Most Inspiring Athletes — Black Diamond Awards
MOST INSPIRING FEMALE ATHLETE
If we went simply by tallying votes, Mikaela Shiffrin would win this category. The Burke Mountain Academy grad proved she could do almost anything this year, not only dominating in slalom, where she’s been the overall World Cup champion, but winning the Olympic gold in giant slalom and earning podiums in World Cup downhills.
But when we went to add up all the nominations for cross-country skiers such as Liz Stephen, Sophie Caldwell and Ida Sargent a larger story emerged. This year, our Most Inspiring Female Athlete goes to all the Vermont-born, -bred and -trained women on the U.S. Olympic cross-country ski team.
Kikkan Randall and Vermont transplant Jessie Diggins may have been the ones in the spotlight for capturing the U.S.’ first Olympic cross-country gold in history, but it was the strength and camaraderie of the team that made this the strongest overall women’s cross-country team in U.S. history.
Since November, Peru’s Sophie Caldwell has been on a World Cup podium four times, including winning gold on January 28 in the sprint freestyle in Seefeld, Austria and, with Newport, VT’s Ida Sargent, a bronze in the team sprint in Dresden, Germany two weeks earlier. Montpelier’s Liz Stephen has been a perennial backbone of the team and Sverre Caldwell, Sophie’s father, has overseen the Stratton Mountain Elite Team, which attracted not only the Vermont women but brought Diggins and up-and-coming racer Annie Hart from Minnesota to Stratton to train with them. And beyond that A team are a host of up-and-comers, including Elmore’s Kaitlin Miller. “It’s the strongest women’s team we’ve ever had,” said U.S. Ski and Snowboard’s Tom Kelly.
MOST INSPIRING MALE ATHLETE
Ryan Cochran-Siegle overcame multiple knee injuries to make the 2018 Olympic team. Then, in PyeongChang, the kid from Cochran’s turned in the best performance of the men on the U.S. Alpine Team two events: 11th in giant slalom and 14th in Super G. But it was his cousin, Robby Kelley, who won over Vermont Sports readers.
Perhaps it was the fact that Kelley turned down a spot on the U.S. Ski Team, citing the fact that it would cost him more to train with the team than it would on his own. Perhaps it was the videos of him waking at the crack of dawn in May to ski gates in icy, rutted old snow, after camping out on Mt. Mansfield. Perhaps it was the scrappy, hilarious way he rallied a group of ski racers to form the Redneck Racing Team. Whatever it was, Kelley captured our hearts with his efforts, epitomizing the spirit which propelled his mother, Lindy Cochran Kelley, aunt Barabara Ann Cochran and nearly every other aunt, uncle and cousin in his family to the top of ski racing.
As Peggy Shinn, author of World Class: The Making of the U.S. Women’s Cross-Country Team wrote in the January/February 2017 issue of Vermont Sports:
It’s a sport where they really could view the glass as half empty—having had to overcome funding issues and injuries and illnesses in a brutally hard sport in which it takes decades to develop, and to compete against countries where doping has been rampant. But these women perpetually see the glass as half full. Through many ups and downs, they have had one goal in mind—to win an Olympic medal, especially in the team relay.
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