Alaska Native makes Olympic team

Girdwood snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof makes U.S. team

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gutsy young snowboarder Callan Chythlook-Sifsof of Girdwood made history on Monday when she capped a remarkable comeback season by becoming what is believed to be the first Native Alaskan to earn a berth on an Olympic team.

"For sure," said her mother Gloria, "she's the first Alaska Eskimo in the history of the Olympics - we've researched it."

Chythlook-Sifsof was named to the Olympic team Monday afternoon, using a surge of solid performances during the last few weeks to qualify. The news capped a year of sometimes-painful rehabilitation for Chythlook-Sifsof, a Yup'ik-Inupiaq, who seriously tore her ACL at the beginning of the 2008-09 World Cup season.

U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association president and CEO Bill Marolt announced the roster of 18 snowboarders who will compete at Cypress Mountain in Vancouver, British Columbia, next month.

"We are going in to the 2010 Games with one of the strongest athletic lineups possible," U.S. Snowboarding head coach Peter Foley said. "We're hoping to ... build on the successes we saw in 2006. This team is in position to do great things."

The announcement came as Chythlook-Sifsof was en route to Aspen, Colo., for this weekend's X Games, where many Olympians will compete before the Winter Games.

Chythlook-Sifsof, 20, spent her early childhood in Aleknagik, north of Dillingham. Marsh Mountain and 2,426-foot Mable Mountain were nearby, and Chythlook-Sifsof began following her big brother Will into the hills.

"We loved to go snowmachineing and hiking to the mountain there," she told First Alaskans magazine in 2008, "and any time we weren't doing that, we were messing around behind my grandfather's house on snowboards, always together. 'C'mon sister, let's go,' he'd say."

At 12, the family moved to Girdwood, where Chythlook-Sifsof's love of snowboarding blossomed.

By 2006, she earned a berth on the national team.

A year later, Chythlook-Sifsof landed on the podium in her first World Cup snowboardcross in Japan, finishing third. That same year, she bagged a nationalchampionship.

Grueling rehab

She competes in snowboardcross, a race in which four snowboarders start simultaneously atop a course full of jumps, berms, steeps and flats that challenges the riders' ability to stay in control. Collisions are common. It debuted in the Winter Olympics four years ago, when Lindsey Jacobellis of Vermont took the silver medal.

But just a year and a half ago, after a fall in the World Cup opener, Chythlook-Sifsof was in braces and crutches after reconstructive surgery, unable to support her weight for a 12 weeks. Back then, even sleep didn't provide much of a respite. For a while, Chythlook-Sifsof was hooked up to a perpetual-motion machine that forced her leg into a constant cycling motion as she slept. The motion promoted healing and helped ward offdeconditioning.

Doctors and physical therapists at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, Calif., worked on her for a month, trying to strengthen her leg, particularly her quad muscle.

After months of grueling rehabilitation, Chythlook-Sifsof said her knee felt as good as new.

"It's a big injury," she acknowledged in August. "But everybody in the sport pretty much gets those at one time or another."

And not just snowboarders. Such famed athletes as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and golfer Tiger Woods have managed to overcome ACL problems. Others have succumbed to them.

Female athletes are as much as eight times more prone to ACL tears than men because the angle formed by a woman's hip and her knees puts the ligament under more pressure. About a quarter of the women who tear their ACL do so again after reconstructive surgery.

Gillian Honeyman, the head physical therapist for U.S. Snowboarding, marveled at Chythlook-Sifsof's attitude.

"She has been extremely dedicated to her rehabilitation and her strength and conditioning in the past year," Honeyman said in August. "She stands in a great position to return from this injury in some ways better than before.

"People who know Callan know that the one thing that she loves to do is snowboard, and this is all the motivation in the world for her. Callan would snowboard all day and all night if she could."

Hot season

Chythlook-Sifsof flew all day and night - some 8,200 miles from Anchorage to Argentina - for her first World Cup race after rehabilitation last September, but head coach Foley held her out because warm weather made the last jump on the course dangerous.

"We didn't want to expose her to that kind of risk this early in her recovery," he said in September.

Chythlook-Sifsof followed up by reeling off four finishes in the top-21 on the World Cup tour, including a 14th place in Switzerland last month, to boost her prospects.

"It's been so much work," said Gloria Chythlook. "People think how exciting it is and how glamorous it is. But in reality, it's summoning up every bit of strength and resources you have.

"Most people sort of quit when it gets a little hard because, really, it takes so much work. Callan's worked so hard and been so focused. She told me the other day, 'Mom, this is the Nobel Prize of athleticism.'"

Chythlook-Sifsof will join Jacobellis and 18-year-old Faye Gulini of Salt Lake City on the snowboardcross team. Four women were named to the halfpipe team and just one, Michelle Gorgone of Boston, earned a spot on the parallel giant slalom team. Gorgone was a teammate of Rosey Fletcher of Girdwood four years ago in Italy when Fletcher won a bronze medal.

Though records documenting the ethnicity of every Olympian from Alaska do not exist, state Rep. Reggie Joule, D-Kotzebue, a standout Native games athlete and member of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, said he believes Chythlook-Sifsof is the first Alaska Native Olympian.

Carlos Boozer, who attended high school in Juneau, became the first black Olympian from Alaska when he earned a bronze medal on the 2004 U.S. Olympic basketball team. Scott Gomez, an East High graduate and the first Latino player in the National Hockey League, became the first Hispanic Alaskan to play in the Olympics four years ago.

The Vancouver Winter Games begin Feb. 12. The women's snowboardcross race is Tuesday Feb. 16.

•Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.

2010 U.S. OLYMPIC SNOWBOARDING TEAM

A list of the U.S. Snowboarding Team members who were selected for the Vancouver Olympics on Feb. 12-28 with hometown and age:

Halfpipe Men

Greg Bretz, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 19, 12/19/1990

Scotty Lago, Seabrook, NH, 22, 11/12/1987

Louie Vito, Sandy, UT, 21, 3/20/1988

Shaun White, Carlsbad, CA, 23, 9/3/1986 (2006)

Halfpipe Women

Gretchen Bleiler, Aspen, CO, 28, 04/10/1981 (2006)

Kelly Clark, Mt. Snow, VT, 26, 07/26/1983 (2002, 2006)

Elena Hight, South Lake Tahoe, CA, 20, 08/17/1989 (2006)

Hannah Teter, Belmont, VT, 23, 0½7/1987 (2006)

SBX Men

Nick Baumgartner, Iron River, MI, 28, 12/17/1981

Nate Holland, Squaw Valley, CA, 31, 1⅛/1978 (2006)

Graham Watanabe, Sun Valley, ID, 27, 03/19/1982 (2006)

Seth Wescott, Sugarloaf, ME, 33, 06/28/1976 (2006)

SBX Women

Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, Girdwood, AK, 24, 04/17/1985

Faye Gulini, Salt Lake City, 17, 03/24/1992

Lindsey Jacobellis, Stratton Mountain, VT, 24, 08/19/1985 (2006)

PGS Men

Tyler Jewell, Steamboat Springs, CO, 32, 02/21/1977 (2006)

Chris Klug, Aspen, CO, 37, 11/18/1972 (1998, 2002)

PGS Women

Michelle Gorgone, Boston, 26, 10/18/1983 (2006)

Hardly a surprise, Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller lead a list of U.S. skiers earning spots for the Vancouver Games. The announcement of the team was delayed until Tuesday to see if any extra spots opened up.

Some did and the Americans received four extra spots, bringing the total on the men's and women's teams to 22 skiers.

Vonn is rolling into Vancouver having won five straight World Cup downhill events this season. She also leads the overall standings. Vonn could be a five-medal threat in Vancouver.

Miller made his fourth Olympics. He captured two silver medals at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City.

Reigning Olympic champions Julia Mancuso and Ted Ligety also made the team. Mancuso won the giant slalom at the Turin Games in 2006 and Ligety captured gold in the combined.

Members of US Alpine team for Vancouver Games

A list of the U.S. Ski Team members who were selected for the Vancouver Olympics on Feb. 12-28 with hometown and age:

Men

Will Brandenburg, Spokane, Wash., 23

Jimmy Cochran, Keene, N.H., 28

Erik Fisher, Middleton, Idaho, 24

Tommy Ford, Bend, Ore., 20

Tim Jitloff, Reno, Nevada, 25,

Nolan Kasper, Warren, Vt., 20

Ted Ligety, Park City, Utah, 25

Bode Miller, Franconia, N.H., 32

Steven Nyman, Sundance, Utah, 28

Marco Sullivan, Squaw Valley, Calif., 29

Andrew Weibrecht, Lake Placid, N.Y., 24

Jake Zamansky, Aspen, Colo., 28

Women

Stacey Cook, Mammoth Mountain, Calif., 25

Hailey Duke, Boise, Idaho, 24

Julia Mancuso, Olympic Valley, Calif., 25

Chelsea Marshall, Pittsfield, Vt., 27

Megan McJames, Park City, Utah, 22

Alice McKennis, Glenwood Springs, Colo., 20

Kaylin Richardson, Edina, Minn., 25

Sarah Schleper, Vail, Colo., 30

Leanne Smith, Conway, N.H., 22

Lindsey Vonn, Vail, Colo., 25

2010 U.S. OLYMPIC CROSS COUNTRY SKI TEAM

A list of the U.S. Cross Country Ski Team members who were selected for the Vancouver Olympics on Feb. 12-28 with hometown and age:

Morgan Arritola, Ketchum, ID, 23, 5/13/86

Holly Brooks, Anchorage, 27, 4/17/82

Caitlin Compton, Minneapolis, 29, 11/7/80

Kris Freeman, Andover, NH, 29, 10/14/80 (2002, 2006)

Torin Koos, Leavenworth, 29, 7/19/80 (2002, 2006)

Garrott Kuzzy, Minneaplis, 27, 1½6/82

Andy Newell, Shaftsbury, VT, 25, 1⅓0/84 (2006)

Kikkan Randall, Anchorage, 27, 1⅔⅛2 (2002, 2006)

James Southam, Anchorage, 31, 6/5/78 (2006)

Liz Stephen, Montpelier, VT, 22, 1/12/87

Friends of Animals has posted an open letter to Johnny Weir criticizing him for having fox fur on one of his costumes and asking him to stop wearing fur.

The animal advocacy group contacted his costume designer, Stephanie Handler, on Tuesday.

Weir has made no secret of his love of fashion and fur. He redesigned his free skate costume for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, adding a tuft of white fox fur to the left shoulder. Friends of Animals say animals that end up as fur pelts endure extreme cruelty, and the practice "can't be morally justified."

Although Weir says he understands the group's objection, he does not share its point of view.

Weir finished third at the U.S. championships, qualifying for his second Olympic team



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