Ten athletes from the Aspen area are training to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics, which start in early February. Only a handful of them will make it. Over the next several weeks, we’ll follow these athletes as they work hard to make the cut.
20-year-old Katie Ryan zooms down alpine ski courses, going more than 80 miles per hour. And, she says that’s not that fast. She’s been on skis since she was small and she’s hoping all of that experience pays off.
A ski racer launches through the gate in this Youtube video and speeds down the course.
It’s an alpine skiing competition called Super Giant Slalom, or Super G. The racer tucks down and flies through a set of gates on a downhill course. It requires significant speed and accuracy. The Super G was added to the Olympics in 1988 and it’s one of Katie Ryan’s specialties. The Aspen resident says she craves speed.
"I’ve been clocked at 85 miles an hour, I can say with assurance I’ve gone faster than that," she says.
During her senior year of high school, Katie was a U-S Nationals Super G Junior champ. That’s what caught the eye of U.S. Ski Team coaches, who invited her to join their development team in 2011. They saw the makings of a good athlete.
"I think, really, they’re mostly looking for coachability, and a working attitude and the heart. I think they factor in everything because ski racing is such a multi-faceted sport," she says.
Katie got on skis at age five, a surprisingly late age relative to her peers.
"It was never a problem for me to wake up and want to go skiing, it was very clear to me that I would want to be on the mountain, no matter the weather and conditions. I wanted to be with my friends and ski."
When she joined the local ski club’s race team, she struggled at first, to keep up with the older athletes. But, she got faster and faster, taking extra training laps and working to keep up with the men’s team.
"She came through the program as a youngster and then she got on the team at AVSC and really just started to emerge as a 12-year-old, and got better and better and better each year," says Walt Evans.
Evans has watched Katie develop as an athlete. He works with coaches and athletes at the Aspen Valley Ski and Snowboard Club. He also spent three decades as the Alpine Development Director for the U.S. Ski Team. That’s where he saw Katie emerge as an athlete to contend with.
"I think what a bright spot is for me with Katie, is her work ethic. She had to work hard to become a good, technical skier. But, Katie has had some unfortunate injuries over the last three years. Each time, Katie goes to work and does the rehab and comes out stronger and faster than she was before the injury," he says.
Katie rattles off injuries like you might read a grocery list: a broken elbow, an injured ankle and a blown ACL, which she just recently recovered from.
Now, she says, she has her sights set on Sochi.
"Yeah, that would be awesome. The Olympics are going to be a stretch of a goal, but I feel like a realistic goal for me. It’s hard to think it’s even a possibility, but you think, of course, this is the path that I’m on."
Besides the Olympics, she’s also training for the World Junior Championships in Slovakia and U.S. Nationals.
Walt Evans with AVSC says he expects great things from Katie this season, but the Olympics may be unrealistic.
"She is in very, very fast company right now in the U.S. to qualify. I think, for me, Katie over the next two or three years, has the opportunity to get experience. I don’t think the 2014 Games are too realistic for her. It would be a long shot."
He thinks she’ll be a top contender for the 2018 Korean Winter Olympic Games. There are just a handful of slots at the 2014 Olympics for the best U.S. women. And, he thinks racers like Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Stacey Cook may be difficult to beat.
But, those decisions won’t be made until closer to the Games. And, Katie Ryan plans to train hard in the coming months.