Which state is sending the most athletes to the Winter Olympics? Nope, Colorado is only second (behind California), and it’s tied with … Minnesota. At least 23 athletes at Sochi spent some of their formative years in Minnesota or another state in the Midwest.
Here’s how the states break out: Indiana (1); Illinois (10); Michigan (13); and Wisconsin (15). Minnesota leads the pack with 19. Most of the 23 compete on ice—11 current or former Minnesotans play hockey, for example—but the list does not lack for skiers and snowboarders.
Speaking of Minnesota, it is sending two skiers to Sochi. Leif Nordgren (biathlon) lived his first 10 years in Colorado before moving to, as he puts it, “the ski crazy state of snowy Minnesota.” He attended high school in suburban St. Paul (Forest Lake) and trained with Nordicwerks Ski Club.
Jessie Diggins also grew up in suburban St. Paul (Stillwater), and learned some of her skills with the Minnesota Youth Ski League. She says, “what I love about skiing is the chance to push my body to the limit, to be training outside on beautiful trails, and the chance to find something new about myself with every race.” Her best result this season was placing second at the World Championships skate sprint at Val di Fiemme in Italy.
While Minnesota can claim two skiers, Michigan has three snowboarders, each representing the three major events in the sport: snowboardross, slopestyle, and halfpipe.
Nick Baumgartner, who competes in snowboardcross, hails from Iron River, in the state’s isolated but snow-rich Upper Peninsula. He’s a proven quantity, having participated in the 2010 Winter Olympics and won silver and gold at the Winter X Games. As someone who also enjoys motor sports, his goals are to “be the first one down the hill, the first one around the track, and the coolest dad on the planet.”
Karly Shorr went to high school in suburban Detroit (Milford) and spent a lot of time at Boyne Mountain as a youth. Today she competes in snowboard slopestyle. She will be competing in the Olympic finals, set for Sunday.
Danny Davis, like Shorr, hails from Oakland County, Michigan. He has gone onto success in snowboarding competitions, earning gold at the 2014 Winter X Games in halfpipe and on the US Grand Prix tour.
Indiana, meanwhile, has a connection to the Olympics through Nick Goepepper, who grew up in the southeast part of the state, near the border with Kentucky and Ohio. He learned to ski at Perfect North slopes. Today, he competes in slopestyle. He’s already won on the big stage, snagging a gold medal at the 2013 Winter X Games. He has also won third on the FIS World Championships.
(Note: I compiled this with the help of an article from Wall Street Cheat Sheet, which lists only the ten states with the most Olympians. I just happened to know of Goepper from this article from Mike Terrell, so I added him to the list. There may be another athlete from Indiana, Ohio, or another Midwestern state that I have overlooked.)
UPDATE, February 7
I knew I had missed some athletes. Minnesota Public Radio says there are 44 Olympians from Minnesota, though their connections with the state are probably more tenuous than those I listed above.
These include David Chodounsky, an alpine racer who left the state for bigger slopes at age 11. He learned how to ski at Buck Hill, where other world-class athletes (Lindsey Vonn being the most prominent) started out. Grete Eliassen, a skier who competes in halfpipe and slopestyle, split her childhood between Minnesota and Norway. Keri Herman, who also competes in slopestyle, skied a little bit in high school, but mostly played hockey. She didn’t pursue skiing with a vengeance until after she moved to Colorado.
MPR also lists Brian Gregg, saying he “lives in Minneapolis,” though his profile on the U.S. Nordic team says he is in Wisconsin. MPR also says that Nordic skier Torin Koos was “born in Minneapolis” but a quick online search for information on him shows no significant connection to the Midwest.