Holding the lead after the first slalom run at the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan, Barbara Ann Cochran '78 knew she needed to calm down. Her edge over the next skier was a slim .03 seconds, and, as heavy snow fell on the course, the second run of the day loomed.
She gave herself a pep talk. "No matter what happens, you won the first run at the Olympics and not many people can say that." Then she thought of what her father, Mickey '48, had said to her a year before, between runs in a similar situation at the world championships.
"He had a nice grin, a little twinkle in his eye," Barbara Ann recalled in 2006. "He said, 'I always thought that you were the cool cucumber in the family.' And I thought, 'Oh, yeah, I guess I am.'" She skied to the Olympic gold medal that afternoon, Feb. 12, 1972.
Cochran's victory in Sapporo is the shining moment in a remarkable run of Olympic appearances by UVM students or alumni, dating back to when Larry Damon '55 skied cross-country events at the 1956 Games and continuing unbroken across the next sixteen Winter Olympics. We'll make it seventeen straight as the 2018 Winter Olympics open in PyeongChang, South Korea.
Many great athletes and memorable moments have built the University of Vermont's Olympic family tree over the past six decades. Barbara Ann's gold was the highlight of a Cochran family tradition that would include multiple Games and Olympic athletes across generations. Beth Heiden '83 won bronze in speed skating in 1980. The flying Holland brothers-Joe '90, Michael '92, and James '95-piled up six Olympic teams among them as ski jumpers. Aaron Miller '93 and John LeClair were teammates on the U.S. hockey team that won silver in Salt Lake in 2002, and Martin St. Louis '97 helped lead Team Canada to gold in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Meet the Catamounts carrying the torch into 2018.
Cats on Team U.S.A.
Just as Larry Damon started UVM's Olympic run with four-straight Games, Lake Placid native and UVM Hall of Famer Lowell Bailey '05 (above left) will help update the latest chapter with his fourth Olympics this year. He made history last February when he became the first American to win a biathlon world championship. How does he handle the pressure of high-stakes competition? By tuning out distraction. "I'm 100 percent present in the moment," Bailey told Vermont Quarterly. In his time at UVM, he placed second in two successive NCAA Championships, was a three-time All-American, and helped Vermont to an NCAA national runner-up finish as a senior.
Fellow trailblazer Amanda Pelkey '15 (above right) is the first Catamount ever to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Women's Hockey Team, and only the second Vermonter to play for U.S. Olympic hockey. The Montpelier native and member of the NWHL Boston Pride is Vermont's all-time leader in points, goals, and assists, and holds the records for highest goal and point totals in a single season. Pelkey recently told VPR about her special connection to fellow alum Martin St. Louis: "He's still my favorite NHL player, and he basically told me how to skate…I went to his camp when I was about seven or eight years old, called the All-American Hockey School." Continued Pelkey, "He's been a huge motivator for my career."
Ryan Gunderson '07 will also be hitting the ice, making him the fourth former men's Catamount to make the U.S. Olympic Hockey roster and the first since Tim Thomas in 2010. The Pennsylvania native was brought to UVM as a walk-on and became the all-time leader in games played among Vermont defensemen. After graduation, Gunderson went on to play four years of professional hockey in the ECHL and AHL before spending the last eight seasons in Europe.
Lifelong Vermonter Ida Sargent G'20, a member of the U.S. cross-country skiing team, is a student in the UVM Master of Public Health online program, as she juggles her studies with training camps and racing as part of the U.S. Ski Team. "It's great to connect with many professors, public health professionals, and students who also have strong ties to Vermont and our communities. These connections can help us all make a difference improving the health of our population," the Craftsbury resident told UVM's Continuing and Distance Education blog. She graduated from Dartmouth in 2011, and competed in the 2014 Games in Sochi.
Rounding out UVM's representation on Team U.S.A. are the Patterson siblings (above), cross-country skiers Scott '14 and Caitlin '12. Both recently scored national titles at the 2018 L.L. Bean U.S. Cross Country National Championships, and both were Nordic skiers in Vermont. Said Coach Patrick Weaver of Caitlin, "She just has an incredibly hard work ethic." The Pattersons grew up in McCall, Idaho, and moved to Anchorage, Alaska when they were in their teens. Caitlin credits her mom, one of her first coaches, for getting them on skis and making sure it was fun from the beginning.
Flying different flags
UVM alumni will be sprinkled throughout the Parade of Nations: Former men's hockey forward Viktor Stalberg '09, who won the 2013 Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks, will represent Sweden in his first Olympics; Kevin Drury '14, who skied on UVM's alpine team, will compete in ski cross for Canada after closing the 2016-17 season eighth in World Cup standings; and Jonathan Nordbotten '14, a UVM skiing standout, will represent Norway in alpine skiing.
And, there are two current students in the international mix: Rising senior and computer science major Laurence St. Germain, a native of Quebec, will ski for Team Canada; and first-year student Connor Wilson, an alpine skier, is the only athlete representing South Africa in the Winter Games.
Need more to cheer for? Ryan Cochran-Siegle, son of Barbara Ann, is the latest in his family to earn a trip to the Olympics; and Keene, New York native Tommy Biesemeyer, who spent a semester at UVM while rehabbing a knee injury, will ski with the U.S. alpine team.
Joining Bailey on the U.S. biathlon team is Susan Dunklee, daughter of two former Catamounts, Judith Robitaille-Dunklee '75 and Stan Dunklee '76, who met while racing on UVM's cross-country team. Father Stan is a two-time All-American and former Olympian.
On the sidelines, watch for Johno McBride '88, the U.S. Ski Team downhill coach, who has trained greats like Bode Miller and Daron Rahlves; and Knut Nystad '94, chief ski wax technician for the Norwegian cross-country team.
Aiming for the stars
While they're not competing, the work of Whitney Heingartner '10 (left) and Mike Gratz '05 (right) will be on full display during the Games, in the form of uniforms. As Burton Snowboards employees, both played key roles in getting the U.S. Snowboarding Team's uniforms (center) from the drawing board onto the slopes.
Public communications major Heingartner, whose job includes managing Burton's Olympic program, also had a hand in Team Canada's snowboarding uniforms. "It's a project I feel really lucky and proud to be a part of," she says. "My job at Burton is super unique and I really believe it's a culmination of all things PCOMM."
Gratz, who is the Senior Creative Manager for Softgoods at Burton, says the process of designing the retro-feeling, astronaut-inspired gear took a little over a year. "There was a really cool dichotomy in the theme of the uniform and the technicality of the fabrics," says Gratz. Thinking back to his time at UVM, Gratz says, "I was really inspired by learning about screen-printing and printmaking as well as the power of color, and how it evokes certain reactions and feelings." The uniform detail he's most excited about? "It isn't actually externally visible," he says. "There's a lining graphic with artwork that includes Korean translations of helpful phrases."
And to all of our Catamounts, we say 행운을 빕니다, or, good luck.
Writing for this piece contributed by Thomas Weaver and Andrea Estey.