Dartmouth's Winter Olympians

by Jonathan Gault | 11/15/09 11:00pm

Following the success of Dartmouth athletes at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, a new generation of players are now looking to punch their tickets to the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Dartmouth sent 13 athletes to Turin, who came back with a haul of five medals, three of them gold.

Cherie Piper '06, Gillian Apps '06 and Katherine Weatherston '06 won gold in Turin for Team Canada in women's ice hockey, defeating Sweden 4-1 in the gold-medal game. Kristin King '02 and Sarah Parsons '10 won bronze for Team USA.

At Dartmouth, Piper and Apps, along with Weatherston and Parsons, led the team to Ivy League and ECAC Hockey titles in 2007, before bowing out in the first round of the NCAA tournament, falling 3-2 to Boston College.

Piper and App will head to the Olympics again this winter, this time on home soil. Currently, both players are in Finland competing for Canada at the Four Nations Cup.

Piper, who also won gold at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City, will be playing on her third Olympic team. This will be the second appearance for Apps, who played on the same line as Piper during the 2006 Games.

Piper and Apps led the tournament in goals in Turin with seven apiece. Piper ranked second in points, with 15, while Apps was right behind, with 14. The third member of their line, Hayley Wickenheiser, led all players in Turin with 17 points. Parsons ranked eighth, with seven points.

The duo of Piper and Apps has also combined for eight world championship appearances, amassing five silver medals and three golds between them.

Apps said that two particularly exhilarating experiences stand out as bookends to her time in Turin, starting with the opening ceremony.

"I will never forget the feeling of walking into the Olympic Stadium," Apps said. "It was almost a surreal moment."

The second, of course, was winning the gold medal.

"It's a pretty incredible feeling," Apps said. "I was very emotional, especially standing on the blue line and watching as my teammates were given their gold medals."

Parsons had initially planned to matriculate at Dartmouth in the fall of 2005, she said, but her plans changed once she found out she had made the Olympic team.

"I made the national team my senior year of high school and went to the world championships," she said. "And then going into the tryout, I had no idea what to expect. I had a roommate at Dartmouth, and I really had no idea what was going to happen."

Parsons had already been assigned to a Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trip, but decided to delay enrollment in order to travel with Team USA as it prepared for the 2006 Olympics, playing games across the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Parsons, like Apps, noted that the opening ceremonies were a sight to behold.

"Walking into the stadium for opening ceremonies was something I will never ever forget," Parsons said. " It was one of the most exciting moments in my life."

Parsons tried out for the U.S. Olympic team for the upcoming Vancouver games, but did not make the cut. She suffered a broken leg during the 2008-2009 season, which hampered her effectiveness at the tryouts, she said.

After one last season with the Big Green, Parsons will hang up her skates, and will be working at Morgan Stanley next year. Parsons said that what she will miss most is being part of a team and getting to see her teammates on a daily basis.

Hockey players, however, are not the only Big Green athletes with Olympic-caliber talent. Laura Spector '10 is attempting to make the U.S. team in the biathlon, which combines riflery with cross-country skiing. Spector will compete at the World Team Trials from Dec. 12-22 in Coleraine, Minn. Should she place highly there, she will compete at the IBU Cup in Altenberg, Germany, in early January.

The U.S. team will select the top four performers, based on IBU Cup results, to take to Vancouver. Spector said she is optimistic about her chances to make the team, having competed for the United States at the past two World Championships, held in Sweden and South Korea.

"I think that if I can continue on that streak that I've been on, then I have a really good chance [to qualify]," Spector said. Currently, Spector is training at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., in preparation for the games.

Spector competed for the Dartmouth ski team her freshman year, but has taken the past two winters off to focus on biathlon. She will do the same this winter.

"Every athlete, when they get to this level, dreams of this moment," Spector said. "All this work I've been doing now has been for this one goal. It would be a huge deal for me to achieve it."

Several current and former Dar tmouth skiers will also be shooting for spots on the U.S. ski team. Alpine skiers Patrick Biggs '06 and Andrew Weibrecht '09 both have experience at the World Championships.

"I feel good about my chances, I've been skiing well all summer," Weibrecht said. "World championships, I've been to. World Cups, I've raced for the last couple of years. For me, [the Olympics] would be a huge accomplishment, especially growing up in Lake Placid."

Lake Placid hosted the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. Weibrecht competes in the downhill combined and Super G events. Versatility is important when competing for spots on the U.S. alpine team, he said.

"In each event, we can race up to four guys," Weibrecht said. "But there's five events total and a maximum of nine guys. People have to do multiple events. That's a big thing when it comes to qualifying."

Weibrecht placed 39th in the Super G at the World Championships earlier this year. Early this winter, he will compete in several World Cup races. How he fares there will determine whether or not he makes the team.

Biggs, who competed in Turin for Canada, is trying to make his second Olympic team. Biggs also made the World Championship team in 2007 and 2005, finishing ninth in the slalom both times.

Rosie Brennan '11, Sophie Caldwell '12 and Ida Sargent '11 are hoping to make the U.S. Nordic ski team. All three will be focusing on the 1.4-kilometer classic sprint race.

Brennan and Caldwell are training together in Sun Valley, Idaho, under the tutelage of coach Travis Jones. Sargent has been training in Craftsbury, Vt., and will meet up with Brennan and Caldwell to train in Colorado later this month.

The three will compete in a series of races in the western United States and Canada, culminating at the U.S. Championships in Anchorage, Alaska, which will be held Jan. 2-8, 2010.

Should they not make the team, the athletes said that they will come back to Hanover in the Winter term to compete for the Big Green ski team.

All three athletes praised the Dar tmouth team for its great training environment and for its coaches, who they said are very accommodating when it comes to pursuing spots on the national team.

"The coaches are very supportive of our skiing," Brennan said. "They're supportive of skiing for Dartmouth and skiing [on the national level]."

Supportive coaches are very important for Dartmouth's aspiring Olympians, as many athletes are forced to miss terms due to international competition. For several athletes, Fall term is spent training and Winter term is spent competing, leaving just the Spring and Summer terms to be on campus.

"I learned very quickly my freshman year that I couldn't train the amount I had in the past and have a heavy courseload at the same time," Spector said.

Spector is currently on track to graduate with a degree in biology in the summer of 2011.

Weibrecht, an earth science major, plans to graduate sometime in 2013 or 2014, but his schedule only allows him to be on campus during the spring.

"Right now, this is considered professional skiing," Weibrecht said. He added that he plans to continue skiing competitively "for the foreseeable future."

The XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver begin with the opening ceremonies, to be held at BC Place on Feb. 12, 2010. The games then run for 16 days, concluding with the closing ceremonies on Feb. 28.

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