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(KRASNAYA POLYANA, RUSSIA - JANUARY 14: Noelle Pikus-Pace celebrates with her daughter Lacee, 6, after winning the silver medal in the women's skeleton competition at Sanki Sliding Center during the 2014 Sochi Olympics Friday February 14, 2014. Pikus-Pace finished with a time of 3:53.86. (Photo by Chris Detrick/The Salt Lake Tribune) )
Olympics: 2018 Winter Games hopefuls get taste of Sochi
Olympics » Mentors give Olympic hopefuls an on-site feel for what’s to come
First Published Feb 22 2014 09:28 am • Last Updated Feb 22 2014 09:48 pm

Sochi, Russia • Noelle Pikus-Pace slightly regrets something about her first Olympic experience. She enjoyed it too much.

So in the process of becoming a silver medalist in skeleton in the 2014 Games, the Eagle Mountain resident tried to distance herself from the aura of the Olympics and focus on her sport. That’s some of the advice she shared with Gracie Clapp-Taylor, a 2018 Olympic hopeful who joined her for a week in Sochi as part of a program created by the U.S. Olympic Committee and corporate sponsor TD Ameritrade.

At a glance

USOC mentoring program

2018 U.S. Olympics hopefuls and their mentors, paired in a program that enabled them to experience the 2014 Games:

Sport Hopeful Residence Mentor Residence

Short-track Aaron Tran, 17 Seattle J.R. Celski Salt Lake City

Snowboarding Gabe Ferguson, 24 Bend, Ore. Louie Vito Sandy

Skeleton Grace Clapp-Taylor, 21 Jacksonville, Fla. Noelle Pikus-Pace Eagle Mountain

Biathlon Jakob Ellingson, 19 Minnetonka, Minn. Tim Burke Lake Placid, N.Y.

Paralympic skiing Katrina Schaber, 16 Carlsbad, Calif. Danelle Umstead Park City

Paralympic hockey Chris Douglas, 23 Saint Cloud, Fla. Ryan Callahan New York

Freestyle skiing Nik Seeman, 16 Winter Park, Colo. Patrick Deneen Cle Elum, Wash.

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"There’s so much energy at the Olympics," said Pikus-Pike, recalling her feelings in Vancouver in 2010, when she finished fourth. "I was so excited to be in the Olympics, and that was good enough for me. … This time, I had to limit those emotions."

If she qualifies for the Games in PyeongChang, Korea, in 2018, Clapp-Taylor already will have experienced the Olympics from the inside, although not as a contestant. She’ll enjoy the advantage of having witnessed Pikus-Pace’s preparation and success in Russia and can continue to learn from her.

That’s the premise of the program, with the company sponsoring four Utahns who are acting as mentors: Pikus-Pace, short-track speedskater J.R. Celski, snowboarder Louie Vito and Paralympic skier Danelle Umstead. Vito didn’t qualify for the Olympics, and Umstead’s competition is next month, so they weren’t in Sochi for the hopefuls’ visit. But the program is designed for the athletes to continue these relationships beyond 2014, leading into the next Games.

"Noelle is absolutely amazing and is someone I look up to in all aspects of life," Clapp-Taylor, 21, wrote in an e-mail. "Her positivity, determination and kind spirit inspire me not only in skeleton, but in everything I do."

The company worked with the USOC and the governing bodies of various sports to select the seven hopefuls, who spent eight days in Sochi. They witnessed an Olympic event each day, visited the USA House and attended medal ceremonies.

TD Ameritrade also established a fund of up to $25,000 for each hopeful’s training expenses, with incremental support added in response to social media mentions from Olympic fans.

Celski, Pikus-Pace, Vito and Umstead, who is visually impaired and earned two bronze medals in the 2010 Paralympics, were filmed delivering surprise invitations to the hopefuls. Paralympic skiing hopeful Katrina Schaber is paired with Umstead (who skis with her husband, Rob, as a guide) and Paralympic sled hockey hopeful Chris Douglas works with Olympic hockey player Ryan Callahan, a forward for the NHL’s New York Rangers.

Commercials and videos chronicling the Olympians’ development in their sports also were created with a regressing timeline — with the footage shown in reverse. The stories return to their childhoods, with a theme of "Behind every big moment, there are lots of small ones."

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