PARK CITY, Utah -- She went chasing after Ted Ligety.
Smiling the whole way, she was determined to marry the Olympic champion skier someday.
OK, so this cute Team USA hat-wearing girl with a crush was perched on her daddy's shoulders, and was about 25 years younger than the alpine ski-racing legend.
Saturday afternoon in Park City, Utah, was, after all, a time to recognize big dreams.
|Sage Kotsenburg rides in the Olympic parade at the 2014 Park
City Olympian Homecoming celebration.
The mountain city, located about a half an hour away from Salt Lake City, celebrated its great impact on the recent Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, with a quaint parade along downtown’s Main Street. Park City — an 11 square-mile area with a population of slightly less than 8,000 — honored 18 Olympians and two Paralympians.
“I gave up a powder day to be here,” quipped Park City mayor Jack Thomas as an unexpected snowstorm April 5 hit the area shortly after the quarter-mile parade started at the top of the hill and worked its way down to a little shopping village where fans could gather with their heroes. “And I couldn't be prouder to be here.”
Since the Winter Games, the Team USA athletes have been all over the world for media tours and appearances, and some even were in Washington, D.C., last week touring the White House and meeting President Barack Obama, but this celebration really hit home.
Ligety, who walked with a group of ski-racing children rather than ride in a vehicle to wave during the parade, noted how the nearby ski hills “were like a babysitter to me growing up here.”
|Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and Sarah Hendrickson before the
Olympic parade in Park City, Utah.
Park City, as its own country, would have finished in the top-10 on the medals list. Of the 28 U.S. medals earned in Sochi, 14 came from this area.
Following the parade, speakers continued to emphasize the value of the community (playing off the axiom that it takes a village to raise a child; or in this case, they claimed, a champion).
The Park City Ski Team, Youth Sports Alliance and the Utah Olympic Park (among other local entities, such as the year-round Winter Sports School) have helped to foster an environment where Utah-raised children — or those that perhaps desire to move to the area for grooming — can set their sights on the highest goals in their sports.
Sage Kostenburg, who won the first Olympic gold medal of the Winter Games in Sochi in slopestyle snowboarding, remembered watching when Salt Lake played host to the Winter Games in 2002. Watching those Olympic Winter Games helped him make the decision to one day seek Olympic gold.
“I remember just wanting to go to the Olympics so bad,” Kotsenburg told the crowd. “Just to represent where I was from.”
|Sage Kotsenburg shares his medal with some younger fans at
the 2014 Park City Olympian Homecoming celebration.
Youth Sports Alliance executive director Aimee Preston told reporters that the parade had been dreamt up for quite awhile, especially as Park City's impact — full of kids who had grown up there — continued to bolster the U.S. medal count in particular.
“For us, when the Olympics were coming up, we knew right away we had several athletes from this community that were going to be competing,” she said. “We ended up with a list of 64 athletes. At that point, we knew we wanted to be celebrating that when they got home.”
She added that 18 athletes came from the YSA program. The “next generation” had many athletes walking the parade route with the star athletes from these recent Winter Games. Many sported green signs proclaiming which athlete they wanted to eventually beat, or become.
Ligety, Olympic champion slopestyle skier Joss Christensen and Kotsenburg headlined the parade.
Steven Holcomb, who earned two bronze medals in bobsled in Sochi, also participated, as did luge and dance sensation Kate Hansen (she attends college at nearby Brigham Young University).
“It's just amazing what this area has meant to the Olympics,” Hansen said.