We were so thrilled our Friday Jan. 17 show featured two U.S. Olympians on their way to the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
Figure skater Jason Brown, the first male singles skater to make the U.S. Olympic team since 1976, and Mikaela Shiffrin, an Alpine skier and the current Slalom World Cup Champion, called in to our broadcast to give us a taste of their journey to Olympic glory.
Alpine Skier Mikaela Shiffrin
Mikaela Shiffrin joined us first. She talked about her exciting recent victory in the World Championships, and explained how her training regimen is going in Reiter Alm, Austria.
"I'm really excited. The race went well, it was a pretty big margin of a win and I was just excited to get some of my good skiing on the course so it was really fun. We're training quite a bit, cause we have a little bit of break in races right now. But really part of the biggest training for Sochi is the racing, and being able to to you know, let your skis go and really compete well in the races versus just training well. Some athletes find it really difficult to train well and then race well at the same time. Right now, the biggest training and the biggest benefit that I'm getting is just racing and trying to get my good skiing out there."
Shiffrin is a loose, easy skier with a gentle touch. She explained where that attention came from.
"I've been working really the past few years on trying to be really loose, because ever since I was little I've always put a lot of emphasis on my technique so I;m solid on my skis but the past few years i've been working on having the good technique but also letting my skis go and really not holding back at all. i tend to think of myself as a pretty relaxed skier but also disciplined with my motions."
The politics and protests surrounding the games haven't phased Shriffin, she told us.
"We have a pretty small team here, so we're pretty kind of isolated from everything. Obviously I've seen everything that's going on and of course I'd rather compete in a place that's familiar to me, I'd love to race in the United States, because it's home and I feel safe there. I also know that everybody who goes into organizing the Olympics are trained to deal with these kind of difficult situations, and I'm just really excited to go race. I feel, right now going into the Olympics, that they have a handle on things and my job is to just go in and ski as fast as I can."
Shiffrin's races are toward the end of the Alpine events in the Sochi Games' calendar. She explained how she'll stay fresh for her event as the games open early next month.
"Well you know what actually what we're doing — I'm racing the giant slalom and slalom, and you're right they're the last two Alpine racing competitions and they're only I think two days apart. So what we're gonna do is fly into Sochi a little bit later, so we'll spend about I think a total of nine or ten days there, but we're not gonna be there the entire time so we can utilize the training in Austria before the games."
Our guest, Los Angeles Times deputy sports editor John Cherwa, called Shiffrin the winter equivalent of American swimming phenom Missy Franklin, a star of the 2012 London Games. The two young American athletes have been in touch as the Sochi games approach.
"She has been really supportive, and we were tweeting a little bit this summer and going into the season. I'm very flattered by that comparison because I love the way she handles herself with media and with her sponsors, and whatever she's doing. Whenever you hear about Missy, it's always positive and she's always smiling. And she's 17, 18 years old and working so hard and having success, and I think it's a really good lesson to be learned that she's obviously having a blast, and whatever pressure is on her isn't affecting her because she's winning and loving it and that's kind of the mentality I like to take."
While some athletes might be concerned about protests or safety in Russia, Shiffrin said her main focus is her sport.
"Most of this for me, I'm really trying to just stay focused on my sport. Most of it is, 'Just don't worry about, they're trained to handle this kind of thing. And your job is go in and try your best to win a couple of medals, and that's that.' And that's the really the whole point of the Olympics, is friendly competition with pretty much every country in the world. We all go in and we're a ll competing for those medals and it's a story that we hopefully can try and tell our grand kids someday. And so that's really my vision of the Olympics is making it as amazing an experience as possible. For most of the athletes, there's of course there's some athletes who want to take a stand one way or the other, but I don't feel that it's my job to do that."
Shiffrin also talked about the admittedly strange choice for a sub-tropical resort city like Sochi to host the Winter Games, and how that would affect her skiing.
"It's a little bit funky there, but I'm really excited to go see what the conditions are. We were trained there a little bit last February — it was kind of your average spring conditions, a little bit sugary snow, we had to put salt on the snow to harden it up, but I had some of my best training conditions out of the entire season last year. I'm really excited. I think it's gonna be fair, it's gonna be an awesome competition."
Figure Skater Jason Brown
Figure skater Jason Brown took the country by storm when an incredible video of his routine at the US Skating Championships last Sunday hit the web. He went "viral," so to speak, and he joined us from Colorado Springs to tell us about how it feels to have his childhood Olympic dreams finally coming true.
"You know the first Olympics that I saw was 2006, that I saw live, in my living room with my parents. I think that's when it first became a dream of mine. But it still wasn't something that I thought was gonna be a reality. And looking back at it now, I would have never guessed that this would be what is going on. I always try to stay in the moment and so the moment came and I can't even believe where I am right now."
Brown talked about what went through his mind as he skated in his championship routine this month.
"I've been working so, so hard this year, training harder than I have ever have because it is such a taxing program. I've done so much endurance training, and I moved to Colorado, so I'm in altitude now. I think that that training so hard and doing section after section every day, I went out there and that's how I trained it, the program and I couldn't ask for anything more than just to out and do my program as I've trained. And that's how I've been training and so I couldn't ask for anything more, and after that, everything else is out of my hands — what the judges do, how everyone else skates, and then I ended up in second. I honestly can't even wrap my head around it yet."
Brown talked about his preparations for Sochi, and a time two years ago when he skated in a program in the future Olympic Arena.
"Earlier this year, we have watched videos, we have a team camp in the summer that they showed us videos and we talked to a bunch of people that are gonna be there. I was fortunate enough to go to Sochi about two years for the Junior Grand Prix final. it was a junior test event that they had, kind of a like a test event. So I've actually gotten to go and skate in that rink. I cant even believe that I'm going back. I loved it, that was my first time I've ever been to Russia. The fans were amazing, the culture is so incredible, just from the architecture to the people to...they had one of the competitors' parties a Russian dance group come in. The way they brought the culture into the event was truly spectacular and just to be in a Olympic rink with my coach was something that I can't even put into words. And I can't even believe that I'm going to be going back there in at an Olympic games."
Brown also talked about his love of dance, and his decision to remain out of the political debate swirling around the games.
"I was always a skater, but I love to dance. I guess if you count putting on shows that my sister choreographed when I was three or four, that counts as dance so dance came first, but I started off as a skater...I definteily dont completely agree with [the Russian political situation], but I'm really trying to focus on my training everyday and doing what I do everyday and trying to represent my country the best that I can."
The Sochi games will be the first to feature a new "team figure skating'" event, the participants in which have not yet been determined, Brown said.
"I have no idea, they are talking about it and it is something that is up for discussion about who's gonna compete where, but the skaters haven't been given any information about who's gonna compete, who's not gonna compete, but I don't know when I'll find out. But it's definitely an event that it would be such an honor and a privilege to be a part of, the first team event in the Winter Olympics Games for figure skating."
Brown told us that his main goal when skating is to just stay on his feet and deliver for the audience.
"All I was thinking a bout was, 'Just go out there and do what you trained.' There's nothing else I could do, I couldn't ask to be better than I trained, I just wanted to go out there and skate the way I've been training and just skate the program that me and my coach have seen every day, that me and my coach have worked on all year. That was my main focus and that was all I could think about, and that's just what I went out and did . I've never been more prepared for an event and I just went out and tried to stay on my feet, fight for everything and just perform for the audience, because there's nothing that I love to do than to skate for them and to skate for them."
We're so proud of both of these young American Olympians, and we wish them the best in the upcoming Sochi Olympic Games! The games begin on February 6, and continue through February 23. Watch out for Jason and Mikaela on the ice and slopes of Sochi soon!