Pyeongchang, South Korea • They painted shooting stars on their faces, wore gold spandex pants as a good omen, drank Pabst Blue Ribbon beer because, well, it fit the theme of the night, and downed cupcakes with red, white and blue sprinkles on top.
Inside a living room a block east of the Westminster College campus in Salt Lake City, they huddled on the floor, knees tucked in tight, tuned in to the TV that was live-streaming the event on the other side of the world through a laptop. Festive streamers hung from the ceiling and two American flags hung on opposite sides of the room as they watched their friend and classmate drop her skis onto rails, twist off and eventually hit jumps that solidified her Olympic intro.
Darian Stevens had a chain of luck formed in her honor during her first run in women’s ski slopestyle event last week. Inside their Sugar House home, her friends sat, holding hands, sending all the vibes to the Westminster student. Some wore scarves, others makeshift necklaces with the Stars and Stripes.
One of Salt Lake City’s most eclectic neighborhoods gets Olympic fever every four years for several reasons, but the most obvious explanation is it has a ton of Olympians as residents. The U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association’s partnership with Westminster has allowed America’s top talents on the slopes to double as students and medal contenders between Olympic cycles.
Sugar House is an easy place to settle into, a quaint area of the city replete with comfy mom-and-pop coffee shops, local watering holes like Sugar House Pub and a bevy of diverse restaurants. It has made life as a student-athlete more comfortable, a cozy home base near world-class resorts and training facilities.
“The athletes who are there, they’re like a normal student, but they’re also an Olympian,” said Julie Glusker, head of athlete career and education for U.S. Ski & Snowboard. “The likelihood you sit down to coffee or work on a project with someone is pretty high because they only have like 2,100 undergrads.”
Maddie Bowman won gold in women’s ski halfpipe in Sochi four years ago. When she has the time, she pops off her skis for a few months every year and goes to class. Every U.S. Olympian who attends Westminster does so on campus, so they’re hauling around books and stressing over midterm exams just like everyone else when enrolled.
“If they’re taking classes,” Glusker said, “they have to be there.”
Bowman, originally from South Lake Tahoe, is a junior biology major. And like so many athletes who live in Sugar House and attend Westminster, she has grown to appreciate life out of the limelight, away from the cameras and media hits.
“It makes me a real person,” she said.
Devin Logan won silver in the women’s ski slopestyle event in Sochi and competed in both ski halfpipe and slopestyle in Pyeongchang, a rarity among winter Olympians. She grew up in a small town in Vermont, where she had a graduating high school class of about 70 students. Logan, like Bowman, said she admires campus life.
“I prefer the smaller schools because I don’t get lost,” she joked. “I’m not a city girl, either.”
Westminster has had 33 U.S. Ski & Snowboard alums graduate from the small private liberal arts school. There are 52 student-athletes attending at the moment, and the school has had more than 140 student-athletes enrolled. At the 2014 Games in Sochi, there were 23 student-athletes, and four brought home Olympic medals. There was a celebration in their honor when they returned to campus.
They came with their medals, had a small parade and the jazz band saluted them in song.
“Every four years the campus gets really excited about the Games because we have our athletes,” said Krista DeAngelis, director of media relations for Westminster.
Westminster has 18 athlete representatives at these Olympic Games.
Among them was Morgan Schild, who competed in women’s moguls. The 20-year-old from Rochester, N.Y., blew out her knee in 2015 in a training run and was sidelined, off the snow, out of ski boots, for more than a year. She moved to Salt Lake City, enrolled in school and was able to get two full semesters done during that time off.
“I thought that it was cool to get my chance at a normal life because I went from online high school to college,” Schild said. “I never thought I’d get a chance to be a normal student and hang out with people my age. I thought I’d be 25 and starting my freshman year. That was a nice little slice of normality.”
Stevens suffered a torn ACL around the same time that year. When on campus, Schild said there was a group of U.S. student-athletes who all recently had suffered a season-ending knee injury. They gave themselves a nickname; the lunch-time crew with crutches was known as “The Crip Squad.”
Schild took a class with her idol, American moguls legend Hannah Kearney, a two-time Olympic medalist who won 54 World Cup mogul medals in her career and at one point won 14 consecutive World Cup competitions — basically two straight World Cup seasons. She knew Kearney. The country rooted for Kearney for three Olympic Games and saw her deliver gold in 2010.
In the classroom, though, no one knew. Schild used to tease Kearney and whisper in class, “I know your secrets.”
Sugar House might have the most Olympic athletes per capita in the country outside the United States Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. Park City, where several Olympians live and train full-time, is a serious contender, too. It just depends what time of year it is. If it’s spring and summer, you bet you could jog right by an Olympic medalist at Sugar House Park or eye the same piece of produce in the grocery store.
“It’s a balance,” Bowman said about life at home, on campus and competing for medals on the slopes, “but I appreciate it.”
2018 TEAM USA MEMBERS FROM WESTMINSTER COLLEGE
Maddie Bowman (freestyle) • junior, biology
Bryce Bennett (Alpine) • first-year, undeclared
Ryan Cochran-Siegle (Alpine) • sophomore, physics
Alex Ferreira (freestyle) • sophomore, finance
Bryan Fletcher (Nordic) • junior, health education
Taylor Fletcher (Nordic) • sophomore, marketing
Jared Goldberg (Alpine) • sophomore, undeclared
Faye Guilini (snowboard) • junior, accounting
Devin Logan (freeskiing) • sophomore, communication
Wiley Maple (Alpine) • sophomore, history and psychology
Megan McJames (Alpine) • junior, finance
Madison Olsen (freestyle) • sophomore, business
Abby Ringquist (ski jump) • junior, art
Morgan Schild (freestyle) • first-year, undeclared
Liz Stephen (cross-country) • first-year, undeclared
Brita Sigourney (freestyle) • junior, business
Darian Stevens (freestyle) • first-year, business
Jacqueline Wiles (Alpine) • first-year, undeclared