How our Winter Olympians fared: No medals, but personal triumphs for athletes with Northwest ties
None of the thirteen Winter Olympians with ties to the Pacific Northwest is coming home from the Beijing Games with a medal. Still, many of the Northwest's elite skiers, skaters and sliders will leave Sunday's closing ceremony with feelings of accomplishment, or relief just to have made it through the ever-present COVID-19 testing gauntlet, not to mention the geopolitical tensions of competing on Chinese soil in 2022.
If medals were awarded for soldiering on, Federal Way, Washington native Corinne Stoddard might have landed on the podium. The short track speedskater raced eleven times despite breaking her nose in her first event at the Beijing Games.
Stoddard slammed into the padded boards during a 500-meter preliminary heat on the second day of the Winter Olympics. The way she explained it, her skate slipped coming out of a corner and then her knees came up and smashed her face when she skidded into the wall. The 20-year-old went on to race every other individual distance in short track and participated in both relay events with a numbing patch affixed over the bridge of her nose.
"Overall, I’m happy with this Olympics. It went pretty well for me. Getting seventh in the 1,000 was something I didn’t expect at all," Stoddard said about her highest finish, which was in the 1,000-meter race. "It’s my first Olympics and I’m only 20 years old."
For veteran U.S. Ski Team alpine racer Tommy Ford of Bend, Oregon, the punishing injury (knee, head and wrist) happened in a World Cup race 13 months before these Winter Games. Ford's first race after his long rehab and recovery was the giant slalom at the Beijing Games. He finished in 12th place, a milestone for him.
"I’m just happy to be alive and skiing out here," Ford said. "There’s part of me that knows I can win a medal here, but (now) it's a different time and I've learned a lot in this past year."
Fellow U.S. Ski Team member Jacqueline Wiles of Portland also overcame injuries to compete at the 2022 Olympics. Wiles raced in the women's downhill, finishing in what for her was a disappointing 21st place.
"It's been a long four years coming back from a tough injury and facing a mental battle for the past couple years, so I'm proud of myself," she reflected afterwards. "Feels tough at the moment with the result, but I have to remember what I've been through to get here."
Eight-time Olympic medalist Apolo Ohno, a Seattle native, originally expected to work the Beijing Games as a television analyst. But NBC slimmed down its coverage team because of China's strict COVID-19 precautions.
"I would have liked to have been there," the retired speedskater said in an interview Thursday. "Experiencing an Olympic Games even under these conditions is remarkable. It's an incredible feeling."
“My hope is that we can get back down to the fundamentals of celebrating pure athletic achievement and human achievement at the highest levels, which is the Olympic Games,” Ohno added.
Ohno said he was also hopeful a "revamping" of the U.S. national short track speedskating team under its new head coach would bring improved results in coming years.
"We're going through a cycle and a lull in the short track arena that will take time to rebuild, to find new talent, to develop that muscle memory and large scale of training base," Ohno observed.
Here is the complete listing of how the Winter Olympic athletes with strong ties to the Pacific Northwest region fared in Beijing, beginning with the 2022 U.S. Olympic Team members.
Tommy Ford (giant slalom) The Bend, Oregon, native became a three-time Olympian thanks to a coaches' discretion selection to the 2022 Olympic team just weeks before the Opening Ceremony. Ford's 12th place finish under difficult racing conditions validated the coaches' decision to invite the Mount Bachelor racing team alum to Beijing as he completed a return from injury. Ford turned in the second best U.S. performance in the event at this Olympics. The 32-year-old giant slalom specialist also topped his prior Olympic performances: 20th in Pyeongchang and a 26th place at his Olympic debut in Vancouver/Whistler in 2010.
Katie Hensien (slalom) This Washington native finished 26th in the women's slalom in her Olympic debut. Hensien grew up racing at Crystal Mountain Resort and 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) The Portland native finished 21st in the women's downhill on Tuesday. That compares to a 26th place finish in the same event at the Sochi Games in 2014. The now 29-year-old veteran U.S. ski team member was nominated for the Olympic team in 2018 as well, but did not race in Pyeongchang because of an untimely injury. 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 Olympic debut didn't go as well as he hoped though, because he skied out of the slalom course and recorded a "did not finish." The same fate befell 33 others among the 88 racers who started the slalom on a difficult course named "Ice River."
Novie McCabe (10 km Classic and 4 x 5km relay) McCabe was on the U.S. national team developmental roster before her surprise elevation to the Olympic team in late January. The 20-year-old Winthrop, Washington native wasn't ever in medal contention in Beijing, but still made a statement at her first Olympics by hanging tough with cross-country skiing's biggest names. McCabe finished 24th in the classic-style 10 kilometer individual race and helped Team USA to a sixth place finish in the 4 x 5 km relay. Incidentally, McCabe's mother Laura competed in cross-country skiing at the 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics.
Jean-Luc Baker (ice dancing) Washington state-raised figure skater Baker realized a years-long goal by making his debut at the Winter Olympics at age 28. Baker finished 11th in the ice dancing competition with 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 the Seattle suburbs from England when he was a youngster.
Matty Beniers (forward) At age 19, Beniers was 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 at the University of Michigan. Beniers and other college hockey standouts got their shot at Olympic glory after the National Hockey League in January withdrew permission for its players to leave their pro teams and play for their home countries at the Olympics. Beniers' Olympic campaign came up short when the U.S. men were bounced in the quarterfinal round by Slovakia in a shootout.
Short Track Speedskating:
Corinne Stoddard (500m/1000m/1500m/relays) She is 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 was a busy, busy athlete at the Beijing Games. First, she crashed out of the 500-meter sprint. Then she raced in the mixed team relay, followed by four rounds of the 1,000 meters, where Stoddard scored her best finish of the games in seventh place. In addition, she skated in the 3,000-meter relay. The capper was two rounds of the 1,500 meters in which she finished 18th.
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. Lee was added to the five member relay pool, from which four skaters were selected for each round of relay races in Beijing. Lee was always passed over in favor of more senior American teammates during the 3,000-meter relay action at which Team USA finished eighth.
Andrew Blaser This University of Idaho track and field standout gave bobsledding a try after graduating from college in 2012, only later discovering his true talent is in sliding stomach down, face first at 80 miles per hour with his chin just inches from the ice. The now 32-year-old Meridian, Idaho, native was the lone man representing the U.S. in skeleton at the Beijing Games. Blaser, a first time Olympian, finished in 21st place.
Sean FitzSimons (slopestyle) The 21-year-old Hood River Valley High School grad honed his skills as a teen with Mount Bachelor's snowboard team. In his Olympic debut at the 2022 Winter Olympics, FitzSimons placed 12th in the men’s slopestyle competition. There's a decent chance this is not the last time you'll see him ride on the sport's biggest stage since the Oregonian now competes professionally in all three Olympic snowboard events: slopestyle, big air and halfpipe.
Skied for foreign countries:
In addition to the Team USA members, two other athletes raised in the Northwest competed at the 2022 Winter Olympics under the flags of two different tropical countries.
U.S.-based alpine skier Jeffrey Webb, 23, made his second appearance at the Winter Olympics representing Malaysia. He suffered a disappointment in his only race by skiing out of the course and failing to finish the men's slalom. In Pyeongchang in 2018, Webb finished 68th in the same event.
Webb can cherish the memory of being his country's flagbearer during the opening and closing ceremonies. 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.
Portland-born and raised skier Asa Miller represented the Philippines at the Winter Games. The 21-year-old missed a gate on the giant slalom course and did not finish on a foggy, snowy race day. On Wednesday in his second event, he recorded another "did not finish" in the slalom.
Miller polished his racing skills in his youth at Mount Hood. He has dual citizenship in the U.S. and the Philippines because his mother is Filipino. Miller was the Philippines' flagbearer at the opening and closing ceremonies by default because the alpine ski racer was his country's only Winter Olympian this year. The native Oregonian now attends Westminster College in Utah.