Sean Doherty (R) shoots at the men's 7.5-kilometer sprint race during the Winter Youth Olympic Games at Seefeld Arena on Jan. 15, 2012 in Seefeld, Austria.
Arielle Gold got her first taste of the Olympic movement two years ago in Innsbruck, Austria, when she was just 15 years old and a freshman in high school.
At the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games, Gold reached the podium in two snowboarding events, winning silver medals in halfpipe and slopestyle. If that wasn’t memorable enough, there was also the uniqueness of the event itself.
“The Youth Olympic Games was an amazing experience for me,” Gold told TeamUSA.org by email from the Winter X Games this past weekend in Aspen, Colo. “I met so many amazing people and had the opportunity to check out tons of other winter sports that I knew nothing about. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity.”
|(L-R) Arielle Gold (silver), Audrey McManiman of Canada (gold) and Alexandra Fitch of Australia (bronze) after the women's slopestyle at the Winter Youth Olympic Games on Jan. 19, 2012 in Kuhtai, Austria.
Now Gold and four other U.S. athletes who medaled at the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games are preparing for even bigger stage: the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Others from the Youth Olympic Games include Tucker West and Summer Britcher in luge, Sean Doherty in biathlon and Aaron Blunck in freeskiing.
For the U.S. athletes, the 2012 Winter Youth Olympic Games was an event that jump-started their leap toward the Olympic Winter Games.
“Competing in the Youth Olympics was a career-changing event,” West said. “Although it wasn’t the Olympics, it was still a great honor to be able to compete under the Olympic flame. This was the first time that I was able to hang with athletes from other sports who were competing at the same caliber that I was. The Youth Olympics in a way gave me an extra drive to work harder toward my goal of competing in the Olympic Games. They gave me a tiny taste of what the Olympics could be like, and from the moment I got there I knew I wanted more.”
In Sochi, some of the same athletes who watched each other compete in Innsbruck two years ago are likely to compete against each other again and renew friendships.
“I think that it’ll be really awesome to have the chance to see people who I met at the Youth Olympics and share the experience with them,” said Gold, will join her older brother Taylor on the snowboarding halfpipe team. “I’m also excited to meet new people and learn even more about the other winter sports at the Games.”
“I’m extremely excited to see some of my other fellow Youth Olympians in Sochi,” West said. “I’ve followed many of their careers and have been cheering them on the whole time so now it will be cool to meet back up with them again.”
These Youth Olympic Games graduates might also be competing for medals.
Since winning a pair of silver medals at the Youth Olympic Games, Gold has become an emerging force internationally. She won the halfpipe title at the FIS World Junior Championships in 2012 and won another gold in halfpipe at the 2013 FIS World Championships. She also won two bronze medals at the X Games in 2013 and finished fourth in the 2014 Winter X Games that just wrapped up in Aspen.
|Summer Britcher competes during the women's singles luge on Jan. 16, 2012 in Seefeld, Austria.
West, 18, who won a gold medal in the team relay at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games, tied 2010 Olympianand 2014 Olympic nominee Chris Mazdzer for the U.S. championship in 2012 and was a silver medalist in 2013. His world cup finishes included winning a silver medal in the team relay in Winterberg, Germany.
Joining him as an Olympic nominee for the luge team is Britcher, a 19-year-old who won the 2013 U.S. junior championship and placed eighth in women’s singles at the world cup event in Igls, Austria, in November 2013. She placed fifth at the Youth Olympic Games and won gold in the team relay.
Blunck, 17, began his path toward Sochi by winning a bronze medal in halfpipe freeskiing at the Youth Olympic Games. The discipline is making its Olympic debut in Sochi. Blunck secured his U.S. Olympic Team berth by placing second behind David Wise in the Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix on Jan. 18 in Park City, Utah. A series of impressive finishes, including third at the North Face Park and Pipe Open Series, boosted Blunck from 29th to fifth place in the AFP World Rankings. He was on skis at 18 months in his hometown of Crested Butte, Colo., where his grandfather opened a ski school years ago.
Doherty, 18, secured an Olympic nomination in his first year on the US Biathlon National Team. At the 2013 IBU Youth/Junior World Championships, Doherty became the first in US Biathlon history to win three medals at a world championship. He won two silver medals and one gold medal. Doherty won a bronze medal with the mixed relay team at the 2012 Youth Olympic Games.
For all of these U.S. Youth Olympians, walking into the Opening Ceremony at the Sochi Winter Games might be a bit intimidating. Or at least educational. But because all have medaled at other international events, the groundwork has been set.
“It has been huge to be part of international contests such as the Youth Olympics. I think that it has helped me prepare for what the Olympics will be like,” Gold said. “I love traveling out of the states. It’s amazing to see what other countries are like and how the people in them live differently than those that live in the states.”
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.