For more coverage of the 2010 Winter Games, click here.
VANCOUVER — The “biggest sports show in the world,” as Anchorage skier James Southam puts it, is about to begin.
And the News-Miner will be there for the first time to tell the stories.
Given the proximity of the 21st Winter Olympics to Alaska, we began looking into the process and applied for a media credential more than six months ago. Once the press pass was obtained, there remained, among other challenges, the tricky situation of finances. The high cost of covering an Olympics was keeping many journalists home, including all other Alaskan newspapers.
And no wonder: Originally, the U.S. Olympic Committee said it had media lodging in Whistler, where the majority of outdoor sports are being held, for $340 per night.
However, the editor of the most popular Nordic skiing Web site in the U.S. came through with reasonably priced accommodations. Then the News-Miner worked to raise funds through advertising for a special Olympics section, and many others there had a hand in making the trip possible.
I’m the lucky one, and get to attend my third Olympics, but the first one as a newspaper reporter. Previously, I was a spectator at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona and a television researcher at the 1994 Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway.
For the next 18 days, we’ll share plenty of stories about Alaska’s seven Olympians.
There are three cross-country skiers from Anchorage: Kikkan Randall, who has the top American female Nordic results at the Winter Games (ninth in the 2006 sprint) and World Championships (silver in 2009) — and carries hopes for continued success in Whistler; Southam, a new father who is performing in his second, and almost certainly his last Olympics, and is targeting the grueling 50-kilometer event on the final day; and Holly Brooks, a ski coach originally from Seattle who emerged from relative obscurity a year ago and landed the final women’s spot.
“It all happened really fast, and it’s totally atypical,” Brooks said recently about making the team. “I’m still a little surprised that it worked.”
To no one’s surprise, biathletes Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof) and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, though he now calls Heber City, Utah, home) are back. This is Hakkinen’s fourth Olympics and Teela’s third, and they want to be part of a history-making U.S. biathlon team.
“As a group, we’ve never won a medal at the Olympics, so it’s a driving force to be the first at something. It’s exciting,” Teela said last week.
Along with standout teammate Tim Burke, they have the capability. Hakkinen is remembered in part for an infamous meltdown during the 10-kilometer sprint in 2006 after his shooting went awry, but he also placed 10th in the 20K race and was possibly just one successful rifle shot shy of the podium. Teela, meanwhile, put it all together on the same Whistler courses a year ago and won bronze in a World Cup event.
Alaska’s most likely candidate for a medal, however, is women’s hockey player Kerry Weiland of Palmer. She was heartbroken to not make the 2006 team. Instead she attended as a spectator in Turin, Italy, and watched the Americans get upset by Sweden and finish third. Weiland, who grew up on a hay farm in the Mat-Su Valley, persevered for four more years and now has a dream of clashing with the host nation to be the world’s best.
“To play Canada for a gold medal in the Olympics, for an American hockey player, for a women’s hockey player, there’s nothing more that you could ask for,” Weiland said, noting that several wins would be necessary to set up that showdown.
The youngest, and most unique, Alaskan at the Games is snowboardcross racer Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, an Alaskan Native who will turn 21 on Valentine’s Day.
Growing up in Aleknagik north of Dillingham, Chythlook-Sifsof learned to snowboard from her older brother, though she had to hike up the nearby mountains. At age 12, she moved with her mother to Girdwood and rode a chairlift for the first time. By 16, she was invited to be on the U.S. Snowboard Team and a year later won a bronze medal in her first World Cup race in Japan.
She is a Yupik/Inupiaq Eskimo and is believed to be the first Native Alaskan to make the Olympics.
“This is the greatest honor of my life, and I’m so proud to be representing my culture,” Chythlook-Sifsof said.
While there are no athletes from Fairbanks competing, there is a local presence. We’ll tell readers how a Fairbanks curler and former Olympic hopeful landed a gig as a statistician at the curling tournament, which is expected to be among the hottest tickets at the games.
There also will be articles about three athletes who made previous Olympics while living in Fairbanks, along with a speedskater and skier who tried for Vancouver but came up short.
And there’s a luger whose brother lives in Fairbanks and who is considering moving there. Let’s not forget about a group of Fairbanks spectators who are getting to the Olympics in a most unusual way: They’re motoring a 54-foot boat up from Washington state, will dock it in Vancouver and then consider it their hotel.
Whatever other stories emerge — whether they involve Alaskans or people from around the globe — remains to be discovered.
The great show kicks off with the Opening Ceremonies on Friday — and this reporter plans to be there.