Her Olympic experience ended in 3 minutes. It was still ‘perfect.’

ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA — Two years ago, Hannah Halvorsen suffered life-threatening injuries when a car hit her in an Anchorage crosswalk.

On Tuesday, she raced at the Olympics in China.

Her Olympic Games are likely over after a single three-and-a-half-minute qualifying sprint race — her qualifying time wasn’t fast enough to earn a spot in the medal rounds.

But Halvorsen, 23, still seemed to arrive on a cloud when she greeted reporters after the race.

“Just to be here, to be an Olympian — that took so much,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like three minutes. It feels about 12 years. So I feel very complete.”

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Halvorsen placed 43rd in the field of 90 in the skate sprint, about five seconds away from 30th place, the last qualifying position for the heats.


The race was two years and three months after the accident in Anchorage. In it, Halvorsen suffered a traumatic brain injury and a skull fracture, a broken tibia and two complete knee ligament tears; it was weeks before she could walk and a year before she could ski.

But within two months of returning to snow last season, Halvorsen, a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s development squad who trains with Alaska Pacific University, was racing on the top-level World Cup circuit in Europe. She cracked the top-30 in her second event.

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Halvorsen made another step forward this winter, earning a spot in a World Cup sprint semifinal heat for the first time in her career in a race in December in Germany. Last month, the U.S. Ski Team announced she’d earned a spot in Beijing.

The meaning of that accomplishment just two years after her injuries, Halvorsen said Tuesday, is “simple; it’s cliche. It means you can do anything if you just take one step at a time, and if you have enough people who support you.”

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Halvorsen will stay in Zhangjiakou, the resort town outside Beijing where the ski races are held, through Feb. 18.

But the strength of the U.S. women’s team means it’s unlikely she’ll race again. Halvorsen said she’ll be skiing, having fun, and trading pins in the meantime.

Her experience so far, she added, has been “perfect.”

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It’s usually hard, Halvorsen said, to heed the wisdom of her grandparents and others to “be present, to really be here.” But not at the Olympics.

“I haven’t struggled with that, being here. I’ve truly been able to wake up each day and just enjoy it,” she said. “I’m not in a rush. I’m not trying to get anything done for the first time in my life. I’m just here. I’m just experiencing it.”

Nat Herz is an Anchorage Daily News reporter who’s covering the Olympics for the ADN and He also reported on-site from Games in 2014 in Russia, and 2010 in Vancouver.

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