Northern Michigan has more than a few ties to the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games, ranging from East Jordan yarns in the U.S. team sweaters to a sports psychologist hailing from our region to Heather Clark, who will be on the slopes of Russia weeks from now.
ON THE SLOPES
Learning to ski on the slopes of Traverse City’s Hickory Hills, Clark never really harbored dreams of becoming an Olympian. She just loved to ski.
But the 53-year-old mother of two will be right in the middle of the action when the Opening Ceremonies begin on Feb. 7. Clark is one of 25,000 volunteers (only 2,300 from beyond Russia) who will make the winter games possible. She was chosen from a field of some 200,000 volunteer applicants.
“Seventy percent of the volunteers are women with an average age of 23,” says Clark. “Only five percent are over 50. The volunteer selection process was sort of geared toward college students. This is the first major volunteer effort that Russia has undertaken and they’re really proud of sparking this community spirit.”
Clark earned her spot as a volunteer with some impeccable skiing credentials. The sport has been a family activity for many years. She’s the mother of 2013 Alpine Ski Champion Finley Clark from TC West High School. Finley is now a student at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. Her daughter Katie, a senior at Wellesley College, is also an avid skier.
Through her children’s involvement, Clark ran ski races and officiated at dozens of others across the midwest.
The family attended the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and then last year Clark applied to become a Sochi volunteer.
“I passed that, and then in March I did an interview by Skype with a young Russian woman,” she recalls. “At the end of the interview, I sort of shyly asked her age. She was 17. And she said, ‘You’ll hear from us.’” In October, Clark got an email - “Sochi says Da to you.” “I was so excited,” she laughs. “I didn’t know exactly what they wanted me to do, but I was excited to be chosen.”
Clark learned later that she’ll be working at Rosa Khutor, a venue outside Sochi where the Alpine and Extreme Events will be held. Her duties will involve putting up nettings that protect the skiers and helping to hand-groom the courses. She’ll be on-duty six days a week with Fridays off. The workdays will be long – starting by 6 a.m. and lasting til about 4 p.m.
“I figured that I’ll be working 139 and a half hours over the month,” says Clark. “But I’m sure we’ll get in some skiing too.”
Clark will leave TC on Jan. 26 for a month. There are very strict rules about volunteers talking with athletes during the events, but Clark is looking forward to watching some of her favorite skiers up close. Bode Miller, Ted Ligety, Lindsey Vonn, Julia Mancuso and Mikaela Shiffrin are some she’ll be rooting for.
She plans to post updates of her adventures at hezsez.tumblr.com.
Traverse City’s Heather Clark is one of 25,000 international volunteers at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Boyne Falls resident Cary Adgate is a ski legend in northern Michigan. He was a member of the U.S. Olympic ski team in both 1976 and 1980 and is enshrined in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
In 1976 he competed in the Innsbruck Olympics and four years later skied at the Lake Placid Games.
Heading into the ’76 games, Adgate was coming off a solid fifth place finish in a world competition event and was the top American in the slalom, but a snowfall hit the slopes just before his event, leaving the ski surface very soft and rutted.
“It’s a bittersweet memory,” he recalls. “Because of my fifth place finish, I was hopeful of my chance to win a medal, but I finished 13th. I wasn’t disappointed in my performance, but more about the snow conditions.”
In the 1980 event, Adgate didn’t finish his run. But he still has some great Olympic memories.
“After my event was over, another athlete gave me two tickets to the U.S. hockey game,” he recalls. “I didn’t have anything else to do, so I went to the game and got to see The Miracle on Ice game (when the U.S. beat the highly-regarded Soviet team). It was completely unplanned and a great experience.”
Another memory he cherishes is seeing the speed skating victories of fellow Olympian Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals at the 1980 games.
At both of his games, Adgate and his fellow ski team members didn’t live at the Olympic Village with other athletes, but near their mountain ski venues, often 30 minutes or more away. So he didn’t get the chance to socialize much with other athletes.
Adgate enjoyed an 18-year career at the top of world class competition as an amateur and professional in ski racing. Now 60, Adgate sells real estate, but continues his involvement in skiing as a ski ambassador for Boyne Resorts and coaches the Boyne ski racing team.
Boyne Falls resident Cary Adgate was an Olympic skier in 1976 and 1980.
Traverse City native Dr. Steve Portenga will be watching the Olympics on TV carefully, considering some of his clients will be participating.
“Some of the people we work with will be there,” says Portenga, a sports psychologist who attended the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. “The atmosphere at the Olympic Village is unbelievable. Being around that was absolutely amazing. The pressure is something you can feel. It’s absolutely fascinating to see the pressure cooker the athletes are in.”
Portenga grew up on the slopes of Hickory Hills and has remained a skier all his life. Now based in Denver, he specializes in helping athletes, mostly track and field, improve their performance. His company is iPerformance Psychology.
While Russian authorities
say they are confident in their security measures, recent deadly
bombings have raised concerns. And the United States Olympic Committee
has been paying attention to security.
Do security issues have an impact on the concentration of the athletes?
“We dealt with a little bit of that in London,” explains Portenga. “I imagine some will be very cautious. Some will be worried about their families, their friends who are there. Others will just tune out and be able to focus on their event. Many of the athletes are so focused that they don’t keep up with world events.”
In 2012, combining his background in both engineering and psychology, Portenga developed an app, Iperformance Psychology, that enables athletes to develop the skills needed for consistent performances.
THE OLYMPIC YARN
A product from Charlevoix County will be worn at the closing ceremony of the Olympic games.
Yarn from Stonehedge Fiber Mill in East Jordan was used to make Nordic reindeer sweaters and caps for the U.S. Olympic team whose members will be sporting the gear during the closing ceremony on Feb. 23.
“A lady saw our sign posted along M-32 and stopped in,” recalls Stonehedge owner Debbie McDermott. “She said she worked for a designer in New York City and we gave her a tour. We do that for folks. Then she left and I didn’t think anything else about it.”
Later McDermott got a phone call from a member of designer Ralph Lauren’s staff requesting almost 4,000 pounds of yarn for the Olympic gear. It was one of Stonehedge’s largest orders. Staff packed the yarn into 50-pound boxes, which were shipped to California and New York in September for production.
The mill specializes in custom processing of wool into yarn. The company’s wholesale yarn products can be found in some 250 retail locations across the country. The staff of 14, mostly family, typically produces 2,000 to 2,500 pounds of wholesale yarn monthly, plus 1,000 pounds of custom yarn. In addition to wool provided by customers, Stonehedge uses textiles provided by sheep and angora goats from the McDermott family’s 157-year-old farm.
Along with Stonehedge, roughly 40 other U.S. businesses provided supplies for the U.S. Olympic team’s clothes.
So are the Stonehedge workers big Olympics fans?
“Oh yes,” says McDermott. “We’ll be watching, especially the closing ceremony.”