Winter sports: Utah an important stop on road to Sochi Olympics
The Winter Olympics might not be returning to Utah at least, not yet Â but the sports that constitute them are returning in a huge way next season.
Nearly a dozen top-level events, including four World Cups and four U.S. Olympic Trials, will grace the state's slopes, chutes and ice sheets next winter, in the buildup to the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. Not since the 2002 Salt Lake Games has the state enjoyed such a spectacular winter-sports lineup, which will provide fans the chance to see many of the elite athletes who will be competing for Olympic gold just a few weeks later.
"I don't really think anywhere else is doing what we are able to do," said Jeff Robbins, the president and chief executive of the Utah Sports Commission, the nonprofit organization that works to promote the state by hosting sports events.
Most notably, the state will play host to U.S. Olympic Trials in short-track, speedskating, Nordic combined, and ski jumping in which reigning world champion Sarah Hendrickson of Park City hopes to become the first female gold medalist in a sport that will be included in the Olympics for the first time.
"I can remember everyone coming to my hometown â¦ for the Olympics in 2002 and embracing the events," she said. "Even though I was only 7 at the time, something about the world coming together to celebrate hard training sparked my interest. I can hardly describe the feeling that 12 years later, I will be competing for a spot on the Olympic team and potentially be able to represent my country in the biggest sporting event possible."
Four World Cup events are scheduled, too in bobsled and skeleton, luge, speedskating and freestyle skiing aerials and moguls along with the national cross country skiing championships, a freeskiing Grand Prix for halfpipe and slopestyle, and the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, an event held for the first time last year that broke the long drought of significant senior-level figure skating events in Utah.
That competition is not a top-tier ISU Grand Prix event, but it is a next-level one sanctioned by the International Skating Union. It will be held Sept. 11-15 at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex.
"We understand, since it is an Olympic year, that many of the best skaters in the world may be attending," said Bob Weston, the president of the Salt Lake Figure Skating Club. "It provides them an opportunity to debut new programs in a less intense environment."
It's not just competitions that are coming to Utah, either.
The U.S. Olympic Committee plans to hold its biennial "media summit" at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, where hundreds of reporters from around the world will gather to interview dozens of American athletes before they begin their final push toward the Olympics.
That will happen from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2, before the competitive season gets into full swing, illustrating just how much the legacy of the Salt Lake Games still lives on.
"I don't think there's any question," said Bill Marolt, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association, based in Park City. " What's happening here in 2014 is really a reflection of what happened here in 2002. â¦ No other city in the world has put their post-Olympic plans into effect like Salt Lake and Park City."
Indeed, top-level winter-sports events have been a mainstay in Utah over the past decade typically, at least a handful occur here every year Â because of both the infrastructure that was built for the 2002 Games and the willingness of various sports organizations, facilities and resorts to work together to stage them.
Robbins also noted the high level of support from a series of governors and other lawmakers, and said his organization and others specifically strategized to make next season a big one for Utah, to assure the world "that Utah is still relevant in the winter sports space."
"The beauty of what we're doing is the collaborative effort," agreed Colin Hilton, the president and chief executive of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation.
But even for a state as accustomed to top-notch winter sports as Utah, next season will be almost as good as it has ever been.
The speedskating and short-track trials will take place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, while the Nordic combined and ski jumping trials expected to be announced officially in the coming days are scheduled for Dec. 27-29 at the Utah Olympic Park at Kimball Junction near Park City.
All of them will be broadcast by NBC, and all will feature the drama of athletes qualifying to compete in Sochi.
Before that, speedskaters will compete in a World Cup event Nov. 15-17, and bobsled and skeleton athletes will contest one Dec. 6-7 at the Olympic Park, which then will play host to a rare luge World Cup the luge circuit has stopped in Utah only in Olympic years from Dec. 13-14.
The U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships will be held again at Soldier Hollow in Midway from Dec. 31 to Jan. 7, while the freestyle World Cup for aerials and moguls will be held as usual at Deer Valley Resort from Jan. 9-11 before a freeskiing Grand Prix for halfpipe and slopestyle takes place at the Park City Mountain Resort on Jan. 17-19.
By then, everybody should be ready for the Sochi Olympics. They start Feb. 7.
Utah's Road to Sochi
Event Date Location
U.S. Int'l Figure Skating Classic Sept. 11-15 SLC Sports Complex
USOC Media Summit Sept. 29-Oct. 2 Waldorf Astoria, Park City
Speedskating World Cup Nov. 15-17 Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
Bobsled & Skeleton World Cup Dec. 6-7 Utah Olympic Park, Park City
Luge World Cup Dec. 13-14 Utah Olympic Park, Park City
Speedskating Olympic Trials Dec. 27-Jan. 1 Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
Nordic Combined & Dec. 28-29 Soldier Hollow, Midway Utah
Ski Jumping Olympic Trials Olympic Park, Park City
Short Track Olympic Trials Jan. 2-5 Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns
U.S. Cross Country Ski Championships Dec. 31-Jan. 7 Soldier Hollow, Midway
Freestyle Skiing World Cup Jan. 9-11 Deer Valley Resort
Aerials & Moguls
Freeskiing Grand Prix Jan. 17-19 Park City Mountain Resort
Halfpipe & Slopestyle