PARK CITY — Megan McJames learned she’d earned a spot on her third Olympic team when she read an article online.
“I read an article, and I was like, ‘Wait, is this for real?’” said the Alpine skier and Park City native. “Later, the head coach of the U.S. Ski Team texted me and confirmed.”
McJames might own the most unusual “How I found out I’d made the Olympic team” story, but each of the 14 homegrown members of the 2018 U.S. Olympic team learned about the honor in different ways. Whether that news came by text or in the finish area of a competition, it was met with a mixture of relief and elation that is difficult to describe.
“It was a pretty surreal moment,” said Park City freestyle skier McRae Williams, who will compete in his first Olympics in Pyeongchang. “I personally gave it a shot four years ago, and I gave it my all but didn’t quite make the team when I was pretty much in my prime age. It was a big disappointment, and I spent four years wondering if I am going to be able to stay on it, and get another shot at 27 years old. I can’t even explain how it feels to get that redemption.”
For eight of them, it is their first trip to the Olympics, while two are competing in their second games, three in their third Olympics and one, Ted Ligety, will be making his fourth trip to the world’s most prestigious sports stage.
Faye Gulini, who grew up in Cottonwood Heights and competes in snowboard cross, knew once she earned her first career World Cup podium, she’d likely secured a spot on her third Olympic team.
Faye Gulini celebrates after winning the U.S. Grand Prix snowboardcross title, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012, at Canyons Resort in Park City, Utah. | Lynn DeBruin, Associated Press
“It was great,” she said of her silver at a World Cup in Montafon, Austria. “It was something I felt I was so close to so many times.”
The 25-year-old finished 12th in her first Olympics in Vancouver and fourth in Sochi. She said she heads to Pyeongchang calm and confident.
“I feel more confident and more comfortable, more powerful, more happy than I ever have racing,” Gulini said. “The mental game seems easier. I can calm my nerves, react on my toes a lot faster, in traffic, and if I get passed, I don’t panic like I used to. I can stay level-headed, and pass back. It’s just experience.”
For Alpine native Chris Fogt, the moment was bittersweet. As he learned he’d secured a spot on his third team bobsled team, his brother found out that he just missed making the squad.
“It was tough,” said Fogt, who won bronze with the late Steve Holcomb in Sochi. “He came into the sport because I did, and then he didn’t get picked up. I was pretty upset. I felt like I let him down.”
Fogt and his 2014 bronze-medal teammate Steve Langton came out of retirement last winter to push for the most successful U.S. bobsled pilot in history, Steve Holcomb. In May, Holcomb was found dead in his room at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid at 37.
“We wanted to win a gold medal with Steve,” Fogt said. “That was our plan. It’s been harder than we planned because our current pilots don’t have the experience Steve had. When you slide with Holcomb, any race of the year, you knew if you gave him a good start, you could be top three at the bottom. But this year has been a lot of fun, and it’s been good to help the younger guys on the team.”
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Sundance native Steven Nyman joined his Alpine teammate Ted Ligety in earning a fourth trip to the Olympic Games, but just a few days later, Nyman tore his right ACL on the second training run at Garmisch, Germany. Ironically, it was almost exactly a year ago to the day that Nyman tore his left ACL in Garmisch when he crashed.
"I was really looking forward to not only representing our country at my fourth Olympics, but trying to contend for a medal," he said in a press release. Head coach Sasha Rearick said the team will rely on two younger guys, Holladay native Jared Goldberg, who earned his second trip to the Olympics last week, and California native Bryce Bennett. Nyman's leadership, however, will be tough to replace.
"Fortunately, the track in Jeongseon (Olympic hillside) is one we're familiar with, and we've gotten to train on it more than other teams, and Bennett and Goldberg are both skiing well," Rearick said. "The challenge for them will be to challenge each other as we go into the Games and support each other in a way that Steven supported them."
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Ligety earned his first World Cup podium in two years just after it was announced he’d qualified for the 2018 Olympic Alpine team. He was the youngest American man to win an Alpine gold medal when he won the combined at his first Olympics in Torino in 2006. He won his second gold in giant slalom in Sochi.
“I’m super excited to be able to make it to a fourth Olympics,” he told the Deseret News last week. “It’s pretty crazy to think back to my first Olympics in Torino, and how far I’ve come and evolved. It’s a totally different scenario going from being a 21-year-old newbie, still living with my parents, to now being 33, and having a wife and a son. It’s two totally different worlds."
Time and all the accolades haven’t changed how special it is for Ligety to earn another trip to the Olympic Games.
“It’s super cool and an honor to be skiing the giant slalom,” he said. “It’s an honor to represent your country, and to do it four times has been awesome.”