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Olympian Utes and Their Experiences

Closing Ceremony - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 16 Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images

With 14 total National Championships, the Utah Ski Team has a record of dominance akin to that of Alabama Football. The Ski Team’s recent success including 3 National Championships in the past 4 seasons is enough to make even Nick Saban jealous.

Given this level of dominance at the collegiate level, it is no surprise that the program produces an abundance of Olympic athletes. Seven current University of Utah student-athletes made the journey to Beijing to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics. I was able to catch up with a handful of them to learn more about their experience at the Olympics.

A Utah Tradition

Director of Skiing Fredrik Landstedt spoke of how impressive it was for these athletes to make the Olympics at this age, “That’s a big achievement because in skiing especially, athletes don’t peak until their late 20s, early 30s. So, for these college-age athletes to even make it to these Olympics is a very big deal for them and it’s usually their first chance to go on the big stage and compete... I think it speaks volumes for our program”.

The student-athletes also spoke about how the Utah Ski Team helped them prepare for the Olympics. “I think being around such high-level athletes with the Utah Ski Team has helped push me to be a better athlete”, Senior Katie Vesterstein (Estonia) said, “I started as a walk-on and definitely over the past four years have improved throughout. The resources available have been able to create a better athlete for me given our strength and rehab centers as well as our access to so many different hills that are within 30 minutes of campus”.

ALPINE SKIING-OLY-2022-BEIJING
Argentina’s Tomas Birkner de Miguel competes in the first run of the men’s slalom
Photo by JEFF PACHOUD/AFP via Getty Images

Senior Tomas Birkner (Argentina) echoed, “Being surrounded by so many good skiers and together with the facilities and good coaches is such a big help in getting better”.

The Olympic Village

“The scale of the event was pretty shocking”, said Junior Luke Jager (USA), “When you’re there and you realize that they have built cities pretty much for this and the insane amount of people and infrastructure going into this, it was pretty crazy”. Luke also said that for him, “the best part was the people aspect. The opportunities we had to meet people from other countries and the feeling that we’re all doing this kind of crazy thing together makes it easier to talk to people that you otherwise might not talk to”.

Cross-Country Skiing - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 9
Luke Jager of Team USA competes during the Men’s Cross-Country Skiing 4x10km Relay
Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

Katie Vesterstein added “we had the opportunity to meet a lot of athletes whether that was at the dining hall or walking around or being at the gym or the game center. That was really nice to get to know a bunch of people who are also competing at such a high level from all over the world”.

Katie Vesterstein competes in the Slalom
Utah Athletics

Katie went on to share an experience of meeting Petra Vlhová, the Slovak skier she watched growing up, “For me as a little girl, growing up and seeing some of these skiers, like Petra, and actually being able to go up and talk to them more on a personal level was really cool for me. It wasn’t like, “Oh my god, there’s Petra!”, watching from the stands as a little girl. Now I’m sitting next to her in a dining hall eating and seeing this whole other side of an athlete and realizing that I’m there as well. It was just really cool to see that they’re super high-level athletes, but also you have so much in common outside of the sport. Even sitting and watching tv with some of them was really cool and just talking about life was something I felt was really unique about the whole experience there”.

Takeaways

The pressure of representing not only themselves but an entire country was felt differently among the athletes. Sophomore Novie McCabe (USA) said “The Olympics felt like a fairly low-pressure situation because this was our first Olympics. There were some athletes there who were under extreme pressure but for us, it was more of a ‘getting experience’ type of thing, but I still learned a ton from it and I’m excited to hopefully use that in the future”.

Cross-Country Skiing - Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Day 8
Novie McCabe of Team USA competes during the Women’s Cross-Country 4x5km Relay
Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images

Luke Jager shared Novie’s feelings about the pressure being a little lighter on them as newcomers and added, “being in that environment and surrounded by the best skiers in the world, there are a lot of little habits and things you pick up on and when you’re competing at a level when very small margins make a big difference in your result, you learn the process of what you need to do to get the most out of yourself and be the most prepared every single time. I’m really excited to dial that in and use the warmups and all the different mental techniques that I’ve been focusing on and bring that down to the college level”.

For Tomas Birkner, despite not performing how he would have liked, his Olympic experience was an overwhelmingly positive one, “I feel like it was unbelievable and really nice. Especially since putting so much work into a sport and so many years of trying and going through ups and downs and finally getting there and living your dream. It’s super rewarding and I really liked that feeling and enjoyed every moment of it. Even though my performance wasn’t as I expected, I’m still really happy that I lived that experience and I am super grateful.

Results

Luke Jager (JR) - USA

  • Freestyle Sprints: 25th
  • USA men’s 4x10km relay: 9th

Novie McCabe (SO) - USA

  • 10km Classic: 24th
  • USA women’s 4x5km relay: 6th

Tomas Birkner (SR) - Argentina

  • Giant Slalom: DNF
  • Slalom: DNF

Katie Vesterstein (SR) - Estonia

  • Giant Slalom: 35th
  • Slalom: DNF

Up Next

The Utah Ski Team will be back in action March 9-12 for the 2022 NCAA Skiing Championship. The Championship will be taking place in Park City and Soldier Hollow so it’s a unique opportunity to cheer on the Utes as they vie for their 15th National Championship!