The 2018 Winter Olympics are drawing near as athletes head to Pyeongchang, South Korea to represent the United States, many of whom are representing Illinois as well. Beginning Feb. 9, more than 85 countries have gathered 2,800 of the finest athletes to compete in 15 different sports throughout the games. With some athletes returning and others beginning their Olympic journey this year, here are the star participants straight from Illinois.
Bradie Tennell: Tennell, just 19 years old, is from Carpentersville and will be participating in the games for the first time this year. The young woman won her first figure skating national championship which secured her spot in the Olympics.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in quite yet,” Tennell said after winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, according to Patch. “I’m still kind of shocked. It’s indescribable to me.”
Tennell surprised many who counted her out early on by winning several high-level competitions and claiming her throne among other star studded figure skaters.
Alexa Scimeca Knierim: Knierim, a resident of Addison, fought more than most contenders are required to gain her spot on the 2018 Olympic team. Before returning to compete for her spot, Knierim hadn’t participated in a figure skating competition in 10 months after a mysterious disease left her bed ridden and unable to skate, according to Team USA.
Now set to compete alongside her skating partner and husband, Christopher, Knierim said she has a more relaxed and positive outlook on the sport in light of her recent health issues. At one point, Knierim doubted she would ever be able to skate again and now, she has been granted the opportunity to skate among the best, a spot many believe she deserves.
“Alexa was at the point where skating wasn’t even a thought,” coach Dalilah Sappenfield said. “It was about her life and her health. Skating is a blessing. It’s something she was given back to do again.”
Kendall Coyne: All the way from Palos Heights, Coyne, 25, will be making her second Olympic appearance as she joins the 2018 team.
Coyne’s first Olympic appearance was in 2014 when she took home the silver medal with the US Women’s Hockey team and this year, she has her eyes set on nothing but the gold. Staying close to her roots, Coyne made a surprise visit to her old elementary school to speak with the students about determination, dreams and success.
“I wasn’t allowed to go to hockey unless I did my homework first,” Coyne told students, according to Patch. “If I didn’t do well and behave well in school, I couldn’t play in my games.”
Long Track Speed Skating
Shani Davis: Straight from Chicago, Davis, 35, was the first African American to win a gold medal at an individual sport in the Winter Olympics where he will head for his fifth time this season.
With only three spots available on the men’s team, Davis finished second in the qualifiers with a time of 1:09.32 in the 1,000 meter race, according to Patch. With two gold medals under his belt, Davis has placed and taken home a medal every time he has competed in the Olympic games.
Brian Hansen: Competing in the Olympics for the third time, Hansen, a Glenview native, finished second at the 1,500 meter race with a time of 1:46.64.
Hansen, 27, trained at the Northbrook Speed Skating Club and took home a silver medal in the 2010 Winter games. After the 2014 games, Hansen took some time off from speed skating to earn a degree at the University of Colorado where he graduated last spring. Speed skating found its way back into Hansen’s life and heart as he qualified for this year’s games.
“I’m super excited and I couldn’t be more happy to have these fans here helping me out and cheering me on,” Hansen said, according to Patch. “I’m just so excited to be representing the U.S. again and [to be] going to Korea for my third games.”
Emery Lehman: Following his first Olympic appearance in 2014 as a senior at Oak Park-River Forest High School, 21-year-old Lehman will be returning to the team this year.
Lehman previously qualified for men’s 5,000 and men’s 10,000 meters, but this year the U.S. men did not qualify for a spot in either distance leaving him to compete for a spot in the 1,500 meter. While Lehman placed fourth, missing the qualification, he received notice that he would be added to the team as a specialist to complete the seven-member squad.
“You never really know until the weekend is over, especially with how racing goes,” Lehman told the Chicago Tribune. “I knew I still had to come out and race really well. I had to leave it up to U.S. Speedskating to make the decision.”
Short Track Speed Skating
Lana Gehring: The 27-year-old from Glenview will be making her second Olympic appearance at this year’s games after taking home the bronze in her first games in 2010.
After winning both 1500 meter events in Kearns, Utah, Gehring qualified to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. Gehring said this time around she is in better shape and is prepared to compete for the gold, according to Patch. Winning in three of the six women’s finals, Gehring extended a victory for Illinois as well as Illinois speed skaters have represented the U.S. at every winter game since 1924.
“I was only 19 [so] coming in here [now] I’m a little more confident in how I skate,” Gehring said. “I’m just happy that that shined through today.”
Michael Glasder: Glasder, a resident of Cary, proved that persistence and effort are key to success as he competed for a third time to qualify in the Winter Olympics with this year proving to be the one that will take him to the games.
Glasder attempted to qualify and narrowly missed the margin twice, but this year his skill put him over the top sending him to represent the U.S. in South Korea. At age 28, Glasder is nearly 6 years older than his fellow teammates, proving that against many odds and standards, anything can be done.
“I stuck it out, worked hard, and I can’t wait for PyeongChang,” Glasder said, according to Patch.