The first Olympic medals of the 2018 Winter Games are up for grabs this weekend. Pacific Northwest athletes in action include short track speedskaters Aaron Tran and J.R. Celski of Federal Way, Washington, in the men's 1500m and cross country skier Erik Bjornsen from Washington's Methow Valley in men's skiathlon.
Erik Flora coaches Bjornsen and eight other U.S. Olympic cross country skiers now based in Anchorage. Speaking via Skype from South Korea, Flora said he's really looking forward to competition beginning.
"Everything starting in the new training year last May has been focused around these Games,” he said. “So a lot of excitement. Also, what's reassuring is my athletes have skied really well. Most of them have had breakthrough seasons this year. The training has been really effective, so I'm excited to get to the competitions."
Flora was raised in Portland and graduated from high school in Bend, Oregon, before establishing himself as an elite coach at Alaska Pacific University, where he directs the Nordic program.
Flora’s athletes also include Erik’s older sister who is tabbed by many Olympics prognosticators as a medal threat.
The U.S. women's cross country team has never won a medal at the Olympics. That could change in the coming day—and Washington-born-and-raised Sadie Bjornsen could be a part of it. Flora called Sadie "one of the favorites" in the individual classic sprint Tuesday.
Flora said that a relay race, the women's 4 x 5km, coming on February 17, also offers realistic medal prospects.
"We should have a very good chance for a medal in the women's relay,” he said. “The ladies that competed in 2014 have another Olympic cycle of experience behind them. Sadie is going to be one of the strongest legs for the U.S. team."
Coach Flora said Erik Bjornsen could be "in the hunt" in the men's classic sprints Tuesday.
"Sadie and Erik are some of the hardest working athletes I've had an opportunity to work with," he said in an interview. "They train 11-and-a-half months out of the year."