The teams behind every Olympic athlete: parents, friends, fans
Athletes at the Vancouver Olympics have usually gotten there with the backing of a small army of supporters who encourage, chastise, bolster, and fund. Just ask US skeleton's Noelle Pikus-Pace or US luger Mark Grimmette.
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Anchorage is home to another cross-country queen, Kikkan Randall, who finished a historic eighth in the sprint on Wednesday. But Brooks is not only fast, she’s integrated into the fabric of the lives of more than a hundred locals.Skip to next paragraph
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“Holly’s our girl,” says Joanna Menaker, a member of Brooks’s noon session for professionals who spontaneously decided to go to the Olympics after Brooks made the team.
“Kikkan – she doesn’t touch our lives every day like Holly does," she adds. "We haven’t lived through her engagement with Rob, her wedding, watching her almost beat [2006 Olympian] Rebecca Dussault at the [biggest skiing marathon in the US, the American Birkenbeiner]” –the first sign that the Olympics might be possible for a girl who had never before medaled in a national event.
While the nearly two dozen athletes interviewed almost invariably cited their parents as the chief influence on their athletic career and their character, many noted that there was a whole team of people instrumental in getting them here.
Megan Sweeney of the US luge teams chalks it up to an exuberant aunt whom she would visit every summer in upstate New York. After seeing an ad in the paper about a “Slider Search” session that seeks out the next generation of luge athletes by putting kids on roller sleds, the aunt made that the afternoon activity. Little did Sweeney, a black-belt in karate, know that it would change her life.
And she may not have stuck through it if it hadn’t been for her grandmother, who ran her first half-marathon at 65. That really inspired her, says Tanby, “not because she’s elite or an Olympian or something, but because she has an awesome attitude.”
“My high school football coaches taught me how to work hard,” says Grimmette, one of a handful of five-time US Olympians. “At home, I was always bringing wood in – we heated our home with wood – so it was a lot of that work ethic that they built on.”
French biathlete Simon Fourcarde didn’t have the same sense of discipline when he arrived at a special sports school as a teenager. He’d been there one month when his coach Thierry Dusserre, an Olympic bronze medalist, told him he had to race in the roller ski national championships. And Dusserre gave him some strict instructions on how to prepare – which he did not follow, and had a really bad race. The coach was furious.
“He said, ‘I don’t know why I [accepted] you for this school,’” recalls Fourcard, now the No. 1-ranked biathlete in the world. “From this moment I knew that if I want to get something, I need to be disciplined with myself if I wanted to be really good.”