Top Winter Olympic Athletes from Team USA Have Strong Ties to Marquette Michigan

Apolo Ohno: Short-Track Skater

Arguably the most famous U.S. skater today, especially after he won the Dancing with the Stars competition back in 2007—Apolo Ohno never went to school in Marquette but has trained often at the USOEC, so Northern Michiganders can claim a heartfelt bond with the Seattle native with the famous soul patch.

This is Ohno’s third Olympics and he’ll be striving to become the most medaled winter Olympian in U.S. history (Ohno has five medals, Bonnie Blair has six). This fall, at the Olympic trials in Marquette, skate fans and locals were treated to Ohno and fellow skate star Shani Davis kicking back in this low-key Lake Superior port town. One of their favorite eat spots: The Rice Paddy. Restaurant and head cook Aoy LaChapelle said she cooked special meals for Apolo, because he is on a very strict diet: steamed fish, steamed wild rice and steamed mushrooms. “I cook whatever is good for him,” she says.

Pete Vordenberg: Nordic Ski Coach

Pete Vordenberg was an NCCA Nordic ski champ when he skied for Sten Fjeldheim at Northern Michigan University, competed at the 1992 Olympics and is now the head Nordi coach for the 2010 Olympic Nordic team.

What should the average Olympics viewer look for when watching the U.S. Nordic team compete in Vancouver?

We have gone from a country that hardly put skiers inside the top 20 on the World Cup to a country that scores World Cup top 3 results every year, won medals at the world championships, and is a contender in almost every race for a top result. Look for us to vie for medals; look for us to do our country proud.

What’s the single most important thing you want a reader to know about the U.S. Nordic team at this year’s Olympics?

The only thing more important than winning a medal is how we will win that medal. We will not cheat or use any illegal methods or drugs, we will not endanger the health of our athletes, we will work hard, work as a team, and we will win as a team.

How about a general impression from living and training in Marquette?

The landscape of a place forms the people that really live in it. You can go to school or live in a place, but if you don’t get out into the area you could be anywhere. In Marquette and the U.P. if you got out in the wild like all skiers do, you will be formed by a beautiful and rough landscape. It is a hard place any time of year and also a beautiful one any time of year.

When you trained off-snow in Marquette, what was a favorite route?

I can remember in vivid detail single training sessions from the early 90’s. I can see moments from rollerski workouts like they are happening right now, see mental images from runs with my teammates in the early mornings before class. I can’t tell you a favorite route because the favorite part was not the route but the teammates I shared the route with. The area was and is special, but my fondest memories are the people I explored the area with.

What was your favorite cheap Friday night food place in Marquette?

The caf [NMU cafeteria]. For me and my friends there were not too many nights out. We ate caf food and a lot of it. We could stretch a dinner into a few hours and five or more trips to the food line. Yeah, I loved the food. There was always a period of time in the fall where your guts had to get used to it, we called it caf attack, but after that it was pure joy. Seriously.

Where They Train

Olympic athletes coming out of Marquette generally develop in one of two programs: either the cross country ski team at Northern Michigan University or the United States Olympic Education Center. The success of the NMU cross-country ski program—a traditional collegiate athletic team—is largely attributed to coach Sten Fjeldheim, a low-key competitor with a renowned sense of humor who has an eye for individual potential and an understanding of how to build team cohesion in an individual sport. He has also coached the U.S. Ski Team, the Olympic Nordic team and the Junior National team. The Olympic Education Center, launched in 1985, is part of the offi cial Olympic athlete development program, which has four such training centers around the United States.

The Marquette center trains short track speedskating, boxing, Greco-Roman wrestling, weightlifting, and women’s freestyle wrestling, and it is the only center based at a four-year university—important for athletes wanting to attend college while training. Younger athletes typically attend high school in Marquette public schools. Athletes who trained here have won more than 80 Olympic medals since the center’s inception.

Buy the Marquette Olympians Issue Now! See photos of each athlete. Buy the Marquette Olympians issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s

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