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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid