News / USA

Athletes Hope to Bring Sibling Advantage to Sochi

Brother and sister and U.S. Nordic Ski Team teammates Sadie and Erik Bjornsen (Photo by Robert Whitney)
Brother and sister and U.S. Nordic Ski Team teammates Sadie and Erik Bjornsen (Photo by Robert Whitney)
Tom Banse
A sibling teammate is one advantage a handful of athletes have at the Olympic games.

This year, U.S. figure skating just nominated the sister-and-brother ice dancing team of Maia and Alex Shibutani to the Sochi squad. 

At Vancouver 2010, Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger took gold in the doubles luge ahead of Latvian siblings Andris and Juris Sics.

A brother-sister cross country ski duo from Washington State is hoping to join the Olympic sibling tradition. One has a ticket to the Winter Games, while the other still hopes to clinch a spot.

Sibling Olympic Athletes
 
  • Canada's Chloe, Justine and Maxime Dufour-Lapointe hope to compete in skiing in Sochi
  • Ice dancing team Maia and Alex Shibutani are competing for the US in Sochi
  • Latvia's Martins and Tomass Dukurs are competing in the skeleton in Sochi
  • Austrians Andreas and Wolfgang Linger won gold in doubles luge in Vancouver 2010
  • Latvia's Andris and Juris Sics won silver in doubles luge in Vancouver 2010
  • Twins Phil and Steve Mahre of the US medaled in skiing in 1980 & 1984
  • Eric and Beth Heiden of the US medaled in speed skating in 1980 & 1984
Competitive streak

Erik and Sadie Bjornsen grew up in a close knit family near the remote hamlet of Mazama, Washington. An enviable 200 km Nordic trail system starts practically at their doorstep. Their mother, Mary Bjornsen, says all three of her children had an athletic upbringing with constant friendly competition.

"I can remember people wondering when Erik was going to start beating Sadie," Mary said. "It took a while actually. Sadie was fast."

"Everything was a competition from running to the car, the first one there," Sadie said. "Or balancing at the [their father's] job site on a beam as long as you could."

Sadie and Erik tried to make the U.S. Olympic team four years ago but came up short. This year their chances look better. Based on her performance in recent competitions, Sadie, 24, has mathematically clinched a spot on the team.

Erik, her 22-year-old brother, is waiting to hear if his good results at the recent U.S. National Championships will earn him a spot, too.

Erik Bjornsen pulls ahead on the way to a first place finish in the 15km classic race at the 2014 U.S. National Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah on Jan. 4, 2014.Erik Bjornsen pulls ahead on the way to a first place finish in the 15km classic race at the 2014 U.S. National Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah on Jan. 4, 2014.
Erik says both he and his sister really want to go to the Olympics together.

"It would just be nice. I think I can post better results when she is around cheering for me," he said. "I feel more comfortable just on the road with her. If I ever have any problems, there is someone I can go to."

"As a sibling you always have a little more of an open connection," Sadie said. "It's easy to get feedback from a sibling and not be threatened. Erik has been awesome for that because he has encouragement when I need it and also a reminder when I need it."

Olympic dreams

Sadie remembers being 8 or 9 years old when her Olympic dream took root.

She recalls a welcome home parade after the 1998 Nagano Games for another local Olympic cross country skier.

"I remember distinctly Laura McCabe riding in on a fire truck, the whole valley lining the streets and clapping," she said. "That was the moment. It was like, 'This is so neat.' It's such an honor. I knew I was going to be an Olympian."

Sadie Bjornsen skied in the 2013 Nordic World Championships at Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Sarah Brunson/US Ski Team)Sadie Bjornsen skied in the 2013 Nordic World Championships at Val di Fiemme, Italy. (Sarah Brunson/US Ski Team)
The celebrated Olympic skier would eventually become the Bjornsen's next door neighbor. Another former Olympian and mentor, Leslie Thompson Hall, also moved onto the same rural street.

Sibling success

Hall says siblings make it to the Olympics more often than you might think.

"You know, certainly once someone is involved in a sport it is easy to have another kid in the family join the sport, too," Hall said. "To have two exceptional athletes is not that unusual."

U.S. Olympic medalists Phil and Steve Mahre in skiing and speedskaters Eric and Beth Heiden are earlier examples of sibling success at the Winter Games (1980 and 1984 Olympics).

This year, Canada has a triple threat with three sistersChloe, Justine and Maxime Dufour-Lapointecompeting in freestyle moguls.

Two Latvian brothersMartins and Tomass Dukursare medal favorites in the face-first sledding event called skeleton.

The Swedish and U.S. hockey teams are also replete with siblings.

Prepping future athletes 

This generation of siblings is already grooming the next. Olympic hopeful Erik Bjornsen recently took a day off from training to coach and inspire junior racers from his home valley.

He would normally have help from his big sister, Sadie, to lead this annual clinic. But she's on the World Cup ski racing circuit in Europe. So he demonstrates cross country racing techniques and finishing lunges by himself.

A class full of 8 to 13 year olds mimics his every move. Later, many say they want to follow in the Bjornsens' path.

"I've always wanted to go to the Olympics as well, yeah," said Emerson Worrell, who is in seventh grade. "It's really cool."

The U.S. expects to finalize its team roster for the Sochi games later this month.

You May Like

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
X
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.
Video

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.
Video

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.
Video

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs