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Women to Watch at Sochi


Art Credit: Shannon Lee Miller

The Sochi 2014 Olympics are upon us! I am always touched by the personal stories of perseverance and determination that are highlighted as we watch the athletes compete—in most cases the road to get there was anything but smooth.

As a competitive athlete, I know that the typical day in the life of an olympic athlete consists of multiple workouts and recovery sessions, lots of eating, sleeping, and refueling of the body, and the challenge of managing personal life and school or work tasks to ensure everything lines up for optimal performance. Even drinking enough water throughout the day is a job in itself!

Needless to say, the Olympian dream doesn’t come without sacrifice. But for the athletes it is worth it because they are passionate about their goal, and keeping their sights on that helps them stay motivated and make the sacrifices necessary.

Here are just a few of the fantastic ladies on the U.S. Olympic team to keep your eye on this week.

One of the exciting stories of this Olympics is that of Jessica Jerome and her fellow female athletes who worked tirelessly for ten years to see the sport of ski jumping become available to women. Jerome is a busy college student who has been jumping since the second grade, but, until this Olympic games, she and other women were not allowed to compete in the sport.

But that didn’t keep her from training hard in ski jumping for years, holding out hope that one day she’d be allowed to compete.

The controversy around ski jumping being opened to women in the Olympics was due to the lack of support from the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Federation. At first, the story went that the sport was offered for men and not women because not enough women were interested in competing. Over time, it appeared that in fact greater concern was over the sport being dangerous and unhealthy for women due to the major impact athletes experience when they are training their jumps. They push off at the top of the jump, travel around 60 mph down the jump and fly about 10 feet in the air before landing, meaning the impact of hitting the ground is intense to say the least. In fact Jerome suffered a debilitating knee injury in the recent past.

It appears the consensus for a while was that women were too delicate to compete in the sport. Ultimately the voiced health concern against female ski jumping was, believe it or not, that the impact of landing these jumps could be damaging to female reproductive organs, but these claims weren’t substantiated. Speaking as a female athlete who daily swings around very heavy kettlebells, this is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard!

So brava to these powerful ladies for persistence in their efforts. Plan to watch or DVR Jessica Jerome at the women’s ski jumping final event on Tuesday 2/11 at 3:30 am EST.

Then there’s Noelle Pikus-Pace who will be competing in skeleton racing, a sliding sport in which individual competitors travel head-first down a bobsled track at over 80 mph on aerodynamic sleds that bring their chins and toes mere inches from the ice. In 2005 Pikus-Pace broke her leg after being hit by a runaway bobsled, but she has continued to compete after surgery which included a titanium rod being inserted into her leg. A 31-year-old mother of two, Pikus-Pace then retired from skeleton racing after placing fourth in the 2010 Olympics. Now, for the Sochi Olympics, she has come out of retirement to compete on a sled designed by her husband. Tune in to watch Noelle compete in this exciting and somewhat terrifying sport on Friday 2/14 at 10:40 am EST.

Lanny Barnes, a biathlete and three-time Olympian, was sick at the time of the U.S. qualifications for the 2014 Olympics and finished just behind her twin sister Tracy. In an incredible display of sisterly love, Tracy relinquished her spot on the team so that Lanny could compete at Sochi. This sport, which has its origins in exercise for Norwegian soldiers involves athletes cross-country skiing with a nearly eight-pound rifle strapped to their backs. Traveling a course with multiple stops for rifle-shooting, athletes of this sport require speed, endurance, and the ability to use fine motor skills to shoot with accuracy at an elevated heart rate. Tune in Friday 2/14 at 9:00 am EST as Lanny competes in the women’s individual biathlon.

Viewers won’t want miss the focused and determined Erika Brown competing on the US curling team. Brown has been curling since the age of 7 and, in 1988, was the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team in the Calgary Olympics at age 15. Now 40 years old, she is is poised to lead the U.S. women to victory. Curling, often called “chess on ice” requires tremendous strategy; players strategically slide stones across a sheet of ice into rated placement with the goal of accumulating the highest score. Much skill is required both to make choices about placement and to control the trajectory of the stones on the slippery surface. In addition, the four athletes on each team must communicate and work together to decide and modify strategies—making it a fascinating to witness teamwork! A much-loved sport for TV viewers, curling is available to watch daily through the Sochi games before the final event on Thursday 2/20 at 8:30 am EST.

I also highly recommend keeping an eye out for Lindsey Jacobellis to show up with a vengeance in the women's Snowboard Cross event. Jacobellis won silver in the Torino Olympics in 2006, but she has won gold in the X Games more times than any other female competitor.

Snowboard Cross, which is much the same concept as Motocross racing, requires the athletes to race against each other for time as well as to navigate a challenging terrain. It is a very exciting event to watch as the athletes are jumping, doing impressive stunts, all while racing to the finish line. After a frustrating disqualification in the 2010 Olympics, as well as a torn-ACL injury, she has fully recovered and is back to win gold. We can expect her to be a major player at the Snowboard Cross Semifinals on Sunday 2/16 at 4:30 am EST.