While the U.S. Alpine Ski Team naming ceremony at Copper Mountain was more of a formality than a surprise to any of the U.S. team members, the hundreds of fans who showed up for a chance catch a glimpse of their favorite athletes didn’t seem to mind.
Kids of all ages — and a fair share of enthusiastic adults — crowded onto the Burning Stones Plaza in Center Village at Copper on Friday, clad in red white and blue and holding signs and waving flags to celebrate the introduction of the alpine team.
“It’s awesome that so many people come to support us and participate,” Bode Miller told the Daily. “We didn’t do this stuff before and I think it helps bring the team together.”
Olympic spirit was in the air as the full squad of American team hopefuls was paraded to the plaza, led by a crowd of patriotic kids chanting, “U.S.A, U.S.A!”
“Having a bunch of young fans out there see us and get some autographs is definitely a cool thing,” Ted Ligety said just before taking the stage for introductions.
Prior to the introductions. 10-year-old Elan Fleetwood of Parker nearly stole the show, belting out an adult-like rendition of the national anthem. Women’s team members looked on in astonishment just before taking the stage, then posed for pictures with Parker after her performance.
Following the anthem, the ceremony included introductions of the men’s and women’s alpine A teams, B teams and development teams.
Miller, Ligety and fellow A team stars Lindsey Vonn and Mikaela Shiffrin were all in attendance; only three-time Olympian Julia Mancuso was absent from the ceremonies. She will join the team Sunday for training.
While Vonn, Miller and Ligety were all welcomed to loud cheers during team introductions, Vail resident and sky-rocketing alpine star Mikaela Shiffrin received the biggest ovation. A clearly surprised, wide-eyed Shiffrin smiled and gave her public the thumbs-up.
Colorado native Alice McKennis, of Glenwood Springs, also received a loud response when she was introduced. McKennis hopes to return to competition later this year after shattering her tibial plateau in February. She has been cleared to return to snow and is training with the team. She said she may not be ready in time for the next World Cup competition, in Beaver Creek, but hopes to return to racing later this year.
After introductions, Miller, Ligety, Vonn and Shiffrin stayed on stage for individual interviews.
With the announcement that the team would be signing autographs after the ceremony a mad rush of kids flocked to the nearby tables carrying helmets, T-shirts, posters and a variety of memorabilia. Those less prepared pulled out everything from cell phones to water bottles to be signed. One child was even seen with autographs on his face.
“It’s awesome to be able to connect with the younger kids,” Shiffrin said of the celebration. The 18-year-old star said she especially enjoys talking to aspiring athletes who are in the same positions she was in just a few years ago.
Earlier in the day a smaller crowd gathered in the East Village to watch the team train.
“We came to ski and thought it was a unique opportunity to come and watch the pros,” Crested Butte resident Jason Napoli said while watching the training session with his 5-year-old son Enzo. “We’re stoked; it’s a great day.”
When asked what he thought about getting the opportunity to see his favorite athletes, the younger Napoli kept it simple: “Awesome.”
The team will continue to train at Copper through much of November and early December, in preparation for the World Cup races at Beaver Creek, starting Nov. 29.
Only a select few of the team members introduced Friday will qualify for the Olympics. World Cup competition results are a major factor in the qualification process. The team will only have four places for each men’s and women’s discipline. Olympic team announcements will come early next year, before the games begin in Sochi, in February.