The 24th Winter Olympics are officially underway in Beijing and several Oregonians are competing. Unlike China, where all the snow is man-made, our home state is one of the few places in the world where you can participate in winter competitions all year round.
From Mount Hood to Bend, the Pacific Northwest region is a snowing paradise for variations of skiing, ice skating, sledding, and so much more.
Since 1924, the major international multi-sport event has fielded hundreds of Oregon competitors, including a few podium honorees as well.
Winter Olympics History
The Olympic Charter defines the Winter Games as sports that are exclusively practiced on snow or ice. The original competition consisted of five Winter Olympic sports that saw participation between 16 countries. Until 1992, both the Winter and Summer Olympic Games were held in the same year, before the IOC put both in alternating even-numbered yearly cycles.
Sports added since inception included alpine skiing, luge, freestyle skiing, skeleton, and snowboarding.
In its 100 year history, the Winter Olympics have been hosted on three continents by twelve countries, with the United States leading with four hosting dates, though the games have never transpired in Oregon. The United States ranks fourth in all-time medals, trailing only Germany (West, East), Norway, and Russia (Soviet Union).
Best Of The Best Oregon Winter Olympic Medalists:
Oregon has a rich history of Summer Olympic stars, especially in track & field, but it also has a history of excellence in the Winter Olympics. Here are the most notable Winter Olympians ever from Oregon.
Oregon State University
Roseburg native Jean Saubert may be the most accomplished on this list.
Over a decade and a half, Saubert won numerous races throughout the United States and European circuits. Although she failed to be named to the 1960 Olympic team, she entered the 1964 competition as a favorite, but ultimately fell to France’s Goitschel sisters, that triumphed in two technical races. Saubert’s silver medal was actually shared with Christine Goitschel, who she tied in the giant slalom.
After the Games, Saubert graduated from OSU as an educator. In total, she was a U.S. champion eight times over her international skiing career.
Though not from the Beaver State, Jill Bakken is definitely part of Beaver Nation. Originally from just a state away in Washington, Bakken came to Corvallis in 1996, where she played for the women’s soccer program as a defender. Involved in competitive bobsled since 1994, she was paired with Vonetta Flowers in the two-woman event, winning Team USA’s first Olympic bobsledding medal in 46 years.
Bakken is honored on the official Oregon Almanac as an Oregon Olympic Medalist.
Central Oregon Bend native Kiki Cutter was a late addition to the U.S. Ski Team at the 1968 Grenoble Games. She posted the top result of any U.S. woman that year across all events and went on to become the first American woman to win a World Cup race, accumulating four titles before retiring and attending college.
From 1972 to 1980, Nordic native Mike Devecka made three different Winter Olympic trips, but did not medal.
Bend snowboarder Chris Klug competed in both the Nagano and Salt Lake City games, winning a Bronze in the latter competing in the giant slalom. Proving his longevity and athleticism, Klug qualified again in the Vancouver games.
Though born in California, Bill Johnson grew up in Brightwood and was a member of the Alpine ski team for some years. In his first — and only — Winter Olympics, he earned Gold honors with ease, becoming the first American man to stand on top of the Alpine skiing podium in the event. After an accident at the national championship in 2001, Johnson was afflicted by a lifelong brain injury that required care for the rest of his life. Despite his disability, he was a torchbearer at the Opening Ceremony at Salt Lake City the following year. He later passed away in an assisted living facility locally.
Considered a pioneer to the sport, Hjalmar Hvam was the country’s top ski competitor in the 1930s and eventually became the jumping coach for the U.S. Olympic ski team. However, it was his contributions to safety that he is still known for.
A pioneering releasable ski binding was created by the Mount Hood skier in 1939 after he broke his leg in a practicing cornice jumping. The eye-catching ad slogan was the tongue twister: “Hvoom with Hvam — and have no fear!”
An Oregon Historical Society exhibit, “Freeze the Day! A History of Winter Sports in Oregon” that opened last winter, prominently features the trailblazer.
Yes, she gets a category all on her own.
Born right here in our city, Harding is the most famous and notorious figure skater of all time, prompting both praise and ire for her activities on-and-off the ice. From a poor family (an obvious disadvantage to the prim and proper sport), Harding got her start at a local ring outside the establishment and steadily worked her way up the rankings.
Harding finished fourth at the 1992 Winter Olympics and was a near second to favored Nancy Kerrigan in national rankings. After a mysterious assailant took out Kerrigan’s knees at the US Nationals, Hardin won and qualified for the Olympic team. Authorities later unraveled a conspiracy that involved Harding, her husband, and her husband’s friend, fingering the trio as planning the Kerrigan assault. The bizarre behavior became known as the “Kerrigan Saga”, which later inspired the Oscar-nominated film “I, Tonya” starring Margot Robbie in the titular role.
Lost in all the drama, Harding was a great figure skater who did have a chance to medal, though she came up short. Here is perhaps her best performance ever, in the 1991 US Championships, in which she became the first American ever to complete a triple axel jump.
If you want to learn more about Portland sports, read: “The Most Important Teams In Portland Sports History.”