Olympics: Utah's Westminster College influential in Sochi
Sochi, Russia • As a teenager, Faye Gulini never pictured herself in a college classroom. She happily pursued a professional snowboarding career, made the U.S. Olympic team and figured her high school education would be good enough.
"I didn't want to go to college," Gulini said.
Now, at 21, she's thriving in a partnership between Westminster College and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association that enables the 3,100-student school in east Salt Lake City to claim the biggest collegiate representation in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Gulini barely missed contributing to Westminster's medal count, finishing fourth in the women's snowboardcross event. With two golds, a silver and a bronze, counting the winning performance of former student Kaitlyn Farrington, the school would rank in the top 20 as its own country. Alex Deibold joined the list Tuesday with his surprising bronze medal in men's snowboardcross.
Westminster lists 23 enrollees, with varying levels of involvement, among the 230 American athletes in Russia. Schools such as Wisconsin and Minnesota have sent several former varsity athletes to the Games, mainly in men's and women's hockey. Skeleton silver medalist Noelle Pikus-Pace competed in track and field for Utah Valley University.
Westminster is not producing Olympians, just accommodating them.
The partnership, recently renewed with the USSA, has provided tuition grants to more than 100 skiers and snowboarders since 2005. USSA athletes from "A" to "D" teams are eligible. The program helps the USSA emphasize "the value of combining education and athletics," CEO Bill Marolt said. Westminster faculty and administrators believe the school benefits from having the athletes on campus.
"They bring such a rich, diverse experience to the classroom," said Safia Keller, Westminster's director of corporate relations. "They have experienced things that most of us can only dream of: international travel, winning on the world stage [and] losing."
Westminster considers the program a form of community support, helping athletes who "spend all their money on travel and coaching to pursue their sport," Keller said.
Marketing benefits also come into play. The school's logo appears among the "consumer product partners" on the USSA website, and Westminster has received widespread media attention for its Olympic presence. Students Joss Christensen (gold), Devin Logan (silver) and Deibold (bronze) have won medals. Farrington, who briefly attended Westminster as a traditional student, earned a gold medal. Gulini, Travis Ganong and Eliza Outtrim have placed in the top six.
Park City ski jumper Jessica Jerome, who finished 10th, is the most advanced student among the Olympians, as a junior majoring in economics. "I love that when I do decide to quit skiing, I'm not going to have to start from nothing," Jerome, 27, said in a school news release.
Most of the Olympians are listed as freshmen; cross country skier Torin Koos is seeking a master's degree. Completing undergraduate studies would take six to eight years, considering the athletes' competition schedules. Their enrollment is intermittent, but the athletes succeed academically with a collective 3.65 grade-point average, the school said.
Gulini, who grew up in Salt Lake City and attended a high school in Vail, Colo., with a specialized program for winter athletes, is a Westminster sophomore.
She tries to attend full time in the fall and do some work in the summer.
"I love that school," she said after her snowboardcross event Sunday. "It's great for me, because of the small classrooms. It's very interactive, and that's how I need to learn. â¦ I always kind of doubted myself, but the teachers are helpful."
In a similar partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee, the for-profit DeVry University lists 15 Olympians enrolled in online courses, The New York Times reported. Among them is 2014 bobsled bronze medalist Steven Holcomb, whose educational background places him on multiple lists. He's one of eight Olympians with ties to the University of Utah, according to businessinsider.com, which also cited Wisconsin (10), Dartmouth (nine) and Minnesota (eight).
Holcomb also is a graduate of The Winter Sports School of Park City, a secondary school that claims three other medalists in these Games: Christensen and skiers Julia Mancuso and Andrew Weibrecht.
Westminster Olympic medalists
Student medal event
Joss Christensen gold slopestyle
Devin Logan silver slopestyle
Alex Deibold bronze snowboardcross
Athlete • Sport
Maddie Bowman • Freeskiing
Joss Christensen • Freeskiing
Alex Deibold • Snowboard
Jessie Diggins • Nordic
Bryan Fletcher • Nordic combined
Taylor Fletcher • Nordic combined
Julia Ford • Alpine skiing
Travis Ganong • Alpine skiing
Jared Goldberg • Alpine skiing
Faye Gulini • Snowboarding
Jacqueline Hernandez • Snowboarding
Lindsey Jacobellis • Snowboarding
Jessika Jenson • Snowboarding
Jessica Jerome • Ski jumping
Torin Koos • Nordic
Devin Logan • Freeskiing
Megan McJames • Alpine skiing
Heather McPhie • Freestyle skiing
Eliza Outtrim • Freestyle skiing
Brita Sigourney • Freeskiing
Leanne Smith • Alpine skiing
Marco Sullivan • Alpine skiing
Jacqueline Wiles • Alpine skiing
Note: Brett Camerota, a 2010 silver medalist in Nordic combined, is a Westminster senior.