6 Wisconsinites to Watch at the Winter Olympics – Including One from Eau Claire
The Winter Olympics will be half a world away in South Korea, but that doesn’t mean Wisconsin won’t be represented when the torch is lit on February 9. Athletes form the Badger State will be competing on behalf of the red, white, and blue in at least six sports at the XXIII Winter Olympiad. Here they are:
1. NORDIC COMBINED
Eau Claire native Ben Loomis will fly – and race – for the gold in the Nordic Combined event as part of Team USA next month. Although he’s just 19, Loomis is a veteran of international competition: He’s taken part in the Junior World Championships four times, the World Championships last year, and the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway, where he won a silver medal. He earned his spot on this year’s Olympic team because of his strong showings in the U.S. Olympic trials in December and the World Cup in France this month. “I am very honored,” Loomis told the Leader-Telegram. “I’ve been watching the results of my teammates, and I knew I had a good chance. But it’s setting in slowly.” As you might guess, Nordic Combined encompasses two Nordic sports, ski jumping and cross country skiing. First competitors jump, then they take part in a ski race in which their starting time is based on the distance of their jump. Ben and his brother, Adam – who is also a member of Team USA – moved to Park City, Utah, a few years ago for better training opportunities, but they’re still making their hometown proud. According to Leader-Telegram sportswriter and local ski jumping historian Ron Buckli, Loomis is only the fifth Eau Claire skier to compete in the Olympics, and the first since 1984.
2. WOMEN’S HOCKEY
The U.S. women’s ice hockey team heading to PyeongChang, South Korea, is full of Badger State talent. In fact, four of them played for the University of Wisconsin: goaltender Alex Rigsby and forwards Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, and Brianna Decker. A fifth, forward Amanda Kessel, grew up in Madison but attended the University of Minnesota. Several of these women were on the silver medal-winning teams in 2014 and 2010, to they’re sure to be eyeing the gold in South Korea.
3. MEN’S HOCKEY
The men’s hockey squad has plenty of Wisconsin ties, too, starting at the top: Team USA is coached by Tony Granato, who also happens to coach the Badger men and is a Wisconsin alum himself. Assistant coach Chris Chelios and general manager Jim Johannson also skated for the Badgers, while team member Bobby Butler plays professionally for the Milwaukee Admirals.
The Upper Midwest is the center of the bullseye for curling in the United States, and that’s clear from this year’s Olympic roster: Every member of Team USA is from Wisconsin or Minnesota. The squad includes siblings Becca and Matt Hamilton (who will compete with the women’s and men’s teams, respectively, as well as in the mixed doubles tournament) and Nina Roth. All are from the Madison suburb of McFarland.
5. SPEED SKATING
Wisconsin has a long history of speed skating excellence (including Olympic legends such as Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen, and Bonnie Blair) and is home to the U.S. Olympic training site, the Pettit Center in West Allis. It’s no surprise there are two Wisconsinites on the 2018 edition of Team USA, namely two-time Olympian Mitchell Whitmore of Waukesha and Emery Lehman, a Marquette University junior and 2014 Olympian.
Even among all the speedy and slippery events of the Winter Olympics, the skeleton stands out for its daredevilry: Competitors ride face down and head-first on an icy track at speeds up to 90 mph. (Don’t try this at home, kids!) Matt Antoine – a native of Prairie du Chien – won a bronze medal in the sport at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and he’s aiming for the medal stand again in PyeongChang.