Olympics: 'Team Utah' already has sights set on Pyeongchang
Sochi, Russia • Fourteen athletes who live in Utah have won medals at the Sochi Olympics during the past two weeks, which would rank the state ninth on the medal table if it were a country.
And guess what?
Most of them aren't finished.
Almost all of the Utah residents who stood on the podium including all five of the gold medalists Â have indicated they plan to continue competing with an eye toward the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea. Only one, Eagle Mountain's Noelle Pikus-Pace, is definitively retired after taking silver in the skeleton, though of course we've heard that from her before.
"I definitely want to be back in four years," ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson isn't even one of the medalists, either.
But the Park City native was among the highest-profile Utahns here, as the reigning world champion in a sport making its Olympic debut. She came nowhere near the podium because of the lingering effects of reconstructive knee surgery barely six months ago, but the 19-year-old could be a fully healthy gold-medal contender in South Korea.
Same with the highest-profile local medalists here, Ted Ligety and Steven Holcomb.
Ligety became the first American man to win two Olympic medals in Alpine skiing when he won the giant slalom, cementing his standing as the greatest skier of his generation in that event.
Holcomb snapped a 62-year American medal drought in two-man bobsled, and has a chance Sunday to defend his four-man gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Games in Canada. That would make him the only American to win more than one medal here.
"I'm still only 29 years old," Ligety said. "I definitely plan on skiing through Korea and maybe after that for a little while. Who knows exactly how much longer I'm going to ski? But definitely through Korea," where he won his first World Cup race in 2006.
Holcomb said he'd evaluate his future after the conclusion of the four-man race, but has said previously that he expected to compete at least until 2018, when he will be 37 years old.
That almost hardly matters in bobsled, where some of the most accomplished drivers competed well into their 30s. Four-time champion Andre Lange, of Germany, won gold in Vancouver at age 36, for example, while Russia's Alexander Zubkov leads the four-man race at age 39 after winning two-man gold.
"Honestly, I really love what I do," Holcomb said. "I don't want to get a real job, so I may stick around a few more years. I'm not sure."
For many of the others, like gold medalists Sage Kotsenburg and Joss Christensen, of Park City, age is not an issue.
The 20-year-old Kotsenburg won the first gold of the Games in snowboard slopestyle, while Christensen, 22, won ski slopestyle Â both were new events in Sochi Â a few days later. Neither was among the headline favorites, but both now figure to steam towards Korea with a much higher profile and expectations, along with Maddie Bowman, the 20-year-old two-time Winter X Games champion who lives in Salt Lake City and won gold in halfpipe skiing, another new event that helped boost the American medal haul.
Kotsenburg might have even changed the direction of his sport, winning with unique style a competition that had been expected to be decided by the biggest mid-air tricks.
"I would love" to defend the title in South Korea, he said.
Same with Salt Lake City's Kaitlyn Farrington, who stunned the last three Olympic champions to win the halfpipe snowboarding, after entering the competition hoping merely to reach the final. Among the former champions she defeated was Australia's Torah Bright, who also lives in Salt Lake City and claimed the silver medal.
"I think I will go for another four years," Farrington said.
Farrington is among the athletes who moved to Utah in recent years to train, with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association based in Park City and U.S. Speedskating headquartered at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns. Athletes there have access to some of the best winter-sports training locations and facilities in the world, many built for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
That combination meant that nearly 70 athletes who live at least part-time in Utah competed in Sochi, with some of the medalists even hoping to expand on their triumphs in Pyeongchang.
Freeskier Devin Logan, for example, who lives in Park City and won silver in slopestyle, hopes to also compete in the halfpipe in Pyeongchang, something she couldn't quite accomplish in Sochi.
Meanwhile, snowboardcross bronze medalist Alex Deibold was imagining a day when he might have to face much greater expectations than he did here, entering the competition known mostly for spending the Vancouver Games as a wax technician for his teammates.
"It's been kind of nice not to have that spotlight and that pressure," the part-time Park City resident told USA Today. "You look at Shaun White, and I'm sure people are gonna pick him apart and tear him limb from limb because he didn't win. That pressure is pretty unbelievable. Hopefully I'll have to learn how to deal with it at some point."
Utah medalists in Sochi
Athlete Residence Event Medal
Eddy Alvarez West Jordan Short-track relay Silver
Torah Bright Salt Lake City Snowboard halfpipe Silver
Maddie Bowman Salt Lake City Ski halfpipe Gold
J.R. Celski Salt Lake City Short-track relay Silver
Joss Christensen Park City Ski slopestyle Gold
Chris Creveling Midvale Short-track relay Silver
Alex Deibold Park City Snowboardcross Bronze
Kaitlyn Farrington Salt Lake City Snowboard halfpipe Gold
Steven Holcomb Park City Two-man bobsled Bronze
Sage Kotsenburg Park City Snowboard slopestyle Gold
Ted Ligety Park City Giant slalom Gold
Devin Logan Park City Ski slopestyle Silver
Jordan Malone West Jordan Short-track relay Silver
Noelle Pikus-Pace Eagle Mountain Skeleton Silver