Beneath the political spectacle of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, there were two Oregonian skiers competing for gold this last Wednesday.
Laurenne Ross, from Bend, finished 11th in the women’s downhill, and Aurora’s Jacqueline Wiles finished 26th in a race that resulted in the first ever tie for first place in the 78-year history of Olympic Alpine skiing, between Tina Maze of Slovenia and Dominique Gisin of Switzerland.
Both Ross, who honed her skills on Oregon’s Mount Bachelor, and Wiles, who began skiing on Mount Hood, are first time Olympians. Aged 25 and 21, they have plenty of Olympic years ahead of them.
Despite not making it to the medal stand, Ross put everything in perspective.
“Racing in the Olympics has always been a dream of mine,” Ross wrote on Thursday, blogging about her time in Sochi. “Racing in the Olympic downhill always seemed like the most extreme, insane thing I could ever shoot for… And yesterday, I did just that.”
Wiles’ tone, too, was one of eagerness and promise, in part because she had exceeded expectations by even qualifying for the event.
“It’s way more than I ever thought,” she said. “I was planning on just doing a couple of World Cup races at the beginning of the year…But I ended up doing well and they kept taking me [to races]. Now I’m here. It’s just crazy.”
To put the promise of her future in skiing terms, it is important to note that Olympic icon and former gold medalist Bode Miller competed this week at age 36, 15 years older than the young Oregonian.
Speaking of time: Wiles was 3 seconds behind the gold medalists, a gap which, in the downhill skiing arena, means 20 skiers between you and first place.
“It’s just that lower of a tuck or that cleaner of a line that makes you that much faster,” Ross said.
How fast, exactly, are we talking here? Former Olympian David Currier says, referring to the 1972 games that he competed in, “We had top speeds over 93 miles per hour when I competed. They haven’t gotten much faster since then.”
But of course, these dangerous speeds are simply what downhill skiing entails.
“I just like speed,” said Wiles.
Although no Oregonians have yet to medal, snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington of Bellevue, Idaho grabbed gold in the women’s halfpipe on Wednesday. Ross and Wiles will continue to enjoy their time in Sochi while formulating a plan to get to Pyeongchang for the 2018 Winter Games.