About 240 of Team USA’s finest athletes will compete this month on snow and ice at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Here are some to watch:
Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureax, hockey twins
Whether on the soccer field or the ice hockey rink, the Lamoureux twins have played side by side—always supporting and challenging each other while chasing their Olympic dreams.
“Growing up, it was always about going to the Olympics together,” Monique says. “It was not ‘I’ or ‘me.’ It was always ‘we.’”
Adds Jocelyne: “If one of us hadn’t made the team, it would have been hard. We’re a team within a team.”
This month, the 24-year-old twins will fulfill their goal and play for the U.S. women’s hockey team for their second consecutive Winter Olympics. This time, however, they aim to take home gold to add to silver medals they earned in 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Our ultimate goal is to win gold; anything less is a dream unfulfilled,” Monique says.
Equally driven, Jocelyne finds motivation in a photograph taped inside her locker and showing her expression of settling for silver after losing 2-0 to Canada in the gold-medal match. “I look pretty ticked off,” Jocelyne says. “I never want to feel that way again.”
Born into an athletic family in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the girls learned to skate on a pond across the street from their home. They developed grit and determination on the ice with their four older brothers, all of whom went on to play elite-level hockey. “Our brothers wouldn’t let us play with them unless we could keep up,” Monique says. “We learned to work really hard because we didn’t want to be left on the sidelines.”
Playing collegiate hockey for Minnesota and then North Dakota, they put up astounding numbers and represented Team USA in international competition. Now among 12 returning players from the 2010 Olympic team, the Lamoureux women dream of a gold-medal rematch with Canada and definitely feel the pressure.
“It’s not a disabling pressure, though,” Jocelyne says. “We thrive on those big games.”
Seth Wescott, the boss of snowboardcross
The only man to win the snowboardcross Olympic gold medal since the event debuted in 2006, Wescott is the most decorated athlete in the history of the sport. And he hopes to “three-peat” in Sochi.
“Weather is going to play a huge factor,” says Wescott, 37, of Sugarloaf, Maine. “The course in Sochi is good, but it’s the furthest south the Winter Olympics have ever been hosted. My fingers are crossed for a good hard track.”
Similar to motocross racing, snowboardcross pits snowboarders against each other, the clock and the mountain as they race down a course.
“It’s really just the fastest to the bottom wins,” explains Wescott, who started skiing at age 8 but switched to snowboarding two years later.
Because winter sports means so much to Wescott, he is a spokesman for WinterKids, a nonprofit organization that encourages children in Maine to develop lifelong healthy wintertime habits.
“When you live in the North, you see patterns of obesity, with kids cooped up inside for six months of the year. It doesn’t give them much of a fighting chance,” says Wescott, who speaks to school groups. “I really believe in getting kids outside and on the slopes.”
Ashley Wagner, figure skater
Competing in her first Olympics, Wagner says her failure to make the 2010 team was a motivator for becoming a two-time national champion heading into Sochi.
“It was devastating at the time, but that failure made me step back and reassess where I was in skating,” says Wagner, 22, of Alexandria, Virginia, who learned to adapt as a youngster while moving seven times with her military family.
Training in Aliso Viejo, California, Wagner has focused on developing “the complete package,” including a solid triple-triple jump combination. “The judges aren’t looking for a skater who’s super technical or super artistic. They want somebody who’s both,” she says.
Her role model is American figure skater Michelle Kwan, a two-time Olympic medalist and five-time world champion. “Every time she stepped out on the ice, she demanded attention,” Wagner says. “She’s also one of the most gracious, down to earth and level-headed athletes I’ve ever met—a true role model both on the ice and off.”
Katie Uhlaender, skelton warrior
Wearing her late father’s pennant championship ring as a pendant on her necklace, Uhlaender takes the memory of baseball’s Ted Uhlaender with her wherever she goes, especially while flying headfirst atop a cookie sheet-size sled at 90 mph.
“This ring reminds me that there’s a lot of work that goes into being at the top of your game, and you can never give up,” says Uhlaender, 29, of Breckenridge, Colorado, making her third Olympic team in the skeleton event.
Uhlaender’s Olympic journey has been fraught with challenges. After finishing sixth in 2006, she set her sights on 2010 but found herself emotionally tapped after her father died of cancer in 2009. Six weeks later, she shattered her kneecap and then injured her knee again soon after. By the time she got off crutches and rehabilitated for competition, she could manage only an 11th-place finish in Vancouver.
“There were just too many distractions,” she explains, pointing especially to the death of her dad, a former Major League Baseball outfielder and coach. “My father had been my foundation. He was basically my sports psychologist, my disciplinarian, my mentor, my adviser and my confidant. When I lost him, I literally had to re-learn how to live.”
That’s why the 2014 Winter Olympics means so much to her. “This is my comeback story. It’s about redemption,” says Uhlaender, who’s battled back from more than a half-dozen surgeries. “It’s my time to show my father that I learned what he wanted me to learn—about attitude, hard work, and perseverance. I am a warrior with a purpose.”
Andy Newell, cross-country skier
When cross-country skiing sprinter Andy Newell went to the 2010 Olympics, he had trained in America’s top programs and was in the best shape of his life. Then he took a corner too fast and crashed in Vancouver.
“It was a low point,” recalls Newell, 30, of Shaftsbury, Vermont. “I realized that you can train as much as possible and be in top physical form and things still won’t necessarily go your way in the Olympics. So I decided that, given all those unknowns, I should just make sure that I enjoyed my next four years of training leading up to Sochi.”
Newell returned to Vermont where his family and friends live, and he traded the elite Olympic conditioning facilities of Park City, Utah, to sprint up mountains in his home state. Along the way, he’s recorded the best U.S. men’s results since the era of his childhood hero Bill Koch, another Vermonter who won a silver Olympic medal in 1976.
“It’s been a long time since the U.S. has been in Olympic medal contention but these are exciting times,” says Newell, who hopes U.S. audiences will come to appreciate cross-country skiing as European fans do. “Some people see our sport as boring, but it’s really fast-paced and exciting as skiers race in tight quarters and then charge to the finish line to get their toe across first.”