Highlighting Alaska’s Olympians

As might be expected, Alaskans are adept at winter sports. This love for activity in the snow and ice resulted in the record amount of Alaskans who qualified and competed in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games.

Of the 17 athletes from the state, three went with affiliations to UAA athletics. However, neither of those three were part of the U.S. team.

Casey Wright, a current member of the UAA ski team, qualified and competed in the sprint classic qualifications and the 10-kilometer free race. These races, which took place on Feb. 13 and 15, resulted in an 81st and 63rd place finish, respectively, for Wright.

Mat Robinson, who played on the UAA hockey team from 2005-2009, qualified to play on the Team Canada hockey team. Overall, the team played six games and finished with the bronze.

Robinson was the senior team captain and junior assistant captain during his time at UAA. The defenseman was twice selected for Most Inspirational and also qualified for the WCHA All-Academic team several times.

Luka Vidmar, also a previous UAA hockey player from 2007-2011, clinched a spot on the Team Slovenia hockey team as a defenseman. The team came out at No. 9 after playing in four games.

13 other locals made it to the games, some for the first time while some are former Olympians.

The majority of Alaska’s athletes competed in skiing or snowboarding events, including Kikkan Randall, Sadie Bjornsen, Erik Bjornsen, Jessica Yeaton, Rosie Brennan, Ryan Stassel, Rosie Mancari, Caitlin Patterson, Scott Patterson, Reese Hanneman, Logan Hanneman, Tyler Kornfield and Rosie Frankowsi.

Most notably, Randall earned a gold medal at the games. In the ladies’ team sprint free, Randall and teammate Jessica Diggins won the relay event just 0.19 seconds ahead of Team Sweden. This was the first ever medal won by the women’s U.S. cross-country ski team.

The win came as a head-to-head sprint at the end, one that Diggins was dedicated to.

“I [was] giving it everything I had and I had someone who I really love and care about waiting for me at the finishing line and I just want to make her proud,” Diggins said in a press conference.

Randall competed in three other events to complete her fifth appearance at the Olympic Games. She raced in the 10km free, 7.5K + 7.5K Skiathlon and the 4x5K relay over the course of 11 days, finishing at 16th, 40th and fifth, respectively.

Similar to Randall, cross-country skier Sadie Bjornsen also competed in four events, adding to the three Olympic events she competed in previously in 2014.

Bjornsen was a member of the same 4x5K team as Randall; she placed 15th in the 10K free, 14th in the sprint classic and 17th in the mass start classic.

Bjornsen finished one spot and five seconds ahead of Randall in the 10km classic.

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Sadie Bjornsen’s younger brother, Erik Bjornsen, also competed in the games, racing in four events. He placed highest in the team sprint free relay, along with Simeon Hamilton, placing 6th.

In addition, Erik Bjornsen finished 41st in the 15K free, 42nd in the 15K + 15K Skiathlon and 25th in the sprint free.

A fourth Alaskan to compete in the olympics was South High School graduate Yeaton. She competed in an impressive five events over the course of two weeks.

The most successful event she competed in was the team sprint relay, finishing at 12th. In addition, Yeaton raced in the 10K free (41st), the 7.5K + 7.5K Skiathlon (50th), the sprint classic (48th), and the 30K mass start classic (42nd).

Skiers Brennan, Frankowski and the Hanneman brothers each only competed in one events each.

Brennan, an aspiring teacher, competed in the 7.5K + 7.5K Skiathlon to debut her Olympic career; she finished at No. 58.

Frankowski, an adjunct professor at Alaska Pacific University, raced in the 30K mass start classic, finishing in 21st.

The Hanneman brothers competed in separate events.

The older of the two, Reese Hanneman, raced as part of the 4x10K relay, placing 14th. His younger brother, Logan Hanneman raced in the sprint classic, finishing 42nd.

“We have been competing against each other, in one sport or another, for our entire lives, and the brotherly competition and cooperation has undoubtedly propelled us to this point,” Reese Hanneman said.

A final pair of siblings that traveled together to South Korea were the Patterson siblings. This was the Olympic career debut for both athletes.

28-year-old Caitlin Patterson placed 34th in the 7.5K + 7.5K skiathlon and 26th place finish in the 30K mass-start classic.

Younger brother, 26-year-old Scott Patterson, competed in four events. His highest rank was in the 50K mass-start classic, finishing at No. 11, less than 5 minutes after the first place finish. He also competed in the 15K free (21st), 15K + 15K Skiathlon (18th) and the 4x10K relay (14th).

“From an early age in Idaho, I developed a passion for skiing through involvement in games and outdoor adventures with friends. This naturally progressed to racing,” Scott Patterson said.

The final Alaskan skier was UAF mechanical engineering graduate Kornfield. He made his Olympic debut by racing in two events, the 15K free (74th) and the 50K mass-start classic (48th).

The U.S. Team took two snowboarders from Alaska. However, only one competed.

For the second time, Stassel competed in several events at the games. He competed in two events over eleven days. First, he competed in the men’s slopestyle to finish at No. 35. Almost two weeks later, Stassel competed again to get 26th in the men’s big air.

The second snowboarder, Mancari, was unable to complete her scheduled events due to injury. She spent the days prior to her race training for snowboard-cross when she suffered an unfortunate fall that ruptured both of her Achilles.

“Everyone’s Olympic dream has a different outcome, and unfortunately mine was cut a little short when I ruptured both of my achilles in training. However, I am staying super positive and optimistic and excited to get even better and stronger this summer,” Mancari said in a public post on social media.

Keegan Messing was the lone figure skater from Alaska. The Girdwood local has been skating since age three, using that experience to make his debut in two Olympic events under team Canada.

Messing skated in the men’s short and free skate programs to finish in 12th, but as a member of the team event, Messing and his Canadian teammates took a first place finish.

Since the games, the majority of the athletes have returned home, many of them already planning out training to make it into the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.


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