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Olympics: In spite of everything, athletes excited to be in Sochi

Published February 7, 2014 10:34 am

Ted Ligety is going to miss the big opening, but most of his teammates will be there.
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Sochi, Russia • Triple world champion ski racer Ted Ligety isn't here yet, electing to spend a little extra time in Italy before joining his teammates on the U.S. Olympic Team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Everybody else, though, seems to be having a blast.

From bobsled driver Steven Holcomb to ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson, the American athletes who are settling in for two weeks of competition seem to be enjoying themselves as anybody would hope, with little hint of anxiety over security or logistics despite widespread concerns in the buildup to the Games.

"It really has been awesome," skier Bode Miller said. "Everything has been seamless. The volunteers have been awesome. The organization has been great."

A five-time Olympian, the 36-year-old Miller provided an encouraging sign Thursday by clocking the fastest time in the opening downhill training session on the course at Rosa Khutor, where he injured his knee two years ago.

Meanwhile, in one of three preliminary competitions that took place before the Opening Ceremony on Friday night, Park City's Sage Kotsenburg advanced to the semifinals of the men's snowboard slopestyle event — that's the new event from which two-time halfpipe champion Shaun White controversially withdrew a day earlier — along with Ireland's Seamus O'Connor, who also lives and trains in Park City.

"It's an amazing experience just to be here," said Jared Goldberg, a downhill skier from Salt Lake City who's making his Olympic debut. "I'm so excited."

Officials from the U.S. Olympic Committee said their athletes have been enjoying Sochi as any other Olympics, notwithstanding continuing fears over terrorist threats and complaints by journalists about shabby accommodations. Managing director Leslie Gamez said she was surprised by the number of athletes' families that did travel to Sochi, rather than those who chose to stay home.

"Inside the village is pretty electric right now," she added.

Ski jumper Jessica Jerome could attest to that.

The Park City native became the first American woman to qualify for an Olympics in ski jumping when she won a trials event at the Utah Olympic Park in December.

"It's almost impossible not to be aware of everything going on around me to help it sink in that I'm actually at the Olympic Games," she said. "The level of security going from place to place is immense, and we feel secure. The mountain village is a really cool atmosphere. I think the opening ceremonies are going to be pretty incredible."

Ligety is going to miss the ceremony, having decided to delay his arrival until Monday because he won't race for the first time until the super-combined next Friday.

But most of his teammates have arrived and will participate, including luger Preston Griffall and snowboarder Faye Gulini, two Salt Lake City natives who arrived Thursday — Gulini with her blond hair streaked with neon pink.

"Couldn't be more excited to be here," she proclaimed on Instagram.

Ligety is among five native Utahns who are strong candidates to win gold medals here, and he will be a medal contender in at least the three races that he won at the world championships last year — the super-combined, the super-G and the giant slalom.

Holcomb is a top contender for gold, too, and the fellow Park City native seemed to be enjoying his third Olympics as much as anybody else, jokingly asking reporters if they were having to sleep under the bleachers at the Sanki Sliding Center.

"The athletes have it a little better than the press, from what I understand," he said.

While Holcomb slides for gold in the bobsled, Eagle Mountain's Noelle Pikus-Pace will be doing it in skeleton — the event in which she missed the medals by just 0.1 second in Vancouver four years ago. She came out of retirement for one last shot, after a star-crossed Olympic career.

"It feels great to finally be here on the track doing what we've trained years to do," she said. "The volunteers have been extremely friendly, we're surrounded by snowcapped mountains, and it just feels amazing to be at the Olympics."

Next up, they actually begin.






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