- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - If you’re looking for a personal rooting interest to make the 2014 Sochi Olympics matter a little bit more to you - like, say, someone with a South Central Washington history - look no further than Jacqueline Wiles or Patrick Deneen.

If you’ve ever skied at White Pass, you may have seen Wiles - although she was probably whizzing past you at speeds not for the faint of heart.

The 21-year-old member of the U.S. Alpine team - and a hopeful in the women’s downhill and Super G events - had grown up skiing at Mount Hood, not that far from her Canby, Ore., home. But eight years ago, already competing in regional races through the Pacific Northwest Ski Association, she joined the ski club at White Pass.

The ski area west of Yakima had the kind of steep, challenging terrain she needed to hone her speed training and also offered strong training. Only a year earlier a White Pass Ski Team alum, Jeff Harrison, had won a World Junior grand slalom title after years of tutelage under Rick Reid, who as the longtime director of skiing and snowboarding at White Pass also oversees the ski club and competitive ski team programs.

Wiles - who hadn’t previously competed in downhill or Super G before - proved to be a quick study at both disciplines.

“She just worked her butt off,” Reid recalled. “She came here with that being the goal, making the U.S. ski team.”

She did, and is on the top of her game right now. And while Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook are considered the U.S. team’s hopes for alpine medals, Wiles certainly has to be in the argument. She won the 2013 U.S. Alpine Championship downhill title at Copper Mountain, Colo., and followed that by winning the NorAm Super G title and placing second in the NorAm standings in both downhill and overall.

Reid thinks downhill may be Wiles‘ best shot to make an Olympic splash.

“Super G and downhill, they’re both about the same, but downhill takes a little guts,” Reid said. “She’s done all of our downhill progressions for so long that there aren’t too many jumps or steep hills that will scare her, and she’s got the skill to do it. It’s just about foundation: She’s just real strong on her skis.

“She’s had section times in the top 5, top 7, on World Cup courses - she’s that close (to the top contenders). She’s that much of a special athlete. When you go to a horse race, you have to have a stallion, a stud, to win the race. She’s a stud.”

Wiles will find out quickly if she’ll have the chance to create some golden Olympic memories: The four U.S. positions in the women’s downhill and Super G will be determined by training runs this Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with the women’s downhill finals set for Feb. 12 and the Super G to follow on Feb. 15.

Aficionados of freestyle skiing are already very familiar with Patrick Deneen, the Cle Elum native who won his first world championship five years ago, was a U.S. Olympian at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and in 2012 ranked second overall in the World Cup.

It was only natural that Deneen, 26, grew up on skis, considering the Hyak ski area (now part of The Summit at Snoqualmie) was in those days essentially the family business. His father, Pat, was part owner and general manager, while his mother, Nancy, managed sales. And if that wasn’t enough, his grandfather owned a local ski shop.

Deneen was on skis two months after he learned to walk, was a competitive alpine skier by the age of 7 and was a highly-ranked junior in downhill before he transitioned into freestyle skiing. He’s on the U.S. team’s freestyle moguls roster at Sochi, and competition in his event is set for next Monday - the qualifying at 6 a.m. (Pacific time) and the finals at 10 a.m.

Nine other U.S. Olympians in Sochi have a Washington background or connection:

- Hockey center T.J. Oshie, 27, was born in Mount Vernon and grew up in Everett before moving to Minnesota to play in high school. After starring for the University of North Dakota, Oshie was the No. 24 overall pick in the 2005 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues (Sidney Crosby was the top pick that season).

- Cross-country sprint specialist Torin Koos grew up in Leavenworth and, when he’s not competing internationally, still lives there. At 33, he’s one of the U.S. team’s elder statesmen and owns a lengthy resume - he’s appearing in his fourth Winter Olympics and has placed as high as third in a World Cup sprint event.

As a prep athlete at Leavenworth’s Cascade High, Koos was a track and cross-country star, something he continued at the University of Utah. But as the son of a former U.S. biathlon skier, racing on snow came naturally to him.

- Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, a brother-and-sister duo on the U.S. cross-country ski team, were both born and raised in Winthrop, in the Methow Valley, and competed in the powerhouse cross-country ski program at Alaska Pacific University, which has been home to a regional Olympic training center for more than 10 years.

Sadie, 24, is the more accomplished of the two so far, with three U.S. titles already to her credit - the last two coming after coming back from a rash of offseason injuries. But Erik, 22, is coming off a big 2013, during which he had top-10 and top-15 finishes at the U23 World Championships and won the 15K freestyle at the U.S. national championships.

- Speedskater J.R. Celski isn’t a native Washingtonian, having been born in Monterey, Calif. But Celski, 23, was raised in Federal Way and definitely has Seattle in his blood - his business venture, M.A.D. Northwest, is all about generating interest in the Seattle arts scene. A documentary he helped film and produce, “The Otherside,” focuses on Seattle’s music world and rap artist Macklemore, who just won a slew of Grammy awards last month.

- Cross-country skier Brian Gregg, 29, was born in Winthrop but has lived much of his adult life in the Midwest. He currently lives in Minnesota.

- Christian Niccum, a 36-year-old doubles luger from Woodinville, is the oldest member of the Olympic luge team and now in his third Olympics; he discovered the sport as a 12-year-old during one of U.S. Luge’s “slider search” events in Seattle, similar to the ones held in recent years in Yakima.

Niccum’s partner is Jayson Terdiman, 25, a Pennsylvanian in his first Olympics. The two began sharing a sled following the Vancouver Olympics and have already had some success; they won a World Cup bronze medal in Winterberg.

- Angeli VanLaanen, a 28-year-old freestyler who will be competing in the halfpipe in Sochi, was born and raised in Bellingham and grew up skiing the Mount Baker Ski Area’s Big Mountain. She moved to Colorado nearly a decade ago to kickstart her professional freestyle skiing career and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

- And, finally, there’s snowboarder, Vic Wild, a White Salmon native and former U.S. Team member whose mother, Carol Wild-Delano, teaches art at Davis High. In July 2011, Wild wed Alena Zavarzina, a Russian snowboarder who had won a world championship seven months earlier. Wild applied for and received Russian citizenship, and he now competes for the Russian team alongside Zavarzina.

The change hasn’t hurt Wild competitively. He won a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships and, two weeks later, captured his first World Cup victory.

___

Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic, http://www.yakimaherald.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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