MINNESOTA’S OLYMPIC HOPEFULS
Over the next year, many athletes with Minnesota connections will be trying to make the U.S. Olympic team. Here are some of the leading candidates:
CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING: 2014 Olympian Jessie Diggins (Afton) has been the top American woman in World Cup competition this season. One of the most successful cross-country skiers in U.S. history, she is fifth in the overall standings, with two gold medals and one silver. Diggins and 2010 Olympian Caitlin Gregg (Minneapolis), both of whom have medaled at the world championships, will compete in the 2017 worlds later this month. Kyle Bratrud (Eden Prairie), who won his first U.S. championship last month, also is on the world championships team. Others who could be in the mix include 2014 Olympian Brian Gregg (Minneapolis), two-time world junior championships competitor Ian Torchia (Rochester) and Ben Saxton (Lakeville), a former U.S. development team member.
Three-time Olympian Lindsey Vonn (Burnsville) has overcome a string of injuries in recent seasons. She missed the 2014 Olympics because of a knee injury and has competed in only six races this season after a November surgery to repair a broken bone and nerve damage in her right arm. She has one downhill victory this season, giving her 77 for her career, and plans to compete in the world championships. Slalom specialist Michael Ankeny (Deephaven) also is on the world championships team and has one top-25 finish on the World Cup circuit this season.
WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Several players with Minnesota connections helped the U.S. win gold at its most recent international tournament, the Four Nations Cup last November. That roster included former Gophers forward Hannah Brandt (Vadnais Heights) and defensemen Anne Schleper (St. Cloud) and Megan Bozek; current Gophers defenseman Lee Stecklein (Roseville); goalie Shelby Amsley-Benzie (Warroad), who played at North Dakota; former Bemidji State forward Stephanie Anderson (North St. Paul); and two players who spent one season with the Gophers: forward Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and defenseman Monique Lamoureux-Morando. Former Gophers and 2014 Olympians Gigi Marvin (Warroad) and Amanda Kessel also are top contenders.
MEN’S HOCKEY: The NHL has not decided whether it will participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics. If it does not, the U.S. team likely would include college players and Americans playing pro hockey in Europe. The league has been part of every Winter Games since 1998, but the International Olympic Committee no longer will pay transportation and insurance costs, and the NHL is hesitant to halt play for two weeks during the Olympics. USA Hockey expects the NHL to decide by the end of this month.
USA Curling’s high performance program is loaded with Minnesota-connected athletes. The women’s HPP teams include Tabitha Peterson and Tara Peterson (Eagan), Alex Carlson and Monica Walker (St. Paul), Aileen Geving and Cory Christensen (Duluth) and Jamie Sinclair (Blaine). The men’s teams include five Olympians — John Shuster, John Landsteiner, Joe Polo and Chris Plys (Duluth) and Jason Smith (Minneapolis), as well as Tyler George (Duluth).
BIATHLON: 2014 Olympian Leif Nordgren (Marine on St. Croix) is competing in the world championships, making his sixth appearance at the event. He ranked 57th in the World Cup standings last season, and he was part of a U.S. relay team that finished sixth in a World Cup event last month. Vasek Cervenka (Grand Rapids) and Amanda Kautzer (Plymouth) are members of the national development team; they will compete at the upcoming youth and junior world championships, along with Cameron Christiansen (Pequot Lakes) and Siena Ellingson (Minnetonka).
Alex Johnson (Minnetonka) finished sixth in the men’s competition at last month’s U.S. championships. A member of the U.S. B team, he is third alternate for the Four Continents Championships later this month at the 2018 Olympic venue, Gangneung Ice Arena.
SPEEDSKATING: Kyle Ronchak (Arden Hills) and Steven Hartman (Falcon Heights) are on the U.S. national training program’s allround roster.
FREESTYLE SKIING: Elle Gaudette (Maple Grove), bronze medalist in aerials at the 2015 junior world championships, has two top-six results on the Nor-Am Cup circuit this season and was 10th at the national championships in January.
2014 Olympian Keri Herman (Bloomington), a member of the U.S. pro slopestyle team, was ninth in a World Cup event last February at the Olympic venue in Bokwang. She placed 12th in her most recent World Cup competition earlier this month. Willie Borm (Chaska), part of the U.S. rookie slopestyle team, injured a knee after a sixth-place at the Mammoth U.S. Grand Prix in January 2016 and recently returned to competition.