short track relay) The unheralded 17-year-old from Bellevue, Washington, claimed the fifth and final slot on the U.S. women's short track Olympic team with strong racing at the U.S. Olympic Trials in December. She was partly raised in South Korea, a traditional power in short track speedskating.
Andrew Blaser This University of Idaho track and field standout found skeleton after graduating from college in 2012. The now 32-year-old Meridian, Idaho, native will be the lone man representing the U.S. in skeleton at the Beijing Games. The ex-Vandal said in a Team USA profile that he tried bobsled after college, but bombed at that before discovering he was better at sliding headfirst down an icy chute on a sled at 80 miles per hour.
Sean FitzSimons (slopestyle) The 21-year-old Hood River Valley High School product honed his skills as a teen with Mount Bachelor's snowboard team. He now competes professionally in all three Olympic snowboard events: slopestyle, big air and halfpipe. At the 2022 Winter Olympics, look for him in the men’s slopestyle competition. His U.S. Ski Team profile page says FitzSimons is a man of many board sports, also pursuing skateboarding and kiteboarding.
Skiing for foreign countries:
In addition to the Team USA members, two other athletes raised in the Pacific Northwest will compete at the 2022 Winter Olympics under the flags of two different tropical countries.
U.S.-based alpine skier Jeffrey Webb, 23, will make his second appearance at the Winter Olympics representing Malaysia. He will compete in the men's slalom and will be his country's flagbearer during the opening ceremony. Webb graduated from Manson High School by Lake Chelan, Washington, in 2017. He trained with the Mission Ridge Ski Team outside Wenatchee. Webb's father is from Chelan and his mother is Malaysian.
The Philippines will be represented for a second time at the Winter Games by Filipino-American skier Asa Miller. The 21-year-old was born in Portland and polished his slalom and giant slalom racing skills at Mount Hood. In 2018, he took a break from his senior year at Lincoln High School to compete at the Pyeongchang Games. Miller has dual citizenship in the U.S. and the Philippines because his mother is Filipino. At the Beijing Games opening ceremony, Miller will be the Philippines' flagbearer by default because the alpine ski racer is his country's only Winter Olympian this year. The native Oregonian now attends Westminster College in Utah.