Steamboat’s Gold, Kauf officially Beijing bound, many still fighting for a spot
There’s officially three weeks until the opening ceremonies of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Athletes are slowly being nominated and named to the Team USA roster, and already a few Steamboat Springs skiers and snowboarders are among them.
As of Christmas Day, Steamboat resident Taylor Fletcher secured a trip to his fourth Olympics, but a few other athletes with ties to Steamboat have sealed their Olympic fate, as well.
Moguls skier Jaelin Kauf, who hails from Wyoming but trained at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and graduated from Steamboat Springs High School, is also heading back to the Olympics. She made her debut at Pyeongchang in 2018, where she missed out on the finals and finished seventh.
She was told in mid-December by teammate Hannah Soar that the two of them had officially qualified when the International Ski Federation points list came out that reflected the previous season.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to the criteria or everything. Just every event I go out and ski my best and do my best out there,” Kauf said. “I didn’t know when that list was coming out or where I was ranked on it or anything. So, I was pretty shocked when Hannah came in my room in France and told me. It was completely out of the blue to me. It feels like a huge relief to me.”
Freestyle moguls teammate Olivia Giaccio also trained with the SSWSC and looks like a strong contender for an Olympic slot, but the women’s team is extremely competitive, with Vail skiers Tess Johnson and Kai Owens earning a pair of third-place finishes in World Cups this winter. This weekend’s events in Deer Valley, Utah, will solidify who will be named to the team, which has two more slots.
Giaccio made a statement in Tremblant, Canada, last weekend, becoming the first woman to land a cork 1080 in competition.
Kauf didn’t travel to Canada but said she teared up when learning of Giaccio’s accomplishment. Kauf thinks Giaccio’s World Cup win in Ruka, Finland, has her earning a spot on the Olympic roster, but this weekend could change everything.
“It’s crazy,” Kauf said. “Because one girl with one or two World Cup podiums will not be going to the Olympics.”
Gold and Elliott return, Winters might make debut
Ahead of the 2021-22 season, Alpine snowboarder Cody Winters wasn’t expecting to go to the Olympics. He admitted he’d have to have multiple career-best finishes, ideally top 16, in order to scrape together all the qualifying standards.
Winters took 10th at a mid-December parallel slalom race in Russia, his best-ever result. On Tuesday, Jan. 11, he was eighth in qualifiers in Bad Gastein, Austria, and took 11th in the parallel slalom finals. With that, he has checked all the boxes and is now waiting to find out if he’s named to the team, which he’ll know no later than Jan. 21.
“Now we’re just waiting to see if they’ll send me or not,” Winters said.
Steamboat’s own Taylor Gold has officially clinched his spot in his second Olympics on the men’s snowboard halfpipe team. Gold was confident in his second-place finish at Dew Tour at Copper Mountain in December, so he opted out of the last Olympic qualifier in California and traveled to Switzerland instead, where he’s competing this weekend in the Laax Open, considered one of the most elite snowboarding events of the year.
He was nominated to the team a couple days ago alongside seven other halfpipe or slopestyle/big air men and women. The rest of the team will be named anywhere between Saturday, Jan. 15, and Jan. 21.
Paralympic snowboarder Noah Elliott, who has lived in the Yampa Valley since late 2019, has also, unofficially, secured a spot in Beijing. He’s won his past three events and is taking that momentum into the World Championships at Lillehammer, Norway, this week. Competition begins this weekend and continues through Jan. 23.
Elliott, who is originally from Missouri, earned gold in banked slalom in the 2018 Winter Olympics and bronze in the snowboardcross, which are the only two events available to parasnowboarders. He thinks he put up similar results this winter.
“I would say the experience is starting to kick in,” Elliott said. “Four years ago, I was very new to the sport. I just started, and I had a huge background in skateboarding. And I think that still plays a huge role into why I do so well at my sport, because of my skateboarding background. Even further than that, the experience I’ve gained in the last four years is starting to become more of a routine.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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