Midwest Athletes To Watch at Sochi Olympics

The 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi are here! These are the local athletes to watch in speed skating, ice skating, bobsledding and more.

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Shani Davis, Speed Skating
nHometown: Chicago
nLocal Look: Davis began roller-skating at local rinks on the South Side at the age of 2. He and his mother moved to Evanston when he was 10 to be closer to the rink.
nHyper-local tidbit: Davis became the first African-American speed skater to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in 2002.
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Emery Lehman, Speed skating
nHometown: Oak Park
nLocal look: The Oak Park-River Forest High School senior was an early bloomer in his sport. At age 14, he skated the 5K in just seven minutes, a feat no one his age had completed.nHyper-local tidbit: Besides the sport he specializes in, Lehman was also a defenseman for his high school hockey team and a lacrosse midfielder. He plans to take plenty of homework with him to Sochi.
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Brian Hansen Speed Skating
nHometown: Glenview
nLocal look: Hansen began speed skating at the age of 10 at Northbrook Speed Skating Club. He was a hockey player at the time and realized his love for moving at high speeds on the ice and the competitive nature of the sport.
nHyper-local tidbit: Hansen is coached by Nancy Louise Swider-Peltz, a Chicago native and Wheaton College alumna, who has competed in three Winter Olympics and is a member of the National Speed Skating Hall of Fame. Hansen himself is a three-time World Cup 1500m medalist.
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Jonathan Kuck, Speed Skating
nHometown: Champaign
nLocal look: Kuck skated for three years before he started to get serious. He won a silver medal in the Team Pursuit and placed 8th in the 10,000m at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Kuck is attending the University of Illinois majoring in engineering physics with a minor in computer science.
nHyper-local tidbit: He is from the same hometown as Bonnie Blair and Katherine Reutter.
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Patrick Meek, Speed skating
nHometown: Evanston
nLocal look: Meek grew up in the north suburbs until his early teen years. He started skating at 2 years old, practicing his early skills by pushing a bucket around on the ice. Though he now trains in Salt Lake City, he still considers Chicago home.
nHyper-local tidbit: Meek follows in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, both avid speed skaters.
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Jilleanne Rookard, Speed Skating
nHometown: Woodhaven, Mich.
nLocal look: Rookard has been participating in national competitions since she was 7 years old. She played on a World Cup team for the first time in 2007 and won 4th place in the Ladies Team Pursuit at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
nHyper-local tidbit: To combat financial difficulties, she worked at a Milwaukee roller rink called Incredi-Roll Skate & Family Fun as a DJ and skate instructor. She used the money from that job to pay for her bills and a coach.
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Gracie Gold, Figure Skating
nHometown: Glen Ellyn
nLocal look: The Illinois teenager had a strong debut at the U.S. Championships in 2013, taking second place behind defending champion Ashley Wagner. Two months later, she was a respectable sixth at the World Championships, capping her first full senior season, in which she earned one Grand Prix medal - a silver at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.
nHyper-local tidbit: Gracie has a twin sister, Carly, who is also a senior-level figure skater.
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Jeremy Abbott, Figure Skating
nHometown: Royal Oak, Mich.
nLocal look: He was inspired by a performance by gold medalist Robin Cousins and started competing by the age of 4. Abbott was recognized in 2009 as “America’s best male skater.”
nHyper-local tidbit: Abbott’s choreographer, Tom Dickson, introduced him to the accomplished free skater Janet Lynn, who was born in Chicago in 1953. Abbott was greatly impacted by his time spent with Lynn and her skating techniques.
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Jason Brown, Figure Skating
nHometown: Highland Park
nLocal look: The 19-year-old didn't expect to get to Sochi, evidenced by his tears of shock and joy at the U.S. Championships.nBrown, who started his career at learn-to-skate classes at age 3 at Centennial Ice Arena in Highland Park, is a U.S. fan favorite.
nHyper-local tidbit: Brown is the first teenage male singles skater to make the U.S. Team since 1976.
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Meryl Davis, Ice Dancing
nHometown: West Bloomfield, Mich.
nLocal look: Davis began skating at the age of 5 so she could learn to skate on the lake by her house in the winter. Her and her partner, Charlie White, won 1st place at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. She is currently studying cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan in addition to her athletic career.
nHyper-local tidbit: Davis works with Coach Oleg Epstein who previously coached Evan Lysacek and Gracie Gold at the Center Ice of DuPage training facility.
Charlie White, Ice DancingnHometown: Bloomfield, Mich.
nLocal look: White began skating at the age of 3 so he could go skating with his friends. He participated in the U.S. Figure Skating Basic Skills Program and later played championship hockey.
nHyper-local tidbit: White is long-time dance partner of Meryl Davis. They work with Coach Oleg Epstein who previously coached Evan Lysacek and Gracie Gold at the Center Ice of DuPage training facility.
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Maia Shibutani, Ice Dancing
nHometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.
nLocal look: Shibutani has been named one of the 10 scholar-athletes to the U.S. Figure Skating Scholastic Honors team.
nHyper-local tidbit: Shibutani has featured guest Olympians on her official YouTube Channel, such as Chicago-born Bart Conner, who is the only gymnast to win gold medals at all levels in both national and international competitions.
Alex Shibutani, Ice Dancing
nAnn Arbor, Mich.
nLocal look: Shibutani and his sister, Maia, earned a U.S. bronze medal in 2013. He is now attending the University of Michigan to follow his interests in communications, television and sports management. He has also written posts for icenetwork.com..
nHyper-local tidbit: Shibutani has featured guest Olympians on her official YouTube Channel, such as Chicago-born Bart Conner, who is the only gymnast to win gold medals at all levels in both national and international competitions.
Jesse Beckom III
Jesse Beckom III, Bobsled
nHometown, Chicago
nLocal look: Beckom grew up on the South Side of Chicago with the dream of playing in the NFL and becoming an actor. He graduated from Corliss High School.
nHyper-local tidbit: Jesse’s father, Jesse Beckom Jr., is a 29-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department.
Aja Evans, Bobsled
nHometown: Chicago
nLocal look: Newcomer Aja Evans has posted some impressive results, including a silver medal as Meyers' brakeman at the Sochi World Cup stop in 2013.
nHyper-local tidbit: Evans used to work for EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park. Her brother is Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Fred Evans.
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Patrick Kane, Hockey
nHometown: Buffalo, N.Y./Chicago
nLocal look: Kane became one of five Blackhawks in history to be taken as a Top 3 overall pick. He was also nominated for the athlete section of “What’s Sexy Now Chicago” in 2009.
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Aly Dudek, Short track
nHometown: Hales Corners, Wis.
nLocal look: Dudek eventually became the top-ranked U.S. woman in the 500-meter event and holder of the Junior American record in 2008. She ranks 11th place in the world for the 500-meter event.nHyper-local tidbit: Dudek skated for the first time at the Pettit National Ice Center in Wisconsin.
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Erika Brown, Curling
nHometown: Madison, Wis.
nLocal look: Brown was on the University of Wisconsin’s Big Ten Championship team in 1994.
nHyper-local tidbit: She attended graduate school in Chicago at the physician assistant program at Finch University of Health Sciences.
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Nick Goepper, Free Style-Slope Style
nHometown: Fort Wayne, Ind.
nLocal look: Nick grew up in Lawrenceburg, Ind., and began skiing at the age of 5. When he was 13, Goepper built his own park in the backyard to practice free style.
nHyper-local tidbit: Goepper is coached by ski industry professional Kerry Miller who has trained many Olympic Freestyle.
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Megan Bozek, Hockey
nHometown: Buffalo Grove
nLocal focus: The 22-year-old plays for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and was one of three Illinois natives named to the U.S. women's hockey team. Bozek laid down hockey roots as a kid, following the lead of her older brother.
nHyper-local tidbit: Bozek played on boys' teams growing up and has said girls should never be afraid to play against boys.
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Kendall Coyne, Hockey
nHometown:: Palos Heights
Local look: Coyne won numerous accolades while attending Northeastern University and was the youngest player on the IIHF Women’s Under-18 World Championship in 2008. She is one of 10 rookies on the U.S. team this year.
nHyper-local tidbit: Coyne took a year off from college to be on the U.S. National Team.
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