- 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:

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