As the world readies for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, 14 athletes are preparing to make the trip to the world’s most visible competitive stage with someone they’ve known a lifetime: their sibling.
Seven sets of siblings will be competing at the event, which breaks the U.S. Winter Games record of six, set in 1964. The 2012 Olympic Games in London hosted eight sets of siblings; however, the contingent was more than twice the size of the team that will be participating in Russia.
Get to know the siblings competing in Sochi:
Sadie Bjornsen and Erik Bjornsen (cross-country skiing)
|Sadie and Erik Bjornsen|
Sadie and Erik Bjornsen are fairly new competitors on the cross-country skiing scene. With just two full seasons on the U.S. Ski Team, Sadie has overcome back and foot injuries to win three U.S. titles and finish in the top 10 in a world cup sprint race. In 2011, she was named All-American at Alaska Pacific University as a freshman and helped her 4x5-kilometer team finish a historic fourth at world championships.
Erik, who has also only been on the competitive scene since 2011, had an impressive 2013 season. With top-10 and top-15 finishes at the world championships and three podium finishes at the U.S. championships — including a win in the 15-kilometer freestyle competition — Erik has proven he’s a serious contender in the upcoming Winter Games. Like his sister, he earned All-American honors as a freshman at Alaska Pacific University.
The Bjornsen siblings grew up in a competitive and athletic family that Sadie says helped them develop an athletic lifestyle complete with many different types of races and competitions.
When she’s not training, Sadie enjoys spending time in the mountains on skis, on foot, on a bike or in climbing gear. Erik says he enjoys his time away from training exploring Alaska.
“It’s a beautiful place that is very peaceful,” he said. “All my problems and worries seem to go away when I’m miles away from civilization, throwing a hook out into a stream packed with salmon.”
The Bjornsens are the first siblings to make the same Olympic team in cross-country skiing and are looking forward to their trip to Sochi.
“As a sibling you always have a little more of an open connection,” Sadie recently told Voice of America News. “It’s easy to get feedback from a sibling and not be threatened. Erik has been awesome for that because he has encouragement when I need it and also a reminder when I need it.”
Erika Brown and Craig Brown (curling)
|Craig and Erika Brown|
Siblings Erika and Craig are members of what has been dubbed the “First Family of Curling.” Their father Steve, a U.S. Curling Hall of Fame and Madison (Wis.) Sports Hall of Fame inductee, is a three-time U.S. men’s curling champion, two-time mixed national champion (with Erika and Craig’s mom, Diane), and a two-time Olympic coach who will be in Sochi coaching the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Curling Team.
Between the four family members, they have won 26 national curling championships.
Erika is appearing in her third Olympic Winter Games. She first competed as a 15-year-old at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, when curling was a demonstration sport. Ten years later, Brown was on the U.S. squad that finished fifth in Nagano, Japan.
“Twenty-five years later is a bit hard to swallow,” Brown recently told the Associated Press. “I can barely believe I have been alive that long.”
A mother of two and a physician, Erika is married to three-time world curling champion Ian Tetley. Craig, who is also married and has a son, runs the family’s curling supply store, which is currently the number one supplier of curling equipment in the United States.
“This sport is something that our entire family participates in and keeps us united,” Erika said. “We have gotten to travel the world together and share some of our sweetest moments with one another.”
Erika is a seven-time U.S. curling champion and has competed at the World Curling Championships seven times, winning silver in 1999. On four occasions, she has been named USA Curling’s Female Athlete of the Year, and she has been a member of the USA Curling Team of the Year three times.
This will be the first appearance for Craig (who has been named as the fifth) at an Olympic Winter Games; however, he has an impressive competitive history as well. He has competed at the U.S. championships a total of 17 times, taking home gold in 2000 and 2008.
“I can only imagine how sweet it is going to be marching in the opening ceremonies with my brother by my side,” Erika said in an email. “To have him there supporting my team with coaching input, his dry sense of humor and unconditional love will be awesome.”
Bryan Fletcher and Taylor Fletcher (Nordic combined)
|Bryan and Taylor Fletcher
Participating in a sport that requires ski jumping and cross-country skiing on the same day might seem a bit extreme to most people, but for U.S. Nordic combined teammates and brothers Bryan and Taylor Fletcher, it’s what they’ve spent the majority of their lives doing. The pair, who grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colo., hit the slopes at an early age. Bryan began skiing at age 3, Taylor at age 4.
However, before his fourth birthday, Bryan, a highly energetic and enthusiastic child, had become lethargic and had frequent headaches. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and began four long years of chemotherapy.
Wanting to keep Bryan’s life as normal and active as possible, the Fletcher parents enrolled the boys in the learn-to-jump program at Howelsen Hill, Colorado’s oldest continuously operated ski area. Open since 1915, it has been the training ground for more than 79 Olympians, 15 members of the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and six members of the National Ski Hall of Fame.
Flash forward 13 years later to 2010, which found Bryan living and training in Park City, Utah. An injury kept Bryan from making the U.S. Olympic Team, a spot that instead went to his brother, Taylor.
Bryan is now the premier jumper on the U.S. team, while Taylor is one of the team’s top cross-country skiers. The brothers shared the podium at the 2013 world championships in Val di Fiemme, Italy, where they helped the United States earn a bronze medal in the team event.
Their 2014 season has seen Bryan grab nine top-10 finishes on the world cup circuit, with Taylor claiming three top-10 spots.
While the brothers are each other’s biggest fans and supporters, they experience the same challenges as most other siblings.
“Like any siblings, they’re at each other’s throats,” U.S. coach Dave Jarrett said. “But when someone gets at their throat, they have each other’s back.”
Arielle Gold and Taylor Gold (snowboarding)
|Taylor and Arielle Gold|
Arielle and Taylor Gold, siblings from Steamboat Springs, Colo., are setting the snowboarding world on fire.
At 17, Arielle is the younger of the two and the youngest member of the women’s halfpipe team. She began skiing when she was 3 but switched to snowboarding at age 7 when her brother convinced her it was more fun.
Her second-place finish at the grand prix event in Copper Mountain, Colo., qualified her for her first Olympic appearance. A 2013 FIS world champion and 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games silver medalist in halfpipe and slopestyle, Arielle is being touted as the future of women’s halfpipe.
Taylor began competing in 2007, participating in both slopestyle skiing and halfpipe events. In 2011, he took first place at the U.S. Revolution Tour event in Mt. Hood, Ore., and has not slowed down since. After being sidelined for most of the 2012 season with injuries, his 2013 season saw two podium appearances in the first two halfpipe qualifiers at Mammoth, and he became the first American to mathematically qualify for a spot on the Olympic Team.
Taylor says that competing alongside his sister is a motivating factor for him at events.
“I think Arielle helps me to strive for the highest level of riding I can achieve,” he said in an email. “When I see her compete well, it makes me want to go bigger and put down the best run possible.”
“We’re both motivated by very similar goals, and we can work together to accomplish those goals without having to worry about competing head to head,” Taylor continued. “I want her to be the best pipe rider in the world, and I think she wants the same for me. Since we aren’t competing against each other, we both have the opportunity to see that dream come true.”
The siblings say they are looking forward to the Olympic Winter Games but expect that the experience will be enhanced because they are able to undertake it together.
“I’m so excited that we get to go on this journey together,” Taylor said. “I hope it is the best experience yet for both of us and that we can both ride our best. I think going together will make this rare opportunity even more special.”
Added Arielle, “I know firsthand how much work he’s put into getting here, and I hope he knows the same for me, so it’s great to see the hard work paying off. I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better outcome.”
Amanda Kessel and Phil Kessel (ice hockey)
|Phil and Amanda Kessel|
Amanda and Phil Kessel’s family is no stranger to the inside of a hockey rink. While their father, Phil Kessel Sr., found his niche in professional football (he played for the Washington Redskins), members of their family can be found throughout the sport of hockey. Their cousin David Moss plays for the Phoenix Coyotes. Their younger brother, Blake Kessel, plays for the ECHL’s Orlando Solar Bears.
In 2006, Phil was a first-round draft pick by the Boston Bruins. He was traded to Toronto in 2009 and is one of the NHL’s top scorers. A 2010 Olympian, he was on the U.S. team that took home the silver medal from the Winter Games in Vancouver. Phil was the first NHL rookie to be honored with the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
Amanda, who is taking a year off from the Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s ice hockey team, was the top scorer in the NCAA last season with 101 points in 37 games and helped lead the Gophers to an undefeated season and consecutive national championship. She capped off the season by winning the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA women’s hockey. Amanda is one of five members of Team USA to have won the women’s hockey Heisman.
The siblings thrive on competition, and Amanda said she can attribute her success as a competitor to the fact that she was always treated like one of the boys by brothers Phil and Blake.
“I think we’re almost too competitive,” said of her two brothers in a nationalpost.com interview in 2012. “Sometimes we’d get banned from playing games against each other.”
The Olympic Winter Games in Sochi will be the first appearance in an Olympic Winter Games for Amanda. She credits growing up with two brothers for making her the tough competitor she is today.
“I think it’s huge growing up with boys,” Amanda said in the same interview. “Yeah, I don’t think they took it lightly at all with everything we did. But they’re very protective of me when we’re playing with other people. If it’s just us, they were pretty rough.”
Monique Lamoureux and Jocelyne Lamoureux (ice hockey)
|Monique and Jocelyne Lamoureux
Twin sisters Monique Lamoureux and Jocelyne Lamoureux are ice hockey forwards and participating in their second Olympic Winter Games.
The sisters, who grew up with four hockey-playing brothers, started their ice hockey careers together on a Peewee boys’ team in 2001, which competed in the North Dakota state hockey championship. In their teens, they accepted a scholarship to college preparatory boarding school Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minn., where the sisters led the school to three state girls’ hockey titles.
They started their college careers at Minnesota but transferred to North Dakota after strong freshman seasons. Together the twins helped North Dakota become one of the top teams in the country until their eligibility ran out after last season.
The twins have had plenty of success with Team USA, too. They have three world championship medals: two gold (2011, 2013) and one silver (2012). They also were part of the U.S. team that won a silver medal at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
When they found out they had been selected to represent the United States at a second Winter Games, Jocelyne was quick to give acknowledgement to the significance of attending the Games with her sister.
On Twitter, she posted as @JocelyneUSA17: “Another special bonus is representing #teamusa with my sis @moniquelam7.”
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (figure skating)
|Alex and Maia Shibutani
The brother-and-sister ice dancing team of Maia and Alex Shibutani began their careers as singles skaters. It wasn’t long, though, before they realized that they were destined to be a team.
In 2005, at age 9 and 12, respectively, Maia and Alex began skating together. That same season, the siblings won silver the U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships in the juvenile division. The following year, they won the intermediate title. The novice title followed, along with their first junior grand prix assignments. In 2009, the team won the world junior championships and, in 2010, the junior national title. They graduated to the senior-level competitive circuit with ease, taking home bronze medals from both of their senior grand prix events as well as bronze at their first senior world championships.
They won silver at both the 2011 and 2012 U.S. championships, bronze in 2013 and, with their bronze medal-finish at the 2014 event, earned a berth to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
The University of Michigan students also find time for fun and are very active in social media. Both have Twitter, Instagram and Facebook pages, as well as their own YouTube channel called “ShibSibs,” where they post videos from their travels and video blog from figure skating competitions.
The Shibutanis say that sharing the Olympic experience is a gift for which they are both grateful.
“We really count on each other,” Alex said. “Being able to go through this unique experience will just strengthen our bond.”
The team also believes that having a sibling as a training partner has other benefits.
While they “can get on each other’s nerves and push each other’s buttons, just like any siblings do,” says Alex, “We’re also both so motivated that one of us is always there to help push the other one. If one of us is having a tough day, the other one is always there to help you through.”
They are headed to Sochi with training-mates and 2010 Olympic ice dancing silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
“It’s such an honor to be chosen to represent our country at the Games,” Maia said. “We’re worked for 10 years, and it’s always been our dream. We’re just so incredibly happy to have this opportunity. And to be able to experience this with my brother makes it even better.”