B/R Interview: Olympians Lindsey Jacobellis, Seth Wescott, Julia Mancuso Hit NYC
It's not every day that you get to sit down to chat with an Olympian, let alone a dozen of them. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the biggest names on the Team USA roster from Vancouver as the stars were in town for the 43rd Annual New York Ski and Snowboard Ball and Olympic Celebration.
Julia Mancuso, Lindsey Jacobellis and Shannon Bahrke headlined the women, while Seth Wescott, Bode Miller and Bill Demong led the male contingent.
More than 20 Olympians—with a combined collection of over 30 medals—were invited to the Raika Studio salon courtesy of Paul Mitchell for a hair and styling session before being swept off to the ball and red carpet.
Chatting to these athletes over a coffee and a haircut, I learned about everything from life as an Olympian and the importance of sponsorship to starting your own coffee company and the best places to fish in the Adirondacks.
From the salon to the ball, here are some of my photos and interviews with the Olympians.
For information on the 2010 New York Ski and Snowboard Ball and Olympic Celebration, donations and other events, visit the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team Foundation.
Jacobellis captured the Olympic silver medal in snowboard cross in Torino in 2006, but many people will likely remember her more for missing out on a chance of a gold medal when she crashed during a premature celebration.
The 25 year old did not medal in Vancouver, but she is still loving life and having fun. At the salon her trademark tight blonde curls were exchanged for looser locks and she arrived on the red carpet looking like a million dollars.
I spoke with her about friendship, success on the snow, fashion and her pet dog Gidgit.
Lindsey on...Teammates and having too much of a good thing
"We see enough of each other that we never even really talk to each other throughout the summertime," she joked, "but once we get back on the road we pretty much pick it right back up from where we left off and there is no time lost.
"That's how it always is. We all go our own ways and just relax and vent and then come back ready to join the ranks again."
Lindsey on...Post-Olympic success
"Two years ago at Valmalenco [the competition that took place after Vancouver] I knocked myself out for two minutes, so after not coming through in Vancouver and immediately getting a win right after it was like, 'see I know it was in there, something just wasn't right that day.'
"To win there after really injuring myself was incredible. It was scary just to go back and revisit that place so I felt like I conquered two fears in that sense.
"I've been coming here for a while and I think this is my ninth year. I'm pretty excited to still be a part of it and it's the biggest event of the year for the fundraisers and it's always so much fun to see the Hammerstein ballroom completely bedazzled in a different way."
Lindsey on...Moving to California for the summer
"It was fantastic. I was out there since the beginning of June, I was doing my workouts every day, surfing whenever there were waves, going on bike rides and pretty much being ridiculously active...also I took pilot lessons which was a new fun thing that I started doing.
"Gidgit (her dog) loves California life. She was fit enough to pace me when I was cruising on my beach cruiser and then I even got a motorcycle later in the simmer and I put the backpack backwards and she would just sit right in the front of it and she loved going everywhere with me. We were two peas in a pod there and we absolutely loved it."
Lindsey on...Whether she had a dress in mind for the ball
"Of course," she said with wide eyes and a big smile. "I love my shoes and everything is all picked out. I'm wearing one of my favorite Dolce and Gabana dresses and then some shoes from BCBG. I rarely get to go out in New York so it's fun to be with the teammates and go to a completely different element from what you're used to."
With pinks streaks running through her hair, an infectious personality and a lovable manner, Shannon Bahrke has as much fun off the slope and on it. The bronze medalist retired after the 2010 Olympic Games, but she's had no time to relax.
She married boyfriend Matt in mid-October and is moving through the retail world by running her own coffee company out of Salt Lake City. More than 26 Team USA athletes have their own special blend and for every bag of coffee sold $1 goes back to the athlete and also a charity they have chosen.
Shannon on...Living the New York lifestyle
"I love getting dressed up and looking like a girly-girl and having my hair done so this is right up my alley with all of these fantastic people working in the salon. I'm getting the whole New York experience.
"I don't get to New York as often as I like, but if I had more money I would be here once a month, but I have a lot of good friends that live here so I try and get back as often as I can."
Shannon on...medaling in Vancouver
"It's astonishing to me. I think working so hard in your career and being able to end on such a fantastic note is something I am so thankful for. I had such a good time and I couldn't ask for anything more out of my career."
Shannon on...marriage (and a name change)
"It's so good. I'm officially Shannon B. Happe (pronounced Happy). Everything is really good. I miss being in the gym every day with the team and having that dynamic but it has been a lot of fun and I really love it.
"We want to start a family and I'm really looking forward to that. Matt is going to be a good dad so I can't wait to start having kids. That is coming soon."
Shannon on...rooting for her baby brother, Scott.
"He's my little brother,. I love him. He's the only sibling I have and what he is trying to accomplish and what he has already accomplished is amazing. He works so hard and it's really fun to follow his [aerials] career and I can't wait for this winter to see him compete and do really well."
Shannon on...making money, enabling dreams through Silver Bean Coffee
"I am looking forward to actually making some money. With mogul skiing you really don't make very much from it, so I'm really looking at being successful in other parts of my life.
"I've been known for so long as 'Shannon the Skier' and now I want to move outside that realm. My ultimate goal is to help athletes all across the Olympic movement."
The three-time Olympic medalist and 2006 Olympic champion was one of the bigger names competing under the Team USA banner in Vancouver.
No female American alpine skier has more medals and Mancuso doesn't plan on stopping there. Known for her love of fashion and passion for social networking, the 2006 gold medalist Twerped about eating frozen fruit puree Fruizo on Third Avenue hours before the ball and "Had a great ski ball in NYC, thanks for all of our supporters. We wouldn't be out here skiing without ya!" afterwards.
Julia on...hitting her goals
"For me it's important to remember that I am progressing and that I made it back from injury. I'm really excited to keep pushing forward in my sport and hopefully winning more races. For me [Vancouver] was another stepping stone and a realization that no matter where I am coming from it's always possible to set goals and make it there."
Julia on...the importance of sponsors
"It's important for us to have donors and sponsors to get to actually ski and I like to meet the people who are supporting us. It takes so much funding and work to be out there every day so it's great to learn who's behind us."
"For me, I discovered that I can give back from the little things that I'm doing on the road...like the start numbers that are free to me can be valuable to other people. It's just a tiny, tiny bit and there are
so many people out there doing great work and I just want to do my part."
Westcott became the first American male to successfully defend a gold medal in a snow sport when he claimed the top step of the podium in snowboard cross in Vancouver.
He's down to Earth and a lot of fun to speak with. He talks passionately about his sport and just how much work goes on behind the scenes and he is proud to represent his country and his sport.
Did you know he was on the Colbert Report?
Wescott on...being a two-time champion
"It's an honor. That was my entire focus of last year to build slowly and get to that point. I had minor injuries at the start of the year and a week before the games was when the body started to loosen up and I was excited.
"I put in a lot of hard work in the year-and-a-half leading up tho the games, so to be able to accomplish it."
Wescott on...the luck of the draw
"I lucked out with the schedule because Shawn [White] did it two days later, but it's an honor to be the first to defend the gold on snow."
Wescott on...owning a restaurant and kicking back
"'The Rack' is going well and we're gearing back up for our sixth winter. Post-Olympic summers are super busy, but somehow I've played more golf and surfed more than I got to do any normal training, but I'm looking forward to this winter and I'd like to make it three in Sochi."
"With the population base in NY we have a lot of key supporters here like the Kellog Family. This is our biggest day for fundraising in the year so to be able to spend the evening with those people and share
some stories over the last season and have that interaction is nice."
Four-time Olympian Bill Demong won gold at Vancouver in Nordic combined and he helped Team USA to a bronze medal in the 4x5 km team event.
The sport is not one that most sports fans were too aware of going into the Games, and as a result Demong was not a household name, but he captured the heart of the nation when he proposed to girlfriend Katie at the team house shortly after his success.
Bill Demong on...being an Olympic champion
"Being a four-time Olympian and starting out as a 17-year-old and working from the bottom up it definitely was the culmination of a lot of years of success and failure and building on results and working as a team to become the first ever Nordic combined medalist in the United States."
Bill Demong on...that proposal
"It wasn't actually that public, but it went public. Someone put it on YouTube and things got carried away, but it turned out to be a perfect little fairytale. We got married in July, settled down in Park City and got a new house."
Bill Demong on...returning to NYC
"This is a ton of fun. Over the years I have gotten to know a lot of the people who attend this and I am looking forward to catching up with some of my friends and our biggest supporters."
Freestyle moguls skier McPhie is one of the nicest people you could hope to meet. The 26-year-old fulfilled her lifetime dream of making it to the Olympics, and while she didn't take home a medal, she left with memories to last a lifetime.
McPhie carried the momentum forward from the Olympics and rose to No. 2 in the world by the end of the season...quite an achievement for a former gymnast who was on the 'C' team at the start of the season.
I caught up with her as stylists were putting some loose curls into her brown hair at the Raika salon.
Heather on...being a girly girl
"This is so fun. It's so differnet from anything we usually do and I was joking that I don't have helmet hair for the first time all year. It's so nice to feel like a girl and I'm loving it. I have cute athletic clothes rather than girly clothes, but it is really fun to get dressed up once in a while.
"We don't get to see each other in the offseason so much so these events are really fun to come together. We usually see each other in ski clothes and workout gear so it's fun to get dressed up and have some fun."
Heather on...her rise to fame
"Last season was a fairytale for me. It was almost perfect and I was a little disappointed with the Olympics, but to start the season 27th in the world and end up second is just a dream come true for me.
"It gives me a lot of confidence to work on things and push the sport and myself and I'm really excited for what's to come in the next few years."
Heather on...memories of Vancouver
"I have a couple really vivid memories. One of them was walking intom the opening ceremonies. It was unreal. I'm not someone who is super patriotic in general, I mean I love America and where I'm from, but I don't notice it in a daily basis. But then you put on your USA stuff and walk in with so many different athletes from so many different sports who are all representing your country is so cool.
"I had so much fun bonding with Shannon [Bahrke] and Hannah [Kearney]. We just really bonded. We danced at the top of the course and I laughed almost to the point of tears every day in the Olympics."
Heather on...the one thing nobody can ever take away
"After my Olympics qualifications run I was so happy. It wasn't real that I was an Olympian until I competed. So it was just such a cool feeling that I am, and forever will be, an Olympian. It was just this amazing experience and something that you dream of forever. It is something that will be one of the most memorable events in my life."
Heather on...go big or go home
"I want to push my airs and go bigger. I'm doing two new more difficult jumps so I want to complete both of them and I'm really excited about pushing myself."
Clark landed the bronze medal in the halfpipe after scooping gold eight years earlier in Salt Lake City. She's been to three Games now, and she has taken a lot from each one.
That maturity is evident in the way she speaks and the outlook she has on both her sport and her life as an athlete. She's also involved in charity work and camp programs and she recently handed out scholarships from her own foundation.
It seems odd to call her a veteran at just 27, but she's one of the more experienced women on the circuit and she's seen almost everything that the snow has to offer.
Kelly on...putting things into perspective
"Having been 18 years old and winning a gold medal but then missing the podium in 2006 and coming back to get on it again, knowing how hard I had to work makes me appreciate the Vancouver one more even though it is bronze, not gold.
"To me it means more. I walked away from Vancouver with an appreciation that medals represent
something a lot more to the individual than they do to everyone else. Knowing all the hard work I put in makes it a great achievement that I was really proud of."
Kelly on...her philanthropy work
"I started the Kelly Clark Foundation and we just gave out our first round of scholarships for this school
season. It was really exciting and we gave out seven awards to help out families with financial need and kids with dreams to attend mountain schools, so that was a big step for us and this season.
"I'm looking to create as much awareness as I can about it to help out more kids next year."
Kelly on...the winter season
"I have a very full contest season. I kinda go with if I'm having fun and progressing I'll have a busy schedule. The second I lose those components I back off and re-evaluate it and figure out how to have fun again, but I'm having fun and I'm more motivated than ever. "I have the Grand Prix, the Open Tour, the Dew Tour and I'm looking for TTR points at the X-Games so I'm looking to progress my riding and so well in some events."
Kearney won gold in Vancouver in the moguls, following in the footsteps of Donna Weinbrecht, who took gold in the very first women's moguls competition in Albertville in 1992.
She's well-spoken and incredibly friendly and she also enjoys a good book. In between photo opportunities, hair cuts and media interviews, the 24 year old had her head down in The Girl Who Played With Fire.
Hannah on...a trip to the city
"It's incredible. A trip to New York is an out-of-this world experience. I live in Vermont so I'm not even that far away, but this is a totally different world down here. Being treated like this is especially flattering and exciting and to be able to feel good and look pretty and to raise money for what we believe in and continue to do is an honor."
"The biggest change is that people view you slightly differently. They consider you quite a bit more successful than they did before the one ski run, so it does change your life, but in other ways my life is
entirely the exact same before the gold medal. I've returned to the normal training regime and I'm sure people will be trying to beat me and my goal is to not let them."
Hannah on...relaxing and training
"You always make time [to relax]. I am lucky enough to have skiing be my full-time job so between training there is sometimes time, or combining training with the hiking and biking. Anything that you consider enjoyable can generally be translated to training as well."
Hannah on...the future
"I want consistency in my skiing. I want to win the overall globe which means skiing well in every event because the women's field is really competitive. The other goal is that the World Championships is on home soil at Deer Valley which will just be a good opportunity to compete in front of my friends and family."
Hannah on...meeting back up with 1992 champion Donna Weinbrecht
"She was one of the first people to give me a hug after I won. She had genuine tears of happiness and she is such a generous person and an athlete and it will be great to see her."
Weibrecht is laid back and cool in a way that makes everything he does look effortless. He took bronze in the Super G in Vancouver and he looked more nervous about having some of his flowing hair snipped off than he did in the starting gate of his medal run.
We caught up with him spinning around in the black chair at the salon in between joking around with Johnny Spillane and Graham Watanabe. Having studied in upstate New York near where Weibrecht grew up in Lake Placid, the conversation often shifted between being an Olympian and the joys of fishing, hiking and the great outdoors.
Andrew on...meeting up with teammates during the offseason
"It's always a pretty awesome event and it's cool that we're able to put on such a high class event that draws so many people and I'm psyched to be part of it. I've gotten a ton of support from the ski team through the years and to give something back to it is pretty awesome.
"It's awesome to see everybody in general. All of the sports are spread out everywhere and it's rare to see everyone in the same place. It's cool to see the snowboard guys and the freestyles who you only
see once in a while out in Utah. As a whole I really only see the men's alpine, I don't even see the women's alpine, so it's a great event to be able to catch up with everybody and see some friends I haven't seen in a while."
Andrew on...the trip to Vancouver
"It was an awesome experience even without the medal. It think it would have been one of the most fun two-week periods of my life just with the new experiences and a really cool environment that I hadn't been a part of before.
"Coming out of it it's just really cool to have a good result under my belt where I came and basically showed my best side athletically and I'll try to take that momentum and move it into next year."
Andrew on...recovering from surgery
"It's been a long summer for me because I had shoulder surgery in March so maybe I was a little behind the eight ball coming in, but after a couple good weeks in New Zealand I'm feeling good. I just want to continue to bring the best that I can every day. Wherever that leaves me results wise, that's cool."
Andrew on...missing out on the World Cup final in Lake Placid
"It was really disappointing. I missed the last couple World Cups and the World Cup finals. It was the first time I qualified so I was really looking forward to going to that. The US Nationals hadn't been held in Lake Placid since probably 2003 so I was psyched coming off a good season to try and perform in front of my home crowd but it wasn't meant to be."
Andrew on...life in the Adirondacks
"I try to do everything that that area has to offer. I do a ton of fishing and hiking and hanging out on all of the lakes that are around and I also do a lot of canoeing. Basically anything I can do outside there, which is a lot, I enjoy.
"That's what I grew up doing and I've been lucky to have all those resources at my disposal and it's always a treat to be able to spend time at home."
Nichols is the only American to win a gold medal at both the summer and Olympic Games. She also just happens to be one of the nicest and most determined young women you could hope to meet.
She grew up in New Mexico but spent winters on the snow in Colorado where she turned into a top prospect, destined for the biggest stage. All of this came crashing down in 2000 when she misjudged a back flip and landed hard on the ground, injuring her back and paralysing herself from the waist down.
As I sat next to Nichols as she waited patiently in her wheelchair, I quickly realized that she was a determined, humble young woman who refuses to let her disability define who she is.
An athlete through and through, she took up wheelchair basketball after the accident and helped Team USA to gold in Beijing. With a degree in hand, funded by a wheelchair basketball scholarship, she decided to get back on the snow. She moved to adaptive alpine skiing and took home four medals at the Paralympics Vancouver, including gold in the downhill and giant slalom.
Alana on...always being an athlete
"When I found wheelchair basketball after my accident it really changed my life. I was an athlete before my accident and I didn't think I'd ever compete again so once I found wheelchair basketball things started to open up for me.
"In terms of even my attitude about life I didn't think I could compete anymore and that was all that i loved to do so once I found wheelchair basketball I started to get this real attitude of like 'I can do
anything, I am going to play basketball.' I learned about the Paralympic games and Beijing and I worked hard for six years to get there."
Alana on...following her dream
"I was so fortunate that wheelchair basketball put me through school. I was able to go to the University of Arizona and Alabama on partial and full scholarships. After Beijing I'd always wanted to start skiing again and I just took the plunge and moved from Alabama to Colorado. I had very little money in my pocket but I had a dream and I worked towards Vancouver and in two short years I was able to accomplish that dream. It has been a wild ride."
Alana on...looking ahead to 2014
"I know that I still have a lot of work to do but I am really excited to work toward Sochi, Russia, in 2014. What I really took from Vancouver was just how fortunate I am. Every athlete wants to peak at the games, they want to give their best performance, and I think I'm gave some of my best performances there and I felt very satisfied and I can now look to getting even better.
"I have some big goals. Short-term goals are to perform really well in Italy at the World Championships. I'd like to win the gold in the downhill and Super-G and I have been working hard on the slalom and
technical events and I'd like to win the gold in the slalom and G.S."
Alana on...raising awareness
"After winning a couple golds in Vancouver it's just opened up so many more doors for me to represent not only myself as a gold medalist but also female athletes with disabilities as a whole and so I really try to do my best to use my platform to raise awareness and grow my sport as a whole."
Nordic combined Olympian Spillane took home three silver medals in Vancouver, including individuals medals in the large and normal hill as well as in the team event.
Kicking back in an orange sweatshirt, Spillane was all smiles as he waited to have his wavy shaggy hair chopped into shape. For him, 2010 was everything he could have hoped for, and more.
Johnny on...competing in Vancouver
"For me the whole experience was the culmination of what we have worked so hard for for so many years. I had a great feeling of satisfaction after I left because I know that I did everything I could to put myself in a good position up there and then to perform on that stage when I really needed to was pretty special."
Johnny on...the joy of winning three medals
"They all had their own aspects about what made them so special. Obviously the normal hill was amazing because it was the first one. I finally broke through the barrier and got a medal.
"The team event was a thrill because it's a good measure of how strong your nation is and we never had been that competitive in the team event and even though we didn't win we arguably had one of the strongest teams.
"The last event was a lot of fun because I felt confident going into it and I had already done everything that I could possibly have dreamed of. For Bill to win and me to come second was pretty awesome."
Johnny on...meeting the supporters
"It's a good opportunity for us to meet with the people who support us so much and hopefully we can get them to support us in the future.
"These folks provide us with the opportunity to do what we do so it's good for us to be able to give back to them and share some of our past experiences with them.
"A lot of these guys have followed us for our whole careers and it will be fun to talk to them about what we have accomplished. It's always fun when you get this group of people together."
Johnny on...getting back to competition
"I had a knee surgery this summer to that has taken its toll on what training I can do. I am going to be missing a lot of World Cups and taking my time to get into shape because right now my goal is to do well at the World championships. My goal is to get an individual medal and help the team get another medal."
Also In Attendance...Lindsey Vonn
Vonn was one of the faces of Team USA at the 2010 Games. She took gold in the downhill and bronze in the Super-G, all while competing on an ankle injured in training in the build up to the Olympics.
Vonn looked stunning in a red dress and black heels at the ball and with a full bill of health, there's no telling just how many more events she will win over the coming years.
Also In Attendance...Bode Miller
Miller kept it simple. He didn't need a hair cut and with a dark shirt and black suit, he didn't need any glitz to make his arrival set off a string of photographers' flashes.
Miller scooped a gold, a silver and a bronze in Vancouver, and while he only conducted a quick 30-second piece to camera on the red carpet, he looked every bit the part of a champion.
Miller was fashionably late, but nobody was complaining.