Three Alaska storylines to follow at the Beijing Winter Olympics

More than a dozen Alaskans are in China competing in the Winter Olympics. Here are three storylines to watch:

Keegan Messing’s short program

There’s every reason to believe Anchorage figure skater Keegan Messing will improve on his 12th-place finish at the 2018 Winter Olympics. He placed sixth at last season’s World Championships and logged three top-five finishes in international competitions this season before earning his first Canadian national championship in January.

There’s a short explanation for those successes: his short program is a winner.

America’s Nathan Chen and Japan’s Hanyu Yuzura are the clear favorites for gold, but Messing could put himself in medal contention with a solid short program Feb. 7. He’ll bring INXS and Joe Cocker to the arena for a program choreographed to “Never Tear Us Apart.”

[From 2019: Inspired by love and by loss, an Alaska figure skater brings his emotions to the ice]

The program is 2 minutes and 40 seconds of personality that includes a quadruple toe-triple toe loop combination jump, the required triple axel and a Russian split, a spectacular move that isn’t worth a lot of points but is perhaps Messing’s signature element.

Messing this season won the short program at three big competitions — the Canadian national championships, the Zagreb Golden Spin in Croatia and the Finlandia Trophy in Finland — and placed third in the short program at Skate America. His free skate is less consistent; he held on to win titles in Canada and Croatia and placed fourth overall in Finland and fifth overall at Skate America.


[From 2022: Anchorage figure skater Keegan Messing heads to the Olympics at the top of his game]

In Beijing, Messing could skate his short program twice. Lineups haven’t been finalized, but there’s a good chance he will be Canada’s entry in the men’s short program for the team skating competition this Thursday.

Hannah Halvorsen’s comeback

Nothing beats a great comeback story at the Olympics, and Alaska Pacific University skier Hannah Halvorsen has a doozy.

In November 2019, she was crossing a downtown Anchorage street at a crosswalk when a woman driving a Jeep hit her. Halvorsen was thrown from the hood of the car to the pavement and suffered extreme injuries, including a broken tibia, a skull fracture, a traumatic brain injury and the complete tears of two ligaments in her left knee. She has a 10-day memory gap of the accident and immediate aftermath and has called it a “near-death” experience.

Halvorsen, who will turn 24 during the Olympics, didn’t walk again for several weeks. She didn’t ski again for 11 months.

[From 2020: A year after suffering debilitating injuries, Anchorage skier Hannah Halvorsen is headed to the World Cup]

In December, a little more than two years after the accident, Halvorsen registered a career-best seventh-place World Cup finish in a sprint race in Germany, where she was the top American finisher in a field that included Jessie Diggins.

That result paved her way to Beijing, where her story, already familiar to many in Alaska, will be shared with a worldwide audience.

Brian Cooper’s career highlight

In a video released after he was named to the U.S. Olympic hockey team, Brian Cooper recalled playing on Anchorage’s outdoor rinks as 2-year-old.

Now, at age 28, he’s headed to the Beijing for the biggest games of his life. One of eight defensemen on the 25-man U.S. roster, Cooper is a beneficiary of the NHL’s decision to skip the Olympics because of disruptions to the regular season by COVID-19.

Cooper played for the Alaska All-Stars growing up, was captain of his college team as a senior at the University of Nebraska Omaha, spent time with the San Diego Gulls of the AHL and currently plays for IK Oskarshamn of the Swedish Hockey League.

He’ll be the second Alaska man to play at the Olympics, joining 2006 Olympian Scott Gomez, and the fourth Alaskan overall. Kerry Weiland of Palmer was a silver medalist on the 2010 women’s team and Pam Dreyer of Eagle River was a bronze medalist on the 2006 women’s team.

The Americans will play preliminary games against China, Canada and Germany. The Canada game is Feb. 11 at 7:10 p.m. AST.

[Read more about Alaska’s Winter Olympians]

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.