February 10, 2006
SAUZE d'OULX, Italy (USST Press Release)—The U.S. Women's Freestyle Moguls Team will air it out Saturday as the Olympic moguls competition will be held in Sauze d'Oulx.
The four U.S. competitors are Shannon Bahrke (25, Tahoe City, CA), Hannah Kearney (19, Norwich, VT), Michelle Roark (31, Winter Park, CO) and Jillian Vogtli (32, Ellicotville, NY). Two have prior Olympic experience and two are first-timers.
Bahrke, the '02 Olympic silver medalist in moguls, has posted four top-10 finishes on the World Cup tour this season. Most recently, she was seventh in Spindleruv Mlyv, Czech Republic Feb. 4. For her career, she's racked up five World Cup victories to date.
Bahrke is fired up, not only for the Games, but because she is healthy and able to compete. In '04, she broke her jaw when her face slammed down on one of her ski poles near the completion of a World Cup run in Japan. In '05, she injured her right knee during training at Mont Tremblant, Canada, which forced her to sit out the rest of the season.
"I've been injured the last year and a half, so this is a new experience, said the '03 World Cup champion. "I still can't believe I'm back again. It's going to be a great Games.
Kearney was the first U.S. skier to qualify for the '06 Olympics, her first trip to the Games. Just 19 years old, she's the reigning world champion and has put up some major World Cup results. The Vermonter didn't waste any time getting into it this season as she won the opening World Cup in Tignes, France back in December. She also stood on the podium in second at the end of January in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy.
During the '02 Olympic season, Kearney was busy winning gold in duals and moguls at the Junior World Championships. Since then, she's been on 11 World Cup podiums, which includes three wins.
"This is my first Olympic Games, so I guess you could say there aren't really any expectations, but that's sort of a lie, said Kearney. "I'm here to do well, I'm not here to lose. It's the same competitors you see week after week after week.[pagebreak]Roark is the second Olympic rookie on the squad, but she's certainly no stranger to big time events. A World Cup veteran, Roark won the duals title in '99 and got a pair of wins in 24 hours at Whistler, British Columbia. Frustrated at not making it to the '02 Games, she began this season determined to make the trip to Italy.
"This (past) summer I trained really hard, said Roark. "I went to Chile for a month to train, and I went to Switzerland for three weeks. I tried to improve on my technique and work on my skills.
The training paid off as she won back-to-back World Cup events at Deer Valley, Utah and Lake Placid, New York. She followed that with a third place finish in the Czech Republic just six days ago.
Vogtli is a U.S. Team veteran, this being her 10th season as part of the program. In her first Olympic go-around in '02, she ended up 18th and is looking forward to improving on that. She didn't make it easy for herself as she waited until the last possible moment to qualify for the Torino Games with a third at Lake Placid on Jan. 22. It was her first podium of the season and first since taking third in Japan in February of '05.
"It actually was the same situation I was in qualifying for the Olympic Games in 2002, said Vogtli. "It was in New York (Lake Placid), which is my home turf. I knew what I had to do. A teammate of mine who had gone before me was in the lead, but she wasn't really expected to make the team so I knew I had to beat her. I stood at the top in the gate and I said 'you can't have it' and I got what I wanted.
To get what they want from the Torino Olympics, the U.S. skiers will have to get around one troublesome roadblock.
Norwegian standout Kari Traa is the reigning Olympic champion and she's turned it on as of late. After finishing 20th in the opening '05-'06 World Cup in Tignes, she went on to win three times and podium four tiimes. She's coming off a win in the Czech Republic on Feb. 4th.[pagebreak]Traa, one of the most progressive skiers in the world, should benefit from new rules implemented since the '02 Olympics. Competitors are now allowed to invert themselves while in the air. Previously, athletes could not throw their feet above head level. The new rule has afforded the skiers the chance to learn new tricks and surprise people when they bust it out on the hill.
"I think it's very good for the sport that the rules have changed and we can do flips and stuff because it makes it more fun for the spectators to watch and for sure it's more fun for us to train, said Traa, a two-time world champion.
The U.S. women wrapped up their training Friday under beautiful, blue skies in Sauze d'Oulx.
"I like our chances, said Wintersteen. "Obviously, Michelle is coming off a good streak, Jillian got her first podium (of the season) in Placid a couple of weeks ago, Hannah has proven she can win and Bahrke is right up there.
Wintersteen also commented on the competition.
"It is going to be tough as a lot of the other girls are skiing great too, he said. "Kari (Traa), she's coming back and skiing great again at another Olympics. Jennifer Heil (Canada)] is consistent as always and hopefully we can get in there.
The women's qualification runs begin Saturday at 3 p.m. in Sauze d'Oulx. The finals will be held under the lights beginning at 7 p.m.