The 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games kick off in Sochi on February 7, and whether you’re rooting for Team Ireland or Team USA the chances are you’ll be cheering on a number of talented Irish American athletes.
Pending final approval from the Olympic Council, which is expected to be announced any day now, Ireland is sending a team of five Olympians to Sochi – each one of them from the Irish diaspora.
Alpine skiers Florence Bell, from Streetly, in England, and Utah's Conor Lyne, whose father is from Kerry, will compete in the slalom and giant slalom. They will be joined by cross-country skier Jan Rossiter, who was born in Kerry but grew up in Ontario. Sixteen-year-old snowboarder Seamus O’Connor from California, whose grandparents emigrated from Dublin and Drogheda, will compete in the half-pipe. Skeleton rider Sean Greenwood O’Foighil, raised in Vancouver by his Canadian father and a mother from Galway, will also be racing in Sochi. Ireland has never won a medal in the Winter Olympics. The closest team Ireland ever came was at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, when Clifton Wrottesley placed fourth in the skeleton race. For the 2014 games, Seamus O’Connor is tipped to be Ireland’s best chance at taking home a medal.
A number of Irish names stand out from among the 224-person American team. Competing in the Biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, are Tim Burke, a third-time winter Olympian who grew up outside of Lake Placid, NY and 17-year-old Sean Doherty from Conway, NH. Long Island's John Daly, whose father drove him to Lake Placid for years just so he could train for the American team, will be taking part in the skeleton. First-time Olympian Johnny Quinn, who grew up in Texas and has a degree in criminal justice, will be in the four-man bobsled race. In the luge, keep an eye out for Erin Hamlin from New Hartford, New York.
Freeskier Devin Logan, who has been skiing since she was two-years-old, will be competing in the half-pipe and slopestyle events. Freestyler Patrick Deneen, who tried on skis for the first time at just 11 months, will be skiing the moguls.
On the men’s hockey team, watch out for New York Rangers Captain Ryan Callahan among others. In fact, you practically have to have a first name of Ryan just to get on the team! On the women’s team, there’s Meghan Duggan from Danvers, MA and goalie Brianne McLaughlin from Elyria, Ohio.
There’s also Jason Brown, the 17-year-old figure skater who, though not of Irish descent, became a media darling last week with his astounding Irish dance-inspired free-skate routing, set to a song from Riverdance, which secured him a spot on Team USA.
In the Winter Paralympics, forwards Dan McCoy, Kevin McKee, and Josh Sweeney lead the charge on the sled hockey team. Sweeney is a bilateral amputee, who in 2009 was wounded by an IED while serving in Afghanistan. The para curling team is led by Penny Greely, who when not participating in the Winter Paralympics – or the Summer Paralympics in wheelchair volleyball – is a caseworker in Brown County, WI. It is also led by Patrick McDonald, an army veteran, who came in fourth place at the 2010 Winter Paralympic games.
Ireland has never competed in the Winter Paralympics.