Lanny and Tracy Barnes represent spirit of sisterhood

Life as a world-class athlete can also encompass moments as a world-class person. One such shining example is the unbreakable bond between twin sisters Lanny and Tracy Barnes. Although the Olympic Charter helps represent values that promotes progress through numerous accepted social boundaries, it also inspires those to be the best version they can be.

The sacrifice that Tracy made embodies such inspiration. Both competing in the biathlon, the dream of competing together again was jeopardized. Having trained together for 15 years, the two appeared in the biathlon at the 2006 Torino Winter Games. Part of the 4x6km relay team in Torino, they were part of a 15th place finish.

Having fallen ill prior to the IBU Cup, a series of four qualifying races in Ridnaun, Italy, which represented the opportunity to earn a spot on the US team, Lanny was unable to compete in three of them. When she competed at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, she would finish the 15K in 23rd place, not only a personal best, but the highest finish by a US female competitor since the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Games. Suddenly, the opportunity to improve on that finish at Sochi seemed out of reach.

Despite the heartbreak of being unable to compete due to illness, Lanny would be the recipient of a surprising gesture. Tracy, who missed qualifying for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, had grabbed one of the five qualifying spots for Sochi. Ironically, she qualified at the IBU Cup, gaining the final spot. Adding to the irony was the fact that Lanny was one spot behind Tracy in order to qualify.

Guinness celebrates Olympian biathlete Tracy Barnes' sacrifice for her twin, Lanny.Photo by: Diageo-Guinness

Guinness celebrates Olympian biathlete Tracy Barnes’ sacrifice for her twin, Lanny.Photo by: Diageo-Guinness

After the competition, the two would go on a hike together. For the sisters, the hike is a common ritual that takes part after every race they are involved in as a time to reflect. It was on a hike in Italy that Tracy made the heart-felt decision that instead of competing, she would give up her spot for Lanny. Although Lanny did not want her sister to make such a sacrifice, Tracy insisted that she get another chance.

Commenting on the decision, a life-changing and emotional moment for both of them, Lanny remarked on her sister’s selflessness and the display of the Olympic spirit. Tracy believed that she deserved a second chance as she stated that her sister had a better season before falling ill.

While Sochi shall represent the third Winter Games for the 32 year-old Lanny, the sisters from Durango, Colorado have captured the hearts and minds of sports fans the world over. In the United States, the two were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the highly popular Today Show. Tracy had mentioned during the interview that when someone cares enough about another’s efforts, they are willing to make a sacrifice.

Famed Irish-based brewer Guinness honored the bond between the Barnes twins by featuring them in a TV advertisement. Not a standard beer commercial by any means, it evokes powerful emotions that define the true meaning of teamwork. It was part of a series of ads which were part of the Irish brewing company’s Made of More campaign.

Sadly, the ad would not last long on the air due to a U.S. Olympic Committee rule. Of note, Team USA athletes cannot appear in advertisements for companies that are not Olympic sponsors during a specific time period. With Budweiser serving as the Team USA sponsor, a blackout period from January 30 – February 26 prevents the ad from airing.

Regardless of Lanny’s finish in Sochi, the importance is the chance to celebrate two remarkable people and the spirit of excellence that encompasses their unbreakable bond. The opportunity to not only represent the United States but her sister speaks of inspiration and teamwork, values that make both of them true champions.

Julia Mancuso earns three magazine covers as she prepares to defend gold at Sochi

Featured on three magazine covers – Health, Outside, Women- Julia Mancuso is emerging as one of the more prominent American female athletes heading to the Sochi Winter Games. Each magazine celebrates her career with an emphasis on her various workout routines and approach to living a rich and full life.

Employing yoga and stretching as part of her daily regimen, a foam roller has also served as a practical method for Mancuso to work on her core and balance. After chronic knee pain resulted in hip dysplasia in 2006, it was a key boon in toughening her mental strength and learning to stay positive.

An avid fan of the Nike Training Club app, her off-snow training also involves pilates. On race day, stretching and Qigong, which helps raise her body temperature tend to be part of her pre-race rituals.

Gracing the cover of Health Magazine, cover date February 2014

Gracing the cover of Health Magazine, cover date February 2014

From a nutrition perspective, a breakfast smoothie consisting of powdered greens, whey protein and coconut water provides the jump start she requires in order to conquer the slope. It also serves as a key element in boosting her immunity when she travels. As a side note, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is also a favorite snack.

One of the most endearing aspects of the various magazine profiles involves a question on rituals and lucky charms. While she states she is not like several athletes that may be superstitious, she employs a sense of humor in wearing lucky underwear. The joke has caught on with friends and family, who have underwear that featured her nickname, Super Jules, on it. As a side note, she also launched her own lingerie line in 2010 called “Kiss My Tiara”, (her coach gave her a tiara as a good-luck charm in 2005).

The February 2014 edition of Outside Magazine with Mancuso gracing the cover

The February 2014 edition of Outside Magazine with Mancuso gracing the cover

Raised in Squaw Valley, California, skiing has remained a constant in her life. Whether it was skiing on the snow in winter or the water in summer, it would complement a lifestyle which included surfing and paddle boarding. For Mancuso, while activity in water (such as in her happy place of Maui) welcomes a chance of pace, it is also essential in building and maintaining fitness.

As one of the most accomplished racers in American history, Mancuso is one of the favorites to capture a gold medal. Making an impression at Torino 2006, she captured a gold medal in the giant slalom. Four years later at Vancouver, she followed it up with two silver medals. After the win, a ski run at Squaw Valley was renamed Julia’s Gold.

While Sochi represents her fourth sojourn on the world’s biggest sporting stage, she shoulders a significant pressure due to the injury sustained by rival and friend Lindsey Vonn. Ironically, the two share the same coach. Despite the pressure, her confidence increased at Cortina D’Ampezzo, Italy. In mid-January, she led the downhill training against the likes of Johanna Schnarf and Maria Hoefl-Riesch.

Featured on the cover of Women Magazine, Mancuso shares her stories of inspiration.

Featured on the cover of Women Magazine, Mancuso shares her stories of inspiration.

Her laid-back approach does not mirror her ambition as she shows no signs of retiring after Sochi. While the presence of Mikaela Shiffrin, an 18-year-old American skier who is poised to be part of the next generation of star US skiers, may be seen as competition, it is also a tremendous source of motivation. Despite the fact that no woman has won a World Cup race after the age of 32, Mancuso is determined to challenge convention.

Speedskater Marianne St. Gelais part of Coca-Cola Canada campaign for Sochi

As a proud Olympic sponsor since 1928, Coca-Cola is featuring three prominent athletes on the cans of its Canadian product. Figure skater Patrick Chan and hockey player Steven Stamkos are joined by short track speed skater Marianne St-Gelais. Introduced on store shelves in January, their silhouettes and signatures adorn the red cans of Coca-Cola, making for a unique collectible.

The silhouette and signature of St-Gelais appears in the collectible can to the right.

The silhouette and signature of St-Gelais appears in the collectible can to the right.

Celebrating their determination and achievements, St-Gelais and her male counterparts shall be part of Coca-Cola’s marketing campaign leading into Sochi. Coca-Cola’s Olympic digital hub will feature their stories while sharing personal tips on why everday activity is essential in family life. She will also be part of their digital marketing campaigns, along with Cinema and TV advertising.

This is a remarkable opportunity for St-Gelais, who will not only gain more momentum heading into Sochi, but introduce herself to a new generation of young Canadian females in sport. Reputed as a spontaneous and flamboyant personality, she is also mature enough to understand the pressure of living up to expectations in Sochi. While she was a rookie in Vancouver, she can no longer fly under the radar. Having already competed at Sochi’s Iceberg Rink in a previous competition, she is familiar with the ice surface and prepared to give it her best.

As an ambassador for Coca-Cola, she appeared at a Montreal ParticipAction event on December 10, 2013. Image obtained from:

As an ambassador for Coca-Cola, she appeared at a Montreal ParticipAction event on December 10, 2013. Image obtained from:

Hailing from St. Felicien, Quebec, she would grab silver medals at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games in the 500 meter and 3,000 meter relay. Of note, she was one of only four Canadian athletes to earn multiple medals in Vancouver, while the 500 meter silver was earned on her 20th birthday, respectively. She would further enhance her newfound celebrity status at Vancouver when she kissed her boyfriend, fellow speed skater Charles Hamelin, after his gold medal effort in Vancouver.

Complemented by four World Championship (two silver and two bronze) medals and the 2011 World Cup title, she was also bestowed the honor of Speed Skating Canada’s Female Short Track Skater of the Year in 2010 and 2011. This was preceded by a pair of remarkable performances in 2007 and 2009. At the 2007 Canada Winter Games, she would garner four gold medals and one silver. A gold medal performance occurred at the 2009 world junior championships, earning her Speed Skate Canada’s Rising Star honor.

Kaya Turski continues remarkable comeback with gold at X-Games

One of the most remarkable comebacks in recent Canadian sporting history belongs to Kaya Turski. Experimental surgery on her torn anterior cruciate ligament in August resulted in a recovery that found her back on the slopes less than five months afterwards. Having suffered the injury in August 2013, during an attempt to practice a new move in Mount Hood, Oregon, her left knee is part of a unique medical innovation. Of note, her left knee now has a synthtetic ligament wrapped inside a cadaver graft.

Considering that she has once endured having torn ACLs in both legs, it resulted in a year-long recovery for Turski. As the native from Montreal was looking towards making her Winter Games true, the experimental surgery was the only option. With ligaments from both her hamstrings having been used in the first two ACL reconstructions, that option could not be attempted again.

Dr. Robert Litchfield employed a hybrid option with the use of the synthetic ligament and cadaver graft. While the long-term stability of the knee is unknown, she is healthy enough to compete. For Dr. Litchfield, this innovation may be as impactful for skiers as Tommy John surgery was for baseball players. As he will be in Sochi as the doctor for Canada’s alpine ski team, he will be on-hand for support.

Archiving the recovery on video tape, it would prove to be a therapeutic release for Turski, who never gave up on a quick recovery. Providing the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation with the footage, it certainly helped put into perspective the remarkable sacrifices that athletes can make in order to pursue their dreams.

Her heroic efforts culminated with a gold medal in Aspen, Colorado at the 2014 X-Games in the women’s ski slopestyle, finishing ahead of American Maggie Voisin and Canadian Kim Lamarre. Of note, Dara Howell from Huntsville, Ontario finished in fourth place. Travelling with a physical therapist, it provided a feeling of confidence as she looks to duplicate her success at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

After the injury she sustained in August, it was doubtful if she would even be part of the conversation at Sochi. Considering that she made history in the ski slopestyle by perfectly executing a 1080 in past competition, the thought of her not being part of the sports’ historic debut at Sochi was not in her lexicon.

As the slopestyle events (which feature skiing and snowboarding) were introduced into the Winter Games as a means of attracting younger viewers and traditional X-Games fans, fans are relieved that one of its most successful stars shall be part of its launch. The proud owner of eight X-Games gold medals, the native of Montreal is also the 2013 World Skislope Champion. Her resolve and ability to overcome such a potentially disheartening setback makes her a sentimental favorite heading into the world’s biggest sporting stage.

Hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser named Canada’s flag bearer for Sochi Games

In reflecting on the choice of female hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser as Canada’s flag bearer, it celebrates the career of a great athlete that very few can compare to. On a larger scale, it is symbolic of how Canada has allowed many new opportunities for women to compete in sport over the last few years.

The Olympic movement speaks of celebrating humankind without prejudice and fighting ignorance and the impact and growing popularity of women in sport is testament to such an ideology. Like so many other female athletes, Wickenheiser believes in giving back to the community. She is also a tremendous hockey humanitarian, having donated her time to causes such as Right To Play, Clean Air Champions, KidsSport, Spread The Net, Plan Canada’s Because I Am A Girl and Classroom Champions.

Wickenheiser proudly displays the Canadian flag (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Wickenheiser proudly displays the Canadian flag (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

As the 2014 Winter Games marks her fifth appearance with the Canadian national women’s team, she is one of only two women (along with Canadian Jayna Hefford) to take part in five women’s hockey tournaments at the Games. Having battled injuries the last few years, there is concern that Sochi may be her swan song. Should Canada emerge with gold, Hefford, Wickenheiser and Caroline Ouellette would become the first women to win four gold medals in women’s hockey at the Winter Games.

With the announcement made by Steve Podborski, Canada’s chef de mission for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it is an ideal way to pay tribute to the 35 year-old from Shaunuvon, Saskatchewan, who emerged as the finest women’s hockey player of her generation. Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and former owner of the Quebec Nordiques hockey club, acknowledged the appointment by announcing that Wickenheiser was one of Canada’s greatest ambassadors.

Other names that were discussed included Sidney Crosby, whose gold medal winning goal in Vancouver fulfilled his destiny as a hockey star. Kallie Humphries, one of Canada’s most successful bobsled performers, Larisa Yurkiw, who gained tremendous support via social media, speed skating champion Charles Hamelin and figure skating pair Tessa Virtue and Soctt Moir.

Perhaps the most impressive fact about her athletic career is that she was also a two-sport star. At the 2000 Sydney Summer Games, she was a member of Canada’s softball team. Ironically, Sommer West, who had played on the Canadian national women’s hockey team in 2000 was also her teammate on the softball team at Sydney.

She proudly follows in the footsteps of two other female sports stars that were flag bearers at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Clara Hughes (who has also competed in the Summer Games) carried the flag for Canada in the opening ceremonies, while Joanie Rochette was the flag bearer at Vancouver’s closing ceremonies.

As a side note, Wickenheiser had the honor of reading the athlete’s oath at Vancouver’s opening ceremonies. To follow it up with the chance to be the flag bearer for 2014 is testament to her impact as an athlete. At Sochi, she shall also be running for election to the International Olympic Committee’s athletes’ commission. Angela Ruggiero, an American hockey player, was successfully elected in 2010.

Despite all these accomplishments, there is a trace of irony as Wickenheiser is not the first women’s hockey player to serve as Canada’s flag bearer. That honor goes to Danielle Goyette, who served as the flag bearer at the 2006 Torino Winter Games.

While some athletes consider serving as flag bearer bad luck (Alexandre Despatie refused at London 2012, while Adam von Koeverden carried the flag in 2008 and won a silver medal), Goyette helped Canada to a gold medal. Canadian fans can only hope history repeats itself. Fans can expect to see her emerge from the tunnel into Fischt Stadium on February 7.

Hockey legend Caitlin Cahow a courageous symbol of empowerment

A member of the US squad that captured a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, Caitlin Cahow will be returning to the world’s biggest stage. With the 2014 Games being hosted in Sochi, Russia, Cahow shall be serving on US President Barack Obama’s delegation that shall represent the US at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.

Having retired from ice hockey after leading the Boston Blades to the 2013 Clarkson Cup championship, Cahow has managed to remain involved in the sport. In addition to attending law school at Boston College, she appeared at the Boston Blades’ first-ever “Women in Sports” series, recognizing Meghan Duggan.

Appearing on NBC's Today Show

Appearing on NBC’s Today Show

Introducing Duggan at the event, Cahow also spoke about being an openly gay athlete and the struggle for equality. As Cahow is part of a modern-day group of accomplished female athletes challenging cultural norms about the role of women in sport and society, she is a champion for the cause of acceptance.

Ivy League educated and articulate, Cahow is also a proud member of the Board of Directors for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. With the CWHL a proud partner with the You Can Play! Foundation, looking to remove bullying and homophobic behavior, Cahow also reinforces a courageous message that athletes have the right to not feel shame or stereotyping based on the way they identify themselves.

In travelling to Sochi, Cahow brings a powerful message about values such as equality and empowerment. An openly gay athlete, her presence is a direct rebuttal to the law that the Russian government passed in June 2013 prohibiting the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations. In addition, she will be joined on the US delegation by tennis legend and champion for women in sport Billie Jean King, another gay athlete.

King shall be part of the delegation that will appear at the opening ceremonies. Joining her are University of California president Janet Napolitano, the first female secretary of Homeland Security, Michael McFaul, the United States ambassador to Russia, deputy chief of staff for policy Robert Nabors and Brian Boitano, a gold medalist in figure skating at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.

Of note, McFaul shall also participate in the delegation for the closing ceremonies. Cahow shall be part of said delegation, joined by speed skating legend Bonnie Blair, Dr. Eric Heiden and William Burns, the deputy secretary of state.

Having been interviewed for CBS News, along with making an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, Cahow is truly paying it forward. As the Modern Olympic Movement preaches the removal of ignorance and working towards social progress, Cahow is part of a diverse yet inspiring group of delegates that prove the US is dedicated to preserving and reinforcing civil and human rights.

Also serving as an advocate for concussion research, an injury which sidelined her for most of 2012, Cahow is symbolic of today’s intelligent, strong and ambitious women. For all the LGBT athletes that have endured fear or lived in silence, Cahow and King are part of a bold statement that encourages freedom. Their mission is also one of a humanitarian nature, extending sport, where the hopeful outcome is one where ignorance can be eradicated and a greater understanding of celebrating the human spirit.

Caroline Ouellette earns honor of serving as Canada’s captain in gold medal defense at Sochi 2014

If one word can describe the Canadian national women’s team journey towards the Sochi Winter Games, it would be change. From having to deal with the release of Tessa Bonhomme and a coaching change midway through camp; Hayley Wickenheiser has been replaced as Canada’s captain.

As Canada looks to defend its gold medal victory from Vancouver 2010, Montreal’s Caroline Ouellette has been bestowed the honor of the captaincy. It is not only a tremendous milestone for Ouellette, but for her club team, the Montreal Stars. It not only marks the first time that a Stars player has been named Team Canada’s captain for the Winter Games, it is also the first time that an active CWHL player has earned the nod.

From a leadership standpoint, Wickenheiser shall remain part of the core as alternate captain. Jayna Hefford and Catherine Ward shall rotate as alternate captains. During the 2013 IIHF Women’s Worlds, Hefford, a 17-year veteran with Canada’s national team served as captain when Wickenheiser was unable to play.

While the entire year of 2013 has consisted of peaks and valleys for Canada’s women in hockey – jubilation included Ouellette’s 200th appearance in a Canadian sweater, along with Hefford playing in her 250 game for Canada – to desolation such as Montreal losing the Clarkson Cup to Boston and Canada losing the gold medal on home ice at the IIHF Women’s Worlds for the first time – fans can only hope that Ouellette’s appointment to the captaincy is a sign of consistency to come.

Although Canada and the United States are still head and shoulders above the rest of the competing nations, the reality is that the cap continues to close. An upset of any kind to the likes of Finland or Switzerland is completely unacceptable. Burdening a significant amount of pressure heading into Sochi, Ouellette is more than accustomed to big game situations.

In addition to being a member of the Triple Gold Club (consisting of Winter Games gold, IIHF gold and a Clarkson Cup), she has also won the NCAA Frozen Four championship, a rare grand slam in women’s hockey. Among an elite group of women (including Hefford and Wickenheiser) that have three Winter Games gold medals in ice hockey, Ouellette has carved a remarkable career since debuting with the Canadian team in 2000.

As the third-leading scorer in Canadian history with 238 points, she has symbolized the world-class status of Canada as an elite hockey power. One of the greatest goals in her career was the gold medal winning tally that brought Canada the 2012 IIHF world title, truly testament to her longevity in the game. Her leadership skills on and off the ice, complemented by a love of the game and a humble demeanor, whether it be with the Montreal Stars of the CWHL or the Canadian contingent, make her a highly valued player and teammate.

While the captaincy was truly the only remaining honor left in her storied career (besides nomination in the Hockey Hall of Fame), there is no denying that everyone on Team Canada provides their own type of leadership. Many of the women on the Canadian contingent have served as captains on their own teams in CWHL and NCAA play making the push for a fourth consecutive gold truly a team effort.

As the next stage of the road towards Sochi includes a pre-Winter Games camp in Austria, the reality of Ouellette being appointed Canada’s captain is an opportunity to celebrate her career. Considering Hefford and Wickenheiser are the only other women to have played at least 200 games with Canada, they will certainly be key support for Ouellette as the three compose the best group of captains among all the competing teams in Sochi.

Larisa Yurkiw the feel good story of Canadian effort heading into Sochi

One of the most captivating stories heading into the Sochi Winter Games is also one of the biggest underdog stories. Forced to find funding after being unceremoniously dumped by Alpine Canada, who had budgetary problems with operating the women’s speed program, Larisa Yurkiw embodies the spirit of determination and resiliency.

Despite what seemed like insurmountable odds, attempting to qualify for Sochi after suffering a severe knee injury in 2009 at Val d’Isere, France, Yurkiw has seen her dream come true. Compounded by the stress of trying to obtain sponsorship while training, no one would have blamed her had she given up.

In true Olympic spirit, there were no traces of self-pity in her remarkable character as she pushed herself beyond her limits. Employing the wisdom of her father Dennis, who reminded her that the windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror, only positive thoughts have helped drive her forward. Of note, her parents actually booked the trip to Sochi a year ago, the ultimate sign that they believed in her.

Raising $150,000 in order to finance her dream (one of her biggest supporters was Buduchnist Credit Union in Toronto), she was able to hire a coach and obtain access to training facilities. With the support of skiing coach Kurt Mayr, whom Yurkiw hopes to get accredited in time to join her for the Games, the opportunity to qualify for Sochi occurred after she earned a pair of top 12 finishes during the 2013-14 ski season. The second top 12 finish took place at Altenmarkt, where she finished sixth overall. Her first race at Sochi shall take place on February 9 as she competes in the Super Combined races.

Three days later will bring the downhill races, while February 15 presents Yurkiw with her last chance for a podium finish as she will participate in the Super G. As the last Canadian alpine skier to claim a medal was Edi Podivinsky at the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway, an opportunity to put an end to that drought would only add to Yurkiw’s already growing legend.

Having captured the hearts and minds of sports fans throughout Canada, the native of Owen Sound, Ontario has even found new popularity on social media. Of note, Shelley Jackson has launched a new page on Facebook lobbying for Yurkiw to be Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies of the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Only adding to the grassroots support is a community flag at Owen Sound’s City Hall which residents are signing as a show of support and good luck for Yurkiw.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect is the fact that Yurkiw, a downhill and Super-G specialist, shall represent Canada, and not another nation, at the Games. Despite being the reigning Canadian champion in women’s downhill, a significant part of her training and preparation took part in Germany. Considering such factors, it would have been very tempting to refuse to compete for Canada. Such a decision is testament to the type of kind-hearted and sportsmanlike nature that she possesses.

Regardless of the outcome at Sochi, there is no denying that Yurkiw has the heart of a champion. From the view of many fans, she is already a gold medalist for having endured yet thrived under such difficult conditions. Although it can be a world with no multi-million dollar contracts or endorsements, Yurkiw has emerged as more than just one of Canada’s heroes heading into Sochi, but a role model and an example of what the human spirit can achieve.

Gretchen Bleiler combines strength and determination as one of America’s most popular athletes

Although the snowboarding contingent for the Sochi Winter Games has not yet been named, fans cannot count out Gretchen Bleiler. Having turned professional at the tender age of 14, her mark on the sport is nothing short of impressive. From becoming the first female to land a Crippler 540 in competition to a Triple Crown of Snowboarding in 2003, very few can match her accomplishments.

Photo by Monte Isom

Photo by Monte Isom

Beyond her athletic prowess is also a beauty that also makes her a sex symbol for female sport. Featured in FHM Magazine in February 2004, she shared the cover with fellow X-Games enthusiasts Tara Dakides and Jamie Little. Of note, she was also one of the athletes featured on the variant covers for ESPN’s 2011 Body Issue.

With ambitions of gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, it is the only accomplishment that has eluded her. A tiebreaker forced a then 19-year old Bleiler to miss the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. She would bounce back by qualifying for Torino 2006. This followed on the heels of a memorable 2005 where she grabbed gold at the X-Games and Gravity Games.

Ironically, Torino would be the only silver medal performance of her 2006. In a year where Fuel TV named her Female Snowboarder of the Year, she was the Overall Grand Prix Champion and enjoyed a first-place finish at the 2006 FIS World Cup. Despite entering the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games as a gold medal favorite, the X-Games Superpipe Gold Medalist in 2010 would experience heartbreak. Falling on both of her final runs, she would leave Vancouver with an 11th place finish.

Bleiler being interviewed by Conan O'Brien (Photo credit: NBC)

Bleiler being interviewed by Conan O’Brien (Photo credit: NBC)

Looking to become one of only four women to qualify for snowboarding on the US Winter Games Team for Sochi 2014, Bleiler has had to overcome an entire new set of odds. An accident on a trampoline in June 2012 placed her career in jeopardy. A double back flip resulted in a knee to her face, smashing her right eye socket, breaking her nose and a concussion. While surgery was able to repair the damaged socket and vision exercises allowed her to return to competition, it was a recovery that took over six months.

Finishing third in the halfpipe at the 2013 New Zealand Winter games would provide Bleiler with a moment of redemption. Fellow American and friend Kelly Clark earned first place as Bleiler returned to the podium for the first time in two seasons. Clark was ecstatic for her, testament to the high regard that Bleiler is held in. As a side note, when she won silver in Torino, teammate Hannah Teter organized a parade in her honor at Aspen.

Proudly displaying her medal from Torino (Image obtained from:

Proudly displaying her medal from Torino (Image obtained from:

Despite the occasional struggles with double vision, a redeeming moment in New Zealand served as an invaluable confidence builder. She definitely has the emotional intelligence to handle such struggles. Working on a teacher’s certification in meditation through the Chopra Center, she is quite possibly, at her peak, achieving a personal best off the field which may contribute to her dream of Winter Games gold. Of note, she shares her experiences about the journey through meditation and the education as part of a blog for the USOC.

Gretchen Bleiler, Billy Demong, Monica Walker and Heather McPhie speak on stage during the USOC 100 Days Out 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Celebration at Times Square on October 29, 2013 in New York City. Photo credit: D Dipasupil, Getty Images

Gretchen Bleiler, Billy Demong, Monica Walker and Heather McPhie speak on stage during the USOC 100 Days Out 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Celebration at Times Square on October 29, 2013 in New York City. Photo credit: D Dipasupil, Getty Images

Even if her Winter Games dream does not come true, her humanitarian and environmental efforts make her a champion more than any competition could measure. From the Aspen Snowmass Save Snow campaign to her work with Boarding 4 Breast Cancer, she was also recognized by Planet Green as one of its Top 5 Eco Athletes. She has even helped pave the way for future female boarders by creating the first-ever all-girls halfpipe competition called the Snow Angels Invitational. As a proud supporter of the Women’s Sports Foundation, she has truly paid it forward.

Alex Gough sets her sights on new standards as she soars towards Sochi

Having competed in the luge since 2002, Alex Gough is looking for a golden performance at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Should it happen, it would mark a breakthrough as no Canadian female has ever gained the gold in that event.

Photo credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images North America

Photo credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images North America

The 26 year-old native of Calgary and National Sport School alum is no stranger to making Canadian sporting history. At the 2011 FIL World Luge Championships in Cesana, she became the first Canadian female to earn a podium finish. In addition, a February 12, 2011 victory on the World Cup circuit made her the first non-German to claim first in thirteen years.

Gough will also be part of another unique chapter at Sochi. The team relay shall be contested for the first time at Sochi 2014. Her teammates for the event include Sam Edney and the established doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Smith. The group has proven success as a silver medal was gained at the 2013 World Championships, complementing their bronze in 2012.

Of note, Edney is a longtime friend of Gough. Family trips to Fernie, British Columbia resulted in an encounter with Edney where the two would ski the slopes. It was Edney’s foray into the sport that would encourage Gough. Registering for a luge camp at Canada Olympic Park at the tender age of 13, Gough would qualify for the 2006 Torino Winter Games at 18.

While some of Gough’s eccentricities include a love of knitting, the Olympic rings tattooed on the back of her right ankle and the constant traveling with the stuffed Disney character Stitch, she also has a charitable side. Proudly involved with the charity Fast and Female, she is working to help promote and encourage the involvement of sport among girls.

While she has had the opportunity to compete on home soil during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, her best performance ranked her in 18th place. Enjoying the opportunity to train at the Whistler Sliding Centre track, she entered the competition with confidence but the untimely accident involving Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili lowered the start positions, resulting in a different feel on the track.

Competing in Calgary, Alberta (Photo credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

Competing in Calgary, Alberta (Photo credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)

Despite the heartbreak of Vancouver, it would serve as a valuable learning experience. On February 12, 2011, she was the first non-German athlete to win a World Cup race in thirteen years. Snapping a 105-race winning for the Germans, it also made her the first Canadian female to win on the circuit.

During the last three seasons, consistency has defined her game as she has finished no worse than fifth place in the World Cup standings. Although 2012 resulted in a fourth place ranking, she would bounce back in 2013 with a second bronze medal.