WORDS: Alexa Owen
When Travis Ganong crossed the finish line of the men’s downhill in Sochi on Sunday, he had plenty to smile about. A clean, fast run and big airs with smooth landings put the 25-year-old Squaw Valley native at the head of the pack as the seventh competitor down the hill in the top seed. Ganong held strong in the top ranks to place a career-best fifth overall and first for the U.S., demonstrating to the world that he is in fact a medal threat in these Games.
Just two weeks ago, Ganong turned heads with a seventh place finish at the famous Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel, followed by an attack from the back to place sixth in the Kitzbuhel Super G. And after a strong showing at the "Super Bowl" of skiing, it was time for Ganong to get a talking-to from Men’s Head Coach Sasha Rerick. He was pulled aside and promptly congratulated by his coach on making his first Olympics.
“I called my girlfriend [Canadian skier Marie-Michele Gagnon], and then my parents,” says Ganong of those first few moments. “Those were some great phone calls to make.”
It’s the kind of phone call most Hopefuls, Future Stars, and Top Guns dream about making at some point or another in their careers as ski racers. But very few are actually able to do so. Mom. Dad. I made the Olympics. Boom.
As a youngster at Squaw, Ganong was no exception. “All of us Mighty Mites grew up racing each other around the mountain and jumping off cliffs and dreaming about where we would be in the future,” Ganong says of his early Olympic dreams. As one of four kids growing up in a skiing family (older sister Megan spent some time on the U.S. Ski Team), Ganong had the talent, environment, and support to become a competitor on the World cup level. While he could often be found building snow forts in the woods with his twin brother at his older sisters' races, Travis got the competitive bug early, raced his way onto the U.S. Ski Team at age 16, and has been climbing the ranks in speed events ever since.
Coming off his strongest season yet, Ganong was stoked not only for the opportunity to just participate in the Olympics, but as a serious contender in both the Downhill and Super G. "I've worked really hard to make the team," he explains. And after a near-podium finish in the Downhill, Ganong is surely fired up to throw down in Super G next week.
As for 23-year-old Julia Ford, the road to Sochi has not come without surprises, the most recent of which is that she will compete in slalom, an event in which she has yet to score points on the World Cup. The two-time U.S. Downhill Champion ('11, '12) has made a name for herself over the past two seasons as an up-and-coming speed skier, scoring her first World Cup points with a 22nd place in the Bad Kleinkirchheim Downhill in 2012 and adding a notable 21st place in the Lake Louise Downhill this past December. But a U.S. Women's speed team with exceptional depth and Ford's demonstrated history of solid skiing in all disciplines will put her in the start gate of the slalom.
"I'm excited to go in there with nothing to lose," Ford says of competing in the event. "It's the Olympics--anything can happen."
Of course, Ford is no stranger to the discipline. "I came on as a slalom skier," she says of the start of her career seven years ago, when she skied onto the U.S. Development Team as a senior in high school. Her technical versatility has landed her three top-10 slalom finishes at U.S. Nationals ('08, '09, '10), 2011 NorAm titles in Super G, Super Combined, and Downhill, as well as an Overall NorAm title in 2012.
Goofy, grounded, and always grateful, Ford will bring not only her skiing skills to Sochi, but a contagious energy that embodies the best of what skiing truly is. While she recognizes ski racing as an individual sport, Ford credits much of her success to her early years at Okemo Mountain Resort and the group of friends she grew up racing with, which was very team-oriented. "We skied hard, competed hard, rooted for each other, and at the end of the day we were just having a blast."
Keeping her eye on the goal -- a spot on the 2014 Olympic Team -- has kept Ford focused through rigorous training and travel schedules, fundraising work, and time spent away from home. And while a concussion in late 2012 took her out of competition for much of the early 2013 season, Ford continued to build strength and focus for a comeback in 2014. And the hard work paid off.
"I've always wanted to be the best I could be and I felt my best was the Olympics," says Ford. "This was my dream." Now that she's made it happen, she plans to ski as "fast and free" as she can.