By the time a college-age athlete reaches the Olympics, they’ve usually been training for about decade, with their sport as one of their primary focuses in life.
Sheila Rappazzo Yorkin, a representative of Westminster College, said the Salt Lake City college developed a partnership with U.S. Ski & Snowboard, an Olympic sports organization. This gave the potential Olympic athletes training in Park City a clearer path to higher education without giving up their sport.
“Years ago, a lot of these young people going into athletics at this elite level felt like they had to make a choice, and that they could only pursue this athletic dream and not be able to also pursue their academic endeavors or other careers,” she said.
Twenty-three Westminster students competed in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, bringing home two gold medals, a silver and a bronze. This year, the college is sending 18 athletes to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in the games starting on Feb. 9.
Yorkin said both students and faculty have watch parties planned.
“I mean our students and teachers, they experience these people as just their classmate every day,” she said. “It’s someone you’re sitting next to in class, or for a professor it’s someone that they’re teaching biology to, and now they’re out competing for a gold medal in the half pipe.”
Westminster students are competing in seven different events this year, including ski jump, cross country, free skiing and snowboarding.
“Of course I think Utah and Salt Lake with our legacy from the games here, it’s so personally meaningful for so many people in Utah that it’s just really contagious,” she said.