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

    US Internet Giants, EU Reach Deal to Combat Online Hate Speech

    Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft commit to ‘quickly and efficiently’ act to clamp down on use of social media to incite violence, terror

    Video Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Begins a New Political Chapter

    Party now moves to separate its political and religious activities; change described by party members as pragmatic response to political and economic challenges facing Tunisia today

    Virtual Reality Fine-tuned at Asia Tech Show

    Microchip designers hope to improve resolution for users of systems that can turn your bedroom into the ocean floor

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conferencei
    X
    Serginho Roosblad
    May 30, 2016 5:11 PM
    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video Tech Startups Showcase Wares at Amsterdam Conference

    More than 20,000 tech enthusiasts, entrepreneurs and lovers of digital technology came together in Amsterdam recently at the Next Web Conference to discuss the latest developments in digital technology, look to the future and, of course, to connect. In recent years, there has been an explosion of so-called startup businesses that have created devices and applications that have changed the way we live; but, as Serginho Roosblad reports for VOA, there are pitfalls for such startups as well.
    Video

    Video US Military's Fallen Honored With Flags

    Memorial Day is a long weekend for most Americans. For some, it is the unofficial start of summer -- local swimming pools open and outdoor grilling season begins. But Memorial Day remains true to its origins -- a day to remember the U.S. military's fallen.
    Video

    Video Rolling Thunder Rolls Into Washington

    The Rolling Thunder caravan of motorcycles rolled into Washington Sunday, to support the U.S. military on the country's Memorial Day weekend
    Video

    Video A New Reading Program Pairs Kids with Dogs

    Dogs, it is said, are man's best friend. What some researchers have discovered is that they can also be a friend to a struggling reader. A group called Intermountain Therapy Animals trains dogs to help all kinds of kids with reading problems — from those with special needs to those for whom English is a second language. Faiza Elmasry has more on the New York chapter of R.E.A.D., or Reading Education Assistance Dogs, in this piece narrated by Faith Lapidus.
    Video

    Video Fan Base Grows for Fictional Wyoming Sheriff Longmire

    Around the world, the most enduring symbol of the U.S. is that of the cowboy. A very small percentage of Americans live in Western rural areas, and fewer still are cowboys. But the fascination with the American West is kept alive by such cultural offerings as “Longmire,” a series of books and TV episodes about a fictional Wyoming sheriff. VOA’s Greg Flakus recently spoke with Longmire’s creator, Craig Johnson, and filed this report from Houston.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora