Biographies of Alaska's Olympians

bbragg@adn.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Courtesy of Team USARyan Stassel is on the 2014 USA Olympic team.

COURTESY OF TEAM USA — Long Photography, Inc.

HOLLY BROOKS, cross-country skiing

31 years old

Olympic history

2010 Vancouver -- 11th, 4x5-K relay; 35th, 30-K; 38th, sprint; 41st, 10-K; 55th, 7.5/7.5-K pursuit.

Early impression: The first time Brooks appeared in the Daily News, she was a West High coach trying to keep kids interested and active despite poor training conditions in 2004. She sent them on a scavenger hunt to homes around Kincaid Park.

"You can't tell a team of 75 to go out on a two-hour run. This way they get a workout without even knowing it," she said.

Fun facts: Married to Service High grad Rob Whitney, former Alaska high school Skimeister. She coached APU nordic skiers before becoming a member of its elite team. Has a cat named Buggz. Despite a broken wrist, she skied the 2012 Tour de Ski, a grueling series of seven races in nine days.

Career highlights

2012, bronze medal, World Cup 4x5-K relay

2012, fifth place, World Cup 10-K freestyle

2012, Mount Marathon champion

RYAN STASSEL, slopestyle snowboarding

21 years old

Olympic rookie

Early impression: We first met Stassel when he was 10, taking on a 17-year-old twice his size in the finals of an April 2003 boardercross race in Girdwood. He was a few yards from winning when the older, experienced rider whooshed past him.

"I was like 'What the ... !?' Man, I thought I had him," Stassel said.

Fun facts: Fishes commercially on the Kenai in the summer -- and takes a trampoline with him to stay in shape. Started snowboarding at Hilltop. Graduated from Service High. Got into slopestyle long before it was an Olympic sport.

Career highlights:

Three-time U.S. Revolution Tour champion

2014, gold medal, U.S. Grand Prix

2014, bronze medal, U.S. Grand Prix

KIKKAN RANDALL, cross-country skiing

31 years old

Olympic history

2010 Vancouver -- sixth, team sprint; eighth, sprint; 11th, 4x5-K relay; 23rd, 30-K

2006 Turin -- ninth, sprint; 10th, team sprint; 14th, 4x5-K relay, 53rd, 10-K

2002 Salt Lake City -- 44th, sprint; 66th, 10-K pursuit

Early impression: The first time Randall made headlines for a sports achievement was the 1997 Tortoise and Hare 5-K, when she was 14. She chased down two experienced runners -- Ruth Horton and Kjerstin Lastufka, the reigning Crow Pass Crossing champion -- for the win.

"I started putting in the kick and counting down as I got closer -- 14 seconds, 10 seconds, five seconds," Randall said of catching Lastufka with less than two kilometers left. "I started putting in the long strides. I kept counting and I started to push,'' she said of reeling in Horton.

Said Lastufka, "She snuck up on us. She's an awesome runner and she's going to be making some news.''

Fun facts: Makes history every time she wins a World Cup medal -- no American woman, past or present, rivals her record. East High graduate. Rides a unicycle.

Career highlights:

24-time World Cup/World Cup Stage medals (11 gold, seven silver, six bronze)

Two World Championship medals (2013 team sprint gold, 2009 freestyle spring silver)

JESSICA SCHULTZ, curling

29 years old

Olympic history

2006 Turin -- eighth place

Early impression: As a 14-year-old, Schultz and three other teens pulled off a shocking championship victory in the Anchorage Curling Club's Spring Bonspiel. They knocked off all the adult teams and scored a lospided win over a team of servicemen from Canada -- the country that owns the sport -- in the finals.

"It was very scary," Schultz said.

Fun facts: Was MVP of the East High softball team in 2003 and an all-conference pick throughout her high school softball career. A gardener, she grew swiss chard last summer without even knowing what it tastes like. Works in Minneapolis as a physical therapy assistant.

Career highlights:

2014, U.S. Olympic Team Trials champion

2013, fourth place, World Championships

2005, silver medal, World Championships

SADIE BJORNSEN, cross-country skiing

24 years old

Olympic rookie

Early impression: After her first season with APU, she helped nudge brother Erik, who was skiing for UAA at the time, to join her.

"Of course I was pushing him. I wanted him to come here because I've had such an awesome experience and it's been such a sweet season. Summers on the glacier? C'mon, Erik!" she said.

Fun facts: Pursues her college degree online while competing, rising early to attend online classes with APU. First came to Anchorage to ski for UAA, then joined APU. Was an NCAA All-America for UAA, placing third in the classic race at the 2009 national championships.

Career highlights:

2013, bronze medal, World Cup relay

2013, fourth place, World Cup team sprint

2013, three golds, two silvers, U.S. National Championships

ERIK BJORNSEN, cross-country skiing

22 years old

Olympic rookie

Early impression: The Bjornsens started as alpine skiers but they lived in Washington's Methow Valley, prime cross-country territory, so they switched sports. Erik remembered his alpine days in 2011, after joining the APU team:

"We started slowly trying it out and I enjoyed it a lot more. When I think back to downhill skiing, I think of being cold and going up the chairlift freezing," he said.

Fun facts: Scored World Cup points for the first time in his career earlier this month; it was his 11th career start on the big stage. Earned NCAA All-America honors by winning a silver medal in the classic race at the 2011 national championships.

Career highlights:

2014, 18th place, World Cup 15-K classic

2014, one gold, two silvers, U.S. National Championships

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