Bellingham shares in VanLaanen's Olympic moment

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 20, 2014 

She was born in Bellingham and first learned to ski at Mt. Baker Ski Area. She learned how to read and write at Parkview Elementary School before attending Whatcom Hills Waldorf School.

Even though she's lived in Colorado and Utah since shortly after graduating from Bellingham High School in 2004 - and has been chasing a dream to compete in the Winter Olympics 12 time zones away in Russia -Angeli VanLaanen is about as Bellingham as they come. Bellingham is where she still calls home, and it's where her mother, Allain, still lives.

So it wasn't surprising when VanLaanen gave a smile and a shout out to those people who set the alarm clock early enough to stream her 6:30 a.m. (Pacific time) first qualifying run in the Olympic debut of women's freeskiing halfpipe on Thursday, Feb. 20, from the Rosa Khatur Extreme Park.

"Hello Bellingham," VanLaanen said, smiling and waving to the camera while awaiting her score.

Though the day didn't quite end the way VanLaanen or her friends and family half a world away had hoped - she finished 11th after falling on both runs in the final - VanLaanen still had plenty of love for her sport and her hometown once competition wrapped up.

"I had an amazing amount of support from my hometown," VanLaanen said. "I feel so blessed, and it's an honor to represent Bellingham. Definitely excited to go back and say 'hi' to everyone."

California native Maddie Bowman turned in a winning performance with her score of 89.00 to complete a sweep of the halfpipe skiing gold medals for the United States.

But there was little doubt who local viewers were pulling for.

Third-grade classes assembled at Parkview Elementary to watch live video streaming of VanLaanen's runs in the final, some of the students holding posters and notes of encouragement.

"I thought it was pretty cool," said 8-year-old Solea Kunchick, who said she has been skiing since she was 21/2 years old. "I mean, I know how hard it feels. It's not as easy as it looks. But I'm just really glad she even made it into the Olympics. I know how much effort ... it takes. I'm just so happy for her, and I'm glad that the U.S. won."

It didn't matter if you were a third-grader or an adult, VanLaanen made it a proud day in Bellingham, as she became only the fourth Bellingham-born Olympian. She also was the first female Olympic athlete from the city and the first of either gender to compete in the Winter Games.

"We are so proud of Bellingham High School graduate Angeli as she represents our community at the Winter Olympics," Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville said in an email. "She is a reminder of how far talent coupled with hard work and dedication can take us. No matter how she places in these Games, she's solid gold to us!"

And because of VanLaanen's efforts this winter, she may have even helped start some more Olympic dreams in Bellingham.

"It depends," Solea said when asked if skiing the halfpipe was something she would ever want to do. "I might. It would be fun."

Now that halfpipe skiers like VanLaanen have paved a path to the Olympics, it's at least an option.

As for VanLaanen, she said she's unsure of what the future will hold.

"I haven't planned too far in advance," the 28-year-old said. "This was the biggest event of the year. We put everything into making it here, and we'll see."

Does that mean a potential trip to South Korea in four years could be in the cards? Bellingham will just have to wait and see.

Herald photographer Philip A. Dwyer contributed to this story.

OLYMPIANS WHO HAVE BEEN BORN IN BELLINGHAM

Athlete Year Location Sport Finish

Paul Jessup 1932 Los Angeles Men's Discus Eighth

Roy Rubin 1960 Rome Men's coxed four Eighth

Fred Luke 1972 Munich Men's Javelin Eighth

Angeli VanLaanen 2014 Sochi, Russia Women's Freeski halfpipe 11th

SOURCE: SPORTS-REFERENCE.COM

Reach David Rasbach at 715-2286 or david.rasbach@bellinghamherald.com .

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