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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisisi
X
March 06, 2015 12:28 AM
There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Winter Weather Strikes Eastern US...Again!

A new wintry blast has hit more than 20 states in the U.S. Midwest and Mid-Atlantic region, adding more snow to the piles from previous storms. Tired of shoveling snow, breaking the ice and dealing with accidents, flight delays and property damage, most Americans hope this is the last bout of cold for the season. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Myanmar's Traditional Fashion Choices Endure

The sartorial choices of Myanmar’s men and women quickly catch the eye of any visitor to the tropical Southeast Asian country. But at a time when Myanmar’s political and economic opening is bringing affordable western fashions to the masses, will the country’s unique fashion trends endure? VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Yangon explores that question.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More