Photo: Rick Patzke, USA Curling
The figure skaters capture much of the spotlight at the Winter Olympics, but what about the gun-toting skiers, the broom-wielding curlers, the speeding-bullet sledders? In anticipation of the Vancouver games (February 12 through 28), O talked to four U.S. hopefuls about their idiosyncratic pursuits.
Allison Pottinger, 36
How it works: Think of curling as a mix of bocce and shuffleboard…on ice. A team of four slides a granite stone toward a target; armed with brooms, the curlers jump in to sweep the surface, coaxing the stone to travel straighter and farther. "One of my jobs is to communicate the next play to my teammates," says Pottinger, a onetime world champion (she's also a wife, mother, and marketing analyst for General Mills in Minneapolis).
Why she does it: The Canadian-born Pottinger has been sweeping since the age of 12, when her father took her to a curling club after they moved to Otterburn Park, Québec. "Curling is about strategy," she says, "so when we win, it means we've outplayed our opponents both mentally and physically—and that's a great combination."
Haley Johnson, 28
How it works: The competitors cross-country ski around a 1.5-mile track with rifles strapped to their backs, stopping to shoot at targets from both prone and standing positions. The athletes get just one bullet per bull's-eye, and each miss means a 150-meter penalty lap. "You can be the fastest skier out there, but if you aren't hitting the target, you're not going to win," Johnson says.
Why she does it: Skiing since age 2, Johnson started shooting at 15, when the U.S. Biathlon Association set up a recruiting camp in her hometown of Lake Placid, New York. "It's amazing to do two completely different sports at once," says Johnson, who has enough sponsorships to train full-time. "When I'm skiing, I'm in a physical mode and moving incredibly fast. When I head to the shooting range, I have to make a big mental transition from skier to shooter. It's a switch I continue to try to master."
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