15 Utahns prove that pursuing an Olympic dream takes unparalleled determination, resilience and desire

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2 2014 10:05 a.m. MST

Utah’s delegation is led by Park City native Steven Holcomb, who won the four-man bobsled gold medal in Vancouver in 2010. He is a heavy medal favorite in Sochi, having won nine World Cup medals this season — eight of them gold. His dominating performance in the first half of the season earned him the two-man World Cup title and the combined overall title. Holcomb, 33, overcame a degenerative eye disease and severe depression to end the U.S. Olympic medal drought in 2010, and he’s hoping to add to his career medal count of 52 in Sochi.

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Alpine’s Chris Fogt, 30, will play a part in Holcomb's defense of that four-man gold medal. The alum of American Fork High and Utah Valley University is one of Holcomb’s push athletes, and the two also teamed up for two gold medals in two-man.

Fogt is a captain in the Army who served a year in Afghanistan after competing in the 2010 Vancouver Games as a push athlete for USA 2. In August, he married his college sweetheart in the Salt Lake LDS Temple, and they’re expecting their first child in May.

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Park City’s Ted Ligety, 29, put on a historic performance in last year’s World Championships, and most are expecting him to win multiple medals in Sochi. The three-time Olympian won three World Championships in eight days in the super-G, combined and giant slalom. Ligety has won 20 World Cups in his career, and he’s looking to overcome a disappointing performance in the 2010 Games. He won the gold medal in the combined in 2006.

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Park City’s Lindsey Van isn’t just famous for her talent as a ski jumper. Not only was she the first world champion in her sport (2009), she and teammate Jessica Jerome led the fight to have women’s ski jumping included in the Olympics.

Shy and unassuming, the 29-year-old didn’t relish becoming the unofficial face of her sport, but her personal sacrifices paid off when she was named to the first women's Olympic ski jumping team last week.

Jerome, 26, and Van were the first two plaintiffs (15 total) in a lawsuit that challenged the IOC’s refusal to allow women to participate in ski jumping, one of the Winter Olympics' oldest sports. The women lost that lawsuit, but officials agreed to include women’s ski jumping in the 2014 Games in April 2011, in large part because of the efforts of the U.S. women.

Jerome won the first Olympic trials on Dec. 29, ensuring her spot on the historic squad. And while Jerome and Van have both had multiple top-10 finishes this season, it’s their younger teammate, Sarah Hendrickson, who is the medal favorite. The 19-year-old was a long shot to even compete in Sochi after tearing her ACL and MCL in late August.

A rigorous but cautious recovery program paid off for Hendrickson when she was named to the team alongside Van and Jerome. Hendrickson is the reigning world champion but was unable to compete in any of this season’s World Cups.

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In eight skeleton World Cup races this season, Noelle Pikus-Pace, 31, has won four. Actually, she won five, but the Orem native was disqualified after her first win for having a small piece of tape on the handle of her sled. That disappointment fueled the mother of two, who convincingly won the second World Cup race on her home track in Park City.

But Pikus-Pace has proved to be one of the most determined and resilient athletes. The UVU graduate was a medal favorite heading into the Olympic trials in 2006 when a runaway bobsled smashed into her, breaking her leg. She had a remarkable recovery but barely missed making the Olympic team. The Mountain View High alumna returned to win the first World Championship in women’s skeleton for the U.S. and then realized her dream of making an Olympic team in 2010. She missed a medal in Vancouver by one-tenth of a second, finishing fourth and announcing her retirement. After a miscarriage in 2012, Pikus-Pace decided to come out of retirement to try one more time to earn that elusive Olympic medal and heads into Sochi a gold-medal contender.

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