Idaho’s strong connection to the Winter Olympics will continue this month in Korea with nine athletes with ties to our state competing for Team USA.
That group includes two snowboarders and a skier who were raised in Idaho, two cross country skiers who were born in the state but moved away as teenagers and four athletes who found their way here as adults — including former sprinters at Boise State and Idaho who will race together in the four-man bobsled.
The top medal hopeful is women’s hockey star Hilary Knight, whose family has settled in Sun Valley. She already has two silver medals.
And Idaho has two up-and-comers in snowboarder Chase Josey and skier Breezy Johnson who will try to follow in the footsteps of Kaitlyn Farrington, the previously unheralded snowboarder from Bellevue who won gold in the women’s halfpipe four years ago in Russia. Farrington retired in 2015 because of a degenerative spine condition but will be involved in this Olympics as part of NBC’s broadcast team.
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Here’s your Idaho cheering guide for the Olympics, where the first competition begins Wednesday night Mountain time. There is a 16-hour time difference between Boise and PyeongChang.
Chase Josey, men’s snowboard
Josey, 22, was born and raised in Hailey — not far from Farrington. They’re friends who not only grew up on the slopes of Sun Valley Resort but have followed quite similar paths to the Olympics.
Four years ago, Farrington was a late qualifier to the Olympic team. This time, it was Josey who used a victory in the last Grand Prix event before the Olympic team was selected to secure the only discretionary spot on the men’s halfpipe team. Coaches had told him he needed a podium finish, and ideally a first or second, to make the team.
“Once I won, I knew nothing was going to take that (spot) away from me,” Josey said. “… I was trying to be as focused and determined as I could to land a run that could do that. It paid off. I was so excited and ecstatic in that moment.”
Josey started as a skier at Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain but switched to snowboarding at about 5 years old when his dad was learning the sport. He joined Sun Valley’s snowboard team when he was 9 or 10, tried all the different events and gravitated toward halfpipe — the event where snowboarders string together aerial tricks that include flips and spins.
“I had a passion for that,” he said.
He remembers watching the halfpipe on TV as far back as the 2002 Olympics and more recently dreaming of reaching that level.
“I look at it as the most elite stage snowboarding can go to,” he said. “… It’s pretty crazy that it’s kind of a reality now.”
He’s known for his highly technical run that includes some tricks that other competitors don’t do — assets that could set him apart in Olympic judging. He finished third in the 2016 X Games Oslo and fourth in the 2018 X Games Aspen.
“I do think I have a podium-level run,” he said.
Men’s halfpipe runs Monday and Tuesday.
Caitlin and Scott Patterson, cross country skiing
The Patterson siblings developed their love of the outdoors in McCall but grew into elite cross country skiers when the family moved to Anchorage to accommodate their father’s Forest Service career.
“You hear so many stories of little kids who are 3 years old dreaming of an Olympic gold medal,” Scott said. “I don’t think we’re those kids. It was a way to get outdoors.”
Caitlin was in ninth grade and Scott was in seventh when they moved. Both skied in college for Vermont.
“In Anchorage, it’s a huge (cross country skiing) community,” Scott said. “We have trails all throughout the city. There’s a couple really strong programs with clubs. We just jumped right in with the Alaska Winter Stars with (coach) Jan Buron, a Polish guy. For both of us, he had a huge influence on where we are now.”
Caitlin, 28, won four national championships last month in Anchorage. Scott, 26, won one, too. Many elite skiers skipped the event, but those were still big wins for the Pattersons.
Their careers are still on the upswing — they aren’t medal contenders in Korea, they admit — and they could be factors in the 2022 Olympics as well.
“It’s such an endurance sport and there’s so much technique and skill built in, the muscle memory, that a lot of the best skiers are in their late 20s to early 30s,” Caitlin said.
They are uncertain which events they’ll compete in but are hoping to ski two to four each. They were both in Austria when they got word of their U.S. team qualification.
Caitlin jokes that she’s glad they’re not of the same gender, which would require them to compete directly for roster spots and starts. The U.S. has a pair of brothers on the men’s team.
“It’s really exciting to be able to share an experience like this with someone we’re so close with,” Caitlin said.
Said Scott: “Being there for each other will be incredible.”
Caitlin, who has a degree in civil engineering, stayed in Vermont after college and skis for a team there. Scott, a mechanical engineering graduate, returned to Anchorage. He works part time as a consultant and races for the U.S. ski team largely on the World Cup circuit.
Cross country events run nearly every day of the Olympics, beginning Friday.
Breezy Johnson, women’s alpine skiing
Johnson, a 22-year-old from Victor, made a huge push for a start in the women’s downhill at World Cup events last weekend. She previously was named to the 22-member U.S. ski team for the Olympics but countries are limited to four starting spots per event — leaving some question to whether Johnson will get to compete.
She stated her case loudly with fourth- and eighth-place finishes on the World Cup circuit Saturday and Sunday. She significantly boosted her ranking to 14th in the world — fourth in the U.S. Both races were won by U.S. superstar Lindsey Vonn but Johnson beat the rest of the Americans.
“My skiing is as good as it has ever been,” Johnson said via email, before her breakout weekend. “Things have been up and down until this point but I have been figuring things out along the way. I think that I could definitely vie for a medal if things come together in Korea but I just have to keep working and see where things shake out. My teammates are also really fast so I am definitely nervous about them, in some ways more nervous about how fast they will be in Korea than the rest of the world. It could easily end up that someone with medal potential won’t be able to compete from our team in Korea. But for now I just have to keep doing my thing and let go of what other people do because I can’t control them.”
Final decisions on starting spots will be made based on training runs in Korea. Johnson also races in the super G but is sixth among Americans (40th overall) in that discipline.
“I have no guaranteed spot, so I just have to keep skiing fast,” she said.
Johnson, a budding star in women’s skiing, is the only Olympic rookie on the U.S. women’s ski team. She has drawn raves over the past couple of years for her fearless, aggressive skiing style — a natural fit for the downhill.
She said she “did a little dance” when she got the phone call telling her she made the Olympic team.
“I am super proud of this moment, and it does validate all of the work I’ve put in for almost a decade now,” she said. “It’s also been really funny to hear from some of my friends from high school who are like, ‘We totally knew you would make the Olympics,’ so that makes me proud and it also reminds me of all of the troubles I’ve had along the journey and how even though they felt confident, there were so many ways that this could have not come to pass.”
The women’s downhill is Feb. 20.
Jessika Jenson, women’s snowboard
Jenson, a 26-year-old from Rigby, qualified for her second Olympics as a discretionary pick for the women’s snowboard team. She’ll compete in women’s slopestyle and big air. She finished 13th in women’s slopestyle in 2014.
Women’s slopestyle begins Saturday. Big air begins Feb. 18.
Nick Cunningham and Sam Michener, men’s bobsled
Cunningham, a 32-year-old former Boise State track captain, will compete in his third Olympics and second as a driver. He’s scheduled to compete in the two-man and four-man events, where he has two 12th-place finishes and two 13th-place finishes previously.
Michener, a 30-year-old former Idaho sprinter, makes his Olympic debut. He’s a push athlete on Cunningham’s four-man sled.
Competition begins Feb. 17. The medal heats are Feb. 18 and 24.
Hilary Knight, women’s hockey
Knight, a 28-year-old forward, will try to win her first gold medal in her third Olympics. Team USA, which has won gold at seven World Championships with Knight on the roster, took silver behind Canada in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics.
The Americans squandered a 2-0 lead in the final in 2014 and led 2-1 with a minute left before losing in overtime.
“We came so close last time; we beat ourselves. I think that was the most frustrating thing is when you have a lead and to give it up,” Knight told USA Today, which profiled her as one of 10 Olympians to watch in 2018. “The most crucial parts of the game, to kind of have it fall through your fingertips, but to also have the opportunity four years later to potentially right the wrong so to speak with a new group of women on the world stage, it’s so exciting. I can’t wait.”
Knight, who was born in California and raised in Illinois, lists Sun Valley as her hometown. Her parents settled there nine years ago after many years of vacationing in Idaho’s winter sports haven.
The U.S. women open play Sunday vs. Finland. They play Canada at 8:10 p.m. MT on Feb. 14. The gold-medal game is at 9:10 p.m. MT on Feb. 21.
Simi Hamilton, men’s cross country skiing
Hamilton, 30, is a former member of the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation team who now resides in Colorado. This will be his third Olympics. He finished fifth in the team sprint classic in 2014.
Ben Ferguson, men’s snowboard
He was born in Boise but grew up in Bend, Ore. His dad, Branden, was an All-Idaho football player and state wrestling champion at Centennial High and walk-on fullback for the Boise State football team. Ferguson is in the men’s halfpipe.