Minnesotans make up the biggest state contingent for U.S. Olympic team

Lindsey Vonn
REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay
With all her local family ties and childhood years spent here, Minnesotans still consider Lindsey Vonn one of us, even if the U.S. Olympics Committee doesn’t.

Play a little game tonight. When the U.S. athletes march into BC Place for the opening ceremonies of the XXI Winter Olympic Games, see if you can spot someone from Minnesota decked out in Team USA’s Ralph Lauren Polo gear.

It shouldn’t be hard.

Minnesota contributed more athletes to the U. S. Olympic Team than any other state, according to the U. S. Olympic Committee, though the number varies depending on your criteria. The USOC counts 21 athletes from our state, or nearly 10 percent of the 216-person team. New York is second with 19.

But the USOC list shorts Minnesota by one. A big one. It omits Lindsey Vonn, who lived in Burnsville and Apple Valley and cut her skis at Buck Hill before the family moved to Vail, Colo., when she was 12 to further her skiing development. Vonn’s parents, who are divorced, moved back to the Twin Cities, and she’s got family all over the area. So let’s call it 22 Minnesotans.

In addition, the USOC includes Elk River hockey player Paul Martin, who subsequently withdrew because of to a broken arm, but not Mark Ladwig, the pairs figure skater who trains in Florida.

Ladwig was raised on the Moorhead side of the Red River and attended Moorhead High School. His mother, Carol, even served on the Moorhead school board. But Ladwig listed his hometown as Fargo-Moorhead, and the USOC placed him on the North Dakota list with hockey-playing twins Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux of Grand Forks. So we’re correcting the record and including him. His partner, Amanda Evora, comes from Texas.

These Games feature a bunch of adjunct Minnesotans as well. The women’s hockey roster includes three in-state players — captain Natalie Darwitz of Eagan, four-time Olympian Jenny Potter of Edina, and Warroad’s Gigi Marvin. But USA Hockey established a residency camp in Blaine in 2008 for post-collegians, and the Olympic team has lived and trained here since August, so technically we could claim them all. Minnesota’s Team? Absolutely.

And let’s not forget our international hockey friends. The Minnesota Wild contributed five players to the Olympic rosters of Finland (Mikko Koivu, Niklas Backstrom and Antii Miettinen) and the Czech Republic (Martin Havlat and Marek Zidlicky). And Finland’s chances of a women’s hockey medal ride with goalie Noora Raty, a University of Minnesota freshman.

We’ll break down a few events that prominently feature Minnesotans, starting with …

WOMEN’S ALPINE SKIING
Events begin: Sunday

NBC banked its marketing efforts on Vonn, the two-time overall World Cup champion who happens to be a wholesome, photogenic blonde. (Did we mention she’s American, too?)

So Wednesday morning on NBC’s “Today Show,” when Vonn talked about the painful bruise to her right shin she suffered in a training fall that kept her off her skis for a week, you could almost hear network execs gasping in the background and looking for the nearest bridge. (In New York City, that would be the Queensboro.)

“I actually can walk normally now without pain, but I tried putting on my boot a few times and it’s very painful,” Vonn told host Matt Lauer.

“When I tried my boot on, I was just standing in the hotel room barely flexing forward and it was excruciatingly painful. And I’ve got to try to ski downhill at 75, 80 miles an hour with a lot of forces pushed up against my shin. And I don’t honestly know if I’ll be able to do it.”

Vonn had flashbacks to 2006, when a scary training crash just before the Games wrecked her medal chances in Torino. At the U.S. Ski Team’s pre-Olympic press conference later in the day, Vonn wondered aloud whether she might be able to ski at all.

That proved overly dramatic. Vonn put on her skis Thursday and felt good enough to attempt a training run. But she never did; training was canceled before her turn because of snow and poor visibility. In a note on Twitter, Vonn wrote, “So I took a bunch of pain killers and numbed my shin with some creams. Warmup was still very painful but I think it was good enough to give it a shot in the training run.”

With snow expected through the weekend, Vonn’s first event, Sunday’s super combined, may be postponed. So Vonn might yet ski five events. After Sunday, her next event is the downhill on Wednesday.

The network, by its count, already expects to lose $200 million on the Games. Any less of Vonn will not help.

For more about the various U.S. ski teams, go here.

WOMEN’S HOCKEY
Tournament begins: Sunday
Medal round: Feb. 22 and 25

So who wins the gold medal — top-seeded Canada, or the two-time defending world champion Team USA? Placed in separate groups, each should advance to the medal round even with one loss in pool play.

Four things lean in Canada’s favor. Home ice advantage, naturally. A roster with 14 Olympic veterans, compared with six for the U.S. squad. Victories over Team USA in seven of eight games since Oct. 5. And a more demanding pre-Olympic schedule that included 28 games against boys’ Midget AAA teams in Alberta.

U.S. Coach Mark Johnson tried to keep his team from peaking too early, which several players said happened in 2006, when a medal-round upset by Sweden limited the U.S. to a bronze. The players trust Johnson, who starred for Herb Brooks’ Miracle on Ice gold medalists in 1980.

Unwilling to tip his hand to his biggest rival, Johnson in recent weeks offered little about the makeup of his lines or even his goaltending preferences. Last week, he hinted he might play both Jessie Vetter and Molly Schaus in net in Vancouver. Nothing against the talented Schaus, who made 25 saves in a 2-1 loss to Canada at Xcel Energy Center on Dec. 30, but Vetter is widely considered one of the world’s best goaltenders. She helped Johnson win three NCAA titles at Wisconsin and backstopped the U.S. at worlds the last two years.

“There’s something to be said for holding back a little and having something at the last moment,” four-time Olympian Angela Ruggiero said. “[Johnson] is talking about, we’re climbing a mountain. We understand that. There’s a plan that’s in place. We may not even know what it is. You just trust in it, and when we get there, we’ll be ready.”

For more, check here.

MEN’S HOCKEY
Tournament begins: Tuesday
Medal round: Feb. 26-28

“I think this is going to be the greatest hockey tournament in the history of the world,” USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean said at the Olympic Summit in Chicago last September. “And that’s not hyperbole.”

Fine. Just don’t count on Team USA making the medal round.

General manager Brian Burke bypassed familiar names like Mike Modano and Bill Guerin to infuse the roster with rookie Olympians like Zach Parise of Prior Lake and the New Jersey Devils, David Backes of Blaine, and Erik Johnson of Bloomington (both from the St. Louis Blues). Captain Jamie Langenbrunner of Cloquet (Devils) is one of only three players with Olympic experience.

That may help in 2014. But it leaves the U.S. outgunned here against high-powered Russia, Canada, defending gold medalist Sweden, or even Slovakia with its dueling Marians, Gaborik and Hossa.

“There won’t be a penny bet on this hockey team, and that’s fine with us,” said the gritty Burke, a Rhode Islander by birth who claims Edina as his hometown. “We’re going there to win.”

Burke’s Olympic fervor already has been tempered by the death of his son Brendan, 21, in an auto accident on a snowy Indiana road last week. Brendan Burke, who was gay, came out to his family in 2007 and publicly in an ESPN.com article last November. Brian, a tough guy’s tough guy, supported his son, who was the student manager of the Miami of Ohio hockey team and a former prep goalie. “I love him as much as I admire him,” Burke told ESPN.com.

For more, check here.

MEN’S CURLING
Tournament begins: Tuesday
Medal round: Feb. 25 and 27

Perhaps we should offer a co-Minnesota’s Team designation for these guys, since they’re all from the state — skip John Shuster and Jason Smith of Chisholm, John Benton of St. Michael, Jeff Isaacson and alternate Chris Plys of Duluth.

Shuster played lead for the Pete Fenson rink that took bronze in Torino, the first Olympic curling medal by any U.S. team. He left Fenson shortly after the Games to finish his marketing degree at Minnesota-Duluth, and skipped his own team to gold at the 2007 World University Games. Shuster had been a skip, or captain, in juniors, a position that requires throwing the last two stones of each “end,” similar to an inning in baseball. Ten “ends” make up a game.

“I didn’t know necessarily that I had the want or desire or ability to throw the last rock,” said Shuster, 26. “I remember standing there holding the broom for Fenson throwing a shot that was super-critical, and being like, I’m not sure I want to be throwing this, which I never had when I was young. I didn’t know if it would continue to be that way.

“The University Games allowed me to remember, yeah, I do want that rock in my hand, and I think I can do this on a high, high level. School kind of brought me away from their team, but then enabled me maybe to get back into skipping.”
 
Trivia buffs may recognize Chisholm as the town where Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, played by Burt Lancaster in the movie “Field of Dreams,” practiced medicine for 50 years before his death in 1965. Shuster said his fourth-grade teacher at Chisholm Middle School was a patient of Graham’s, and that inspired the class to write and perform a play, “The Life and Times of Moonlight Graham.” “I still have it on video,” said Shuster, who played various parts but not the title role.

Benton and women’s alternate Tracy Sachtjen are, at 40, the oldest U.S. athletes competing in Vancouver. First-time Olympian Benton is an inspiring story regardless of age, a recovering alcoholic in a sport where even the tiniest clubs maintain a bar on the premises.

For more, go here.

WOMEN’S CURLING
Tournament begins: Tuesday
Medal round: Feb. 25-26

Skipped by three-time Olympian Debbie McCormick of Rio, Wis., the team includes Minnesotans Allison Pottinger of Eden Prairie and Natalie Nicholson of Bemidji. Pottinger, like Benton, belongs to the St. Paul Curling Club, which threw them a well-attended sendoff on Jan 30.

When McCormick needs advice on playing a shot, she leans on vice skip Pottinger, a General Mills executive and a teammate since 2003.

“She’s kind of my right-hand person,” McCormick said. “We make a lot of decisions together. She’s good with angles, probably better than I am, too. … I know I never would have been successful without her being there.”

Said Pottinger: “She’ll turn to me and say, is it there? I’ll say yeah, and she’ll make it. She has an uncanny ability to trust.”

And Pottinger has an uncanny ability to needle. Two years ago, she and McCormick beat teammate Nicole Joraanstad and Pottinger’s husband, Doug, to win the Watermelon Bonspiel at McCormick’s tiny home club in Pardeeville, Wis. Sometimes on the road, to lighten the mood and rag Joraanstad, Pottinger and McCormick break out their watermelon championship pins. “Nicole will be saying, ‘Take those pins off,’ ” Pottinger said with a mischievous laugh.

Any medalists here? We’ll see. At last year’s world championships, Shuster’s rink finished fifth while McCormick was ninth. Homestanding Canada, where curling is the No. 2 national sport behind hockey, will pack the venue for its men’s and women’s games.

More information here.


LET’S NOT FORGET …
The rest of the Minnesota delegation, according to the USOC:

• Tony Benshoof; White Bear Lake, luge;

• Rebekah Bradford, Apple Valley, speedskating (long track);

• Caitlin Compton, Minneapolis, cross-country skiing;

• Garrott Kuzzy, Minneapolis, cross-country skiing;

• Kaylin Richardson, Edina, Alpine skiing;

• Wynn Roberts, Battle Lake, biathlon.

If we’ve missed anyone, please leave us a comment below.

Pat Borzi writes about sports for MinnPost.com.

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Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by Michael Hunt on 02/25/2010 - 01:17 pm.

    Given Vonn’s performance, on AND off the slope, I’m with the Olympic Committee. My official position is she has never had any connection to Minnesota.

  2. Submitted by Shelley Kerber on 02/12/2010 - 02:06 pm.

    Don’t forget Molly Schaus’ Minnesota background. This is where she learned to play hockey! Read her bio at http://www.nbcolympics.com/athletes/athlete=2405/bio/index.html.

  3. Submitted by Pat Borzi on 02/12/2010 - 08:26 pm.

    Good catch, Shelley. Molly lived in Minnesota until she was 7. Thanks.

    We’ve got one more adjunct, too: Bemidji State sophomore Zuzana Tomcikova, a goalie for the Slovakia women’s hockey team.

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