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Elites to Olympians
Three Methow skiers chosen

photoSadie and Erik Bjornsen are on their way to Sochi as part of the United States Olympic team. Photo by Rob Whitney

The tiny Methow Valley made history today when three local skiers—siblings Erik and Sadie Bjornsen and Brian Gregg—were listed on the roster of 14 athletes who will represent the U.S. at the Winter Olympic Games next month in Sochi, Russia.

“I’m so excited to join two others from the Methow for our first Olympic experience,” Sadie Bjornsen said in an email. “It says a great deal about the Methow, the awesome support, the solid work ethic, and our awesome parents.”

A very happy Brian Gregg also thanked the supportive Methow community, including a list of nine coaches, in an email. “So many families, businesses and individuals believed [in the Olympic dream],” he said. “Over 20 percent of the Olympic cross-country team made in the Methow. Pretty cool.”

“Making the Olympics is a dream come true for me,” Erik Bjornsen said in an email. “I haven’t worked this hard towards a goal in my whole life… The last 12 months I have been just thinking about how to make the team and it has been super stressful. I’m so glad the team is named and that I’m a part of it.”

“It’s so exciting; I’m just totally thrilled,” said Laura McCabe, a former Olympian who coached all three athletes when they were on the Methow Valley Nordic Ski Team. “It’s an incredible representation from the valley.”

“It’s great,” said Scott Johnston, who also coached all three when they were starting their ski careers. “I think they all deserve it. They’ve worked hard over the years.”

photoBrian Gregg was also chosen for the U.S. Olympic team. His wife, and "best teammate ever", Caitlin just missed being selected. Photo courtesy the Greggs

Scott added that he thinks Sadie, 24, and Erik, 21, are “on their way up” with “long ski careers ahead of them.” He also expects Sadie to be selected for the U.S. women’s relay team, which has the potential to bring home an Olympic medal. “Ten years ago, when I first started working with her, she was a little girl,” Johnston said. “It’s been fun to see the change.”

Johnston has worked with Brian Gregg, 29, for the last three years to help him realize his Olympic dream, and called him “a very hard-working guy.”

“Thanks to everyone for making a dream come true,” Brian and Caitlin Gregg said on their Facebook page, shortly after the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association announced its team picks.

Johnston has also worked with Caitlin, 32, who was on the 2010 Olympic team but was not selected this time. “She’s skiing better than she ever has,” he said. “It’s a tough situation on the women’s side right now. The women’s [U.S. Nordic Ski Team] is so strong… It’s a hard group to break into.”

“Caitlin put it all on the line, including winning U.S. Nationals by almost four minutes,” Brian said. “In 2011, she said her first goal was to help me earn a spot on the 2014 team. Our next goal was to both make it. She just missed the team but we have no regrets.“

Parents Tom and Mary Bjornsen were en route to SeaTac airport when they got the news that Erik made the team. “He made it,” a relieved dad. “I can only imagine how he feels.”

photoLaura McCabe, a former Olympian herself, and Scott Johnston both coached all three of the Olympic team choices. Photos by Karen West

“We didn’t get any sleep last night,” added Mary Bjornsen, who said the couple left the valley Wednesday morning without knowing whether Erik would join Sadie on the team. “Once we got over Blewett Pass, I checked my messages and had one from Erik,” said Mary. “We’re really, really happy for him and for Sadie and Brian.”

The Bjornsens are flying to Italy to spend time with Sadie and Erik and to watch them compete in international races to be held before the Olympics open on February 7.

Jim Gregg, Brian’s dad, spent the morning alerting family members. “I feel very fortunate that Brian got in there,” he said. “It’s really exciting.”

He also expressed disappointment that the USSA decided not to take more than seven women to Sochi because Caitlin had a good chance of being the next woman selected. “She can join us in the TeamGregg support wagon,” he added. The Gregg family will travel to Sochi in mid-February to catch most of the cross-country events.

Jim Gregg said he and his wife, Jan, both got sick earlier in the week. “I think it was the tension from the whole thing. We were just a disaster.”

Three-time Olympian Leslie Hall, the Methow Valley Nordic Team’s program director and all-around coach, said, “I’m super happy for all of them… It’s so great all three are going.”

Hall, who also has coached the trio, called them “super role models who are so generous with their time” when they come back to the valley, they work with the kids, she said.

photoLeslie Hall, another former Olympian who makes the Methow Valley her home, also coached the Bjornsens and Brian Gregg in their youth. Photo by Karen West

Hall also credits McCabe. “She won’t say this,” Hall said of her self-effacing friend and fellow coach, but “she is so inspirational. Laura is really good at drawing the best out of everybody.”

McCabe was coaching here in 1998 when she was named to the Olympic team. Sadie Bjornsen recently told a reporter for National Public Radio that she decided she wanted to become an Olympian after seeing her coach, McCabe, ride through Winthrop in a fire truck.

Erik Bjornsen credited Scott Johnston with starting him on the path to the Olympics when he was in middle school and told his then coach about his goal.

Brian Gregg said he was 15 years old when he set the Olympics as his goal. It was during the 72-hour solo sit-and-think portion of an Outward Bound program that he made that decision.

Gregg’s parents credit the late Sean McCabe with making it possible for Brian to attend the Outward Bound program on a scholarship. They said that to them it’s just one example of the kind of adult support local skiers have had.

In extending his “heartfelt congratulations” to the trio, Johnston said he tries to help every athlete he coaches reach their maximum potential. “In the end, it’s up to them to have the desire and drive to put it all together into this life-changing experience.”

The national Winter Olympics Committee will officially name the team on Monday, January 27, but it is essentially a done deal. The games open Friday, February 7. | SEE THE ENTIRE CROSS-COUNTRY TEAM HERE >>

The parents were proud and anxious before the announcement. read more >>


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