Through COVID haze, Alaska’s Olympic contingent eyes medals in Beijing

The 49th state is sending curlers, cross-country skiers, a figure skater and a hockey player in search of new hardware in Beijing.

Alaskans will be at the center of the action at this month’s Winter Olympics in China, befitting the nation’s only Arctic state.

As the Games approach, the media’s focus has so far been on China’s intense coronavirus prevention protocols, and the country’s human rights record of abuses in the Xinjiang region and its invasive surveillance measures.

But over the next few weeks, the spotlight at the Games will likely shift to competitions — and the bevy of participating Alaskans will have a chance to tell their own stories.

The 49th state is sending cross-country skiers, curlers, a hockey player and a figure skater to China in search of a medal haul. One athlete is two years removed from life-threatening injuries suffered when she was hit by a car. Other Alaska-connected competitors have taken circuitous routes to Beijing, or will represent other nations.

[Three Alaska storylines to follow at the Beijing Winter Olympics]

Here’s a quick roundup on the contingent of Alaskans, and Alaska-adjacent athletes, who will be competing in China. Stay tuned for on-the-ground coverage, and check out our guide to watching the Games at the bottom of each section.

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How to watch the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games

The 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing kick off officially Friday with the Opening Ceremonies.NBC along with USA Network and CNBC will broadcast select competitions from the Games, while all events will be available to stream on Peacock, and the NBC Sports App.

Beijing is 17 hours ahead of Alaska so while some of the coverage may be tape-delayed, much of it will be live.

The Opening Ceremonies will be live on NBC at 2:30 a.m. Alaska time on Friday, with replays scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The official start of the Games is Friday, but competitions get under way Wednesday and run through Feb. 20.

ADN reporter Nat Herz is traveling to China to cover Alaska’s athletes and writing regular dispatches from the Games. Visit for the latest on the Alaska athletes competing.

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The skiers

Alaska can lay claim to more than half of America’s cross-country skiing squad in Beijing, as eight of the 14 athletes have ties to the state.

Headlining the group is Rosie Brennan, a 33-year-old Anchorage resident who, like several other Olympic cross-country skiers, is a member of Alaska Pacific University’s elite team.

Brennan is a medal contender in several Olympic events — there are six cross-country competitions — but her recent success in the sport has come only after pressing on through injuries and being cut from the U.S. Ski Team, twice. She has a podium finish on the top-level World Cup circuit from earlier this season.

Hailey Swirbul, 23, also lives in Anchorage and trains with APU. She’s a bona fide medal contender, as well, assuming that as one of America’s top distance racers, she can keep a spot on the U.S. women’s team in the relay event.

[COVID tests, isolation hotels and a burner phone: An ADN reporter’s trip to Beijing]

Scott Patterson, 30, squeaked on to the Olympic team after breaking his wrist in the summer. But before that, the Anchorage resident and APU member had been one of America’s best distance racers: He placed 11th in the marathon 50-kilometer event at the last Winter Olympics, the best-ever U.S. result in that event.

Scott’s older sister, Caitlin Patterson, 32, now trains with an elite ski racing team in Vermont. But like her brother, she grew up in Anchorage and will be competing in her second Games after strong finishes at the U.S. National Championships in Utah last month.

Hannah Halvorsen, 23, is racing at her first Olympics, a little more than two years after she was hit by a car in a crosswalk — a collision that left her with a traumatic brain injury, a skull fracture, a broken leg and torn ligaments. It took weeks before Halvorsen, who trains with APU, could walk again.

Also racing at their first Olympics are Gus Schumacher, 21, and Luke Jager, 22 — both part of a contingent of up-and-coming American male skiers who grew up in Anchorage. JC Schoonmaker, 21, moved from California to Alaska to race with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s ski team; he has an outside shot at a medal in the men’s individual and team sprint events.

[Avoiding omicron is an Olympic-level challenge for Alaska skiers with Beijing Games, and virus tests, looming]

How to watch the skiers: The first event for both the men’s and women’s skiers is the skiathlon, where athletes race first in the classic technique, then, with the clock still running, transition to freestyle equipment. The women’s event is Friday at 10:45 p.m. AKST on USA Network, Peacock, and the NBC Sports App. The men’s skiathlon is Saturday at 10 p.m. AKST on USA Network, Peacock, and the NBC Sports App. Alaska athletes will continue competing in the five other cross-country ski events throughout the Games.

The figure skater

Messing, 30, grew up in Girdwood, lives in Anchorage and competes for Canada in figure skating. He’s dreaming of a medal in Beijing, and last year finished sixth at the World Championships.

Messing recently won Canada’s national championship in spite of a scare with lost skates; he’s also a new father. He’s competing in his second Games and says he’ll be one of the oldest competitors in the men’s field; his “retirement’s coming pretty soon.”

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

How to watch Messing: Messing will compete in the short program on Thursday. The NBC broadcast covering the program and more Olympic action starts at 4 p.m. AKST. Messing’s event begins streaming on Peacock, and the NBC Sports App at 4:55 p.m. AKST.

The curlers

Vicky Persinger, 29, grew up in Fairbanks; she’ll compete in Beijing in curling’s mixed-doubles event with Minnesotan Chris Plys.

Persinger is competing in her first Games after a heartbreaking near-miss four years ago. She still lives in Fairbanks, where she got into the sport by playing at the local curling club, and she works at a title company there that gives her leave to pursue her sporting ambitions.

[With world-class skill and hometown pride, a Fairbanks curler slides toward Beijing]

Colin Hufman, who grew up in Fairbanks and now lives in Minnesota, is an alternate for the U.S. men’s curling team.

How to watch the curlers: Persinger will compete three times Wednesday, facing Australia at 3:05 a.m. AKST on Peacock, and the NBC Sports App. USA Network will show a replay of that competition at 2 p.m. AKST and Persinger and Plys will be in action at 4:05 p.m. against Italy and 9:30 p.m. vs. Norway. Both of those matches will be broadcast on USA Network, Peacock, and the NBC Sports App. Hufman’s first chance to compete won’t come until Feb. 9 when Team USA faces the Russian Olympic Committee.

[I used to curl with Alaska’s Olympians. Here’s what I’ll be thinking about as I watch them compete in Beijing.]

The hockey player

Brian Cooper, who was born and raised in Anchorage, is part of the U.S. men’s hockey team, which is lacking players from the NHL because of COVID-related disruptions to that league’s schedule.

Cooper, 28, plays defense on IK Oskarshamn, a team in the Swedish Hockey League. Only one other Alaska-born man has played Olympic ice hockey for the American team: Scott Gomez.

How to watch Cooper: The USA Hockey team opens preliminary play on Feb. 10 against China. The game is scheduled for 4:10 a.m. AKST on USA Network, Peacock, and the NBC Sports App. A replay is scheduled for that afternoon on USA Network at 1 p.m.

The bobsledder

Hunter Church, 25, was born at Elmendorf Air Force Base and went to Anchorage’s Klatt Elementary before his family moved to upstate New York, where he got into bobsledding.

Church is now the pilot of the U.S. men’s bobsled team; he comes from a family of bobsledders, with a grandfather who competed at the 1948 U.S. Olympic Trials.

How to watch Church: The bobsled is one of the last competitions to get underway during the Games. Church is set to compete on Feb. 14 in the two-man bobsled event qualifying heats starting at 3:05 a.m. AKST on USA Network, Peacock, and the NBC Sports App.

The Aussies

Two cross-country skiers with Alaska ties will be racing in Beijing for Australia — which, perhaps surprisingly, boasts several ski areas and a history of winter sports participation.

Jess Yeaton, 30, was born in Australia and moved to Anchorage at age 12; she’s been studying for a doctorate in physical therapy at the University of New Mexico over the past few years.

Casey Wright, 27, was born in Australia and raced for the University of Alaska Anchorage several years ago.

Both Wright and Yeaton competed for Australia at the Olympics in 2018.

How to watch the Aussies: Yeaton and Wright are both eligible to see their first action at the skiathlon on Friday.

Nathaniel Herz

Anchorage-based independent journalist Nathaniel Herz has been a reporter in Alaska for nearly a decade, with stints at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. Read his newsletter, Northern Journal, at