The Winter Olympic Games, first staged in 1924 at Chamonix, France, have featured a handful of athletes born or raised in Washington. Only five have earned gold medals, and one of them -- Vic Wild, a snowboarder from White Salmon -- earned his gold while competing for Russia. The most prolific Winter Olympics winner from Washington was Seattle native Apolo Anton Ohno, who dominated the world's short-track speed-skating competitions for more than a decade and competed in three Olympics. Washington's first winter gold medalist was Gretchen Kunigk Fraser of Tacoma; she competed in 1948 at St. Moritz, Switzerland, and achieved a surprising victory in the slalom -- the first gold medal for an American athlete in Winter Olympics history. Below, in alphabetical order, are the medal-winning Winter Olympians from Washington:
Debbie Armstrong -- Gold medal, Alpine Skiing (1984). Born in Salem, Oregon, in 1963 and raised in Seattle, Armstrong began skiing at age 3 at Alpental, a Snoqualmie Pass ski area "known for deep, heavy snow that put a premium on strength and survival rather than style. Her focus was not entirely on skiing, and she excelled in several sports" ("Hall of Fame Class ..."). Her parents, Dollie and Hugh, were both certified ski instructors, and Hugh, a psychology professor at the University of Washington, occasionally made motivational "pep talk" cassette tapes for his daughter. A star soccer player at Garfield High School, Armstrong graduated in 1981, the same year she won the U.S. junior giant slalom, and in 1982 she became the youngest member of the U.S. national team.
Armstrong was considered a long shot at the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, though there was hope she might medal in her best event, the downhill. Instead, she finished in 31st place. But on February 13, 1984, on a dry, packed course that suited her aggressive style, she swept to victory in the giant slalom -- only the fourth American woman skier in Olympics history to win a gold medal. It would be the only major international victory of her career. "Everything happened so fast," she said. "I was never anything special. People at home are probably surprised that I won the gold medal. I'd usually come in third because the person who should have taken third fell" ("Armstrong's Toils ...").
Armstrong was a popular champion. She received a congratulatory phone call from President Ronald Reagan, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and the "Debbie's Gold" run at Alpental was named in her honor. Wrote Skip Bayless of the Dallas Times Herald, "Your foreign correspondent wouldn't admit this back home, but tears welled at Monday's medal ceremony. A kid named Debbie Armstrong had skied her big heart out for America's first gold -- New Glory -- and up went our flag into the Yugoslav night. If you felt nothing, ugly American, you had left your heart in San Francisco" ("Contrasts: Debbie Wins ..."). Armstrong was cast as the present and future of American skiing, but a litany of injuries forced her to retire from the U.S. Ski Team at age 24, shortly after her 13th-place finish in the slalom at the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.
Susan Corrock -- Bronze medal, Alpine Skiing (1972). Corrock was born in Seattle in 1951 and grew up in West Seattle in a family of skiing fanatics. Her siblings, brother Kenny and younger sister Anne, were exceptional skiers in their own right, and her parents, Jack and Lila, were well known at Crystal Mountain, where they were part-owners of the lodge that houses the popular Snorting Elk watering hole. Jack Corrock, a contractor, took his family on a year-long vacation to Austria when Susan was 10, further expanding her skiing horizons. She graduated from Chief Sealth High School, and in 1971, with Kenny and Susan both members of the U.S. national team, the Corrocks moved to Ketchum, Idaho, next to the ski runs at Sun Valley.
Corrock gained widespread acclaim in 1970 when she won the giant slalom at the U.S. championships, and a week later she won two events at the U.S. junior nationals. Her first international experience came in 1971, but while she had a good season, she "gave no hint that she could win a medal at the 1972 Olympics" (Olympics.com). But much like Debbie Armstrong, Corrock reached her competitive peak at the Olympics when she finished third in the downhill in Sapporo, Japan -- the second American ever to win an Olympic medal in skiing's most demanding event. "I can't believe it!' Corrock said that day. "It was my best run. I didn't make any mistakes ... I felt great. It feels exciting, really good to have a bronze. The downhill can be very scary -- it's a tough and difficult race -- and you have to have control of the mountain. I felt I had control of the mountain" ("'I Had Control ...'"). Standing on the podium at Sapporo would be the pinnacle of Corrock's career and her only top-three finish in a major international or World Cup event. She did record 16 top-10 finishes in World Cup races before leaving the U.S. national team in 1973.
Gretchen Kunigk Fraser (1919-1994) -- Gold medal, silver medal, Alpine Skiing (1948). Born in Tacoma to a German father and a Norwegian mother, Gretchen Fraser and her brother Bill got skis for Christmas in 1942 and soon were regulars on the south slopes of Mount Rainier. Within two years, Gretchen was winning novice slalom races at Paradise Valley, though it wasn't until 1937, when she met 1936 Olympian Don Fraser (1913-1994), that her career really took off. The couple married in 1939, and both had secured spots on the U.S. national ski team when the 1940 Winter Olympics were cancelled because of World War II. The war also laid waste to the 1944 Winter Olympics, and Gretchen was 29 and seemingly past her competitive prime when she finally got her chance in 1948 at St. Moritz, Switzerland.
To cover the Games, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer sent renowned ski instructor (and later Hollywood film producer) Otto Lang to file reports. Wrote Lang on February 5, 1948: "Today I had the pleasure of witnessing one of the most triumphant and stirring victories in skiing history. Gretchen Fraser, the diminutive feminine star, a Tacoma girl who now resides in Vancouver, Wash., achieved the highest of skiing honors. After winning the first Olympic Games silver medal ever presented to an American on the conclusion of yesterday's Alpine Combined, today she topped everything that has gone before her by winning an Olympic Gold Medal in special slalom against a field of the world's greatest women slalom specialists representing every skiing country on the map" ("Games Winner was Cool and Calm").
Three weeks later, Fraser, the first American to win an Olympic gold medal in any winter sport, announced her retirement from competitive skiing, and in December 1948 she gave birth to her first child. In subsequent years she happily served as the "First Lady of American Skiing," working with disabled skiers and mentoring aspiring female racers. Gretchen's Gold, a ski run at Sun Valley, is named in her honor, as is Gretchen Fraser Community Park in Vancouver.
James "Jimmy" Grogan (1931-2000) -- Bronze medal, Figure Skating (1952). Born in Tacoma, Grogan took up skating at age 8 and rose quickly through the ranks of U.S. figure skating. He first appeared in news accounts when he won the men's novice singles title at the 1945 state championships in his hometown. A little more than two years later, now living in Berkeley, California, the 15-year-old dazzled at the national figure skating championships, where he finished third behind the legendary Dick Button (b. 1929). Grogan's great misfortune was coming along at the same time as Button; eleven times in major competitions, Grogan finished second behind his nemesis, including four consecutive runner-up finishes at the World Championships.
Grogan competed twice in the Olympics, in 1948 at St. Moritz, where he finished sixth, and in 1952 at Oslo, Norway, where he captured the bronze medal. Button took the gold. "The four-time world's champion gave a bold and imaginative program, and climaxed his performance by spinning like a top on the ice ... Grogan also executed a beautiful program of high leaps and spectacular spins. As in almost all his skating career, however, he was shadowed by Button. Grogan earned cheers for his running splits and a flying-waltz jump in which he bounded on and off the ice for about 25 feet" ("Button Wins 2nd Olympic ...").
After retiring from competitive skating in 1954, Grogan became a popular attraction in the Hollywood Ice Review and then the Ice Capades. He returned to Tacoma in the early 1960s before moving to Squaw Valley, California, where he opened the James Grogan Skating School and became one of the sport's most admired coaches.
Peter and Karol Kennedy -- Silver medal, Figure Skating (1948, 1942). They were known as "the Kennedy Kids" -- a figure-skating brother-and-sister team from Olympia. Peter was born in 1927; Karol in 1932. "In 1939, Michael and Clarice Kennedy took their children to the new skating rink in the old Legion Hall in their hometown of Olympia. An athlete himself, Michael became his children's manager and semi-coach while Clarice made their costumes. Michael invested his life into their careers; he bought the rink when it risked closure so they could skate. At 8:30 each morning when Karol joined her classmates at school, she had been up for four hours practicing with her father and brother" ("Skaters Found Fame ..."). Karol and Peter soon became an elite pairs figure-skating team. In the years after World War II they won five consecutive U.S. championships, from 1948 to 1952, and became the first American pair to win a world championship when they captured the gold medal at Wembley Stadium in London in 1950.
They competed in two Winter Olympics. At St. Moritz in 1948, they finished sixth after a music malfunction forced them to skate in silence. They returned to the Games in 1952 at Oslo, favored to win the gold medal. Instead, they were edged by Ria and Paul Faulk of West Germany -- an unpopular judges' decision -- and left with silver medals. They retired immediately after the Games. Karol started a family and opened a children's clothing store in Seattle's Madison Park neighborhood. She died in 2004 at age 72. Peter became a competitive skier, narrowly missing a berth on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team, and designed ski equipment.
Phil Mahre -- Gold medal, Silver medal, Alpine Skiing (1980, 1984). Phil Mahre and his twin Steve were born in 1957 in Yakima and grew up on the slopes of White Pass, where their father, Dave "Spike" Mahre, managed the ski area. In a family of nine kids, Phil and Steve stood out athletically. Both played football at Naches High School while developing into world-class ski racers. Phil was just 15 when he made the U.S. national team, and in 1975 he made his debut in World Cup competition. He reached his competitive peak in the early 1980s when he finished first in the World Cup standing in three consecutive seasons.
Phil was a three-time Olympian. In 1976 at Innsbruck, Austria, he finished fifth in the giant slalom at age 18. He captured a silver medal in the slalom at the 1980 Games in Lake Placid, New York, finishing second behind longtime rival Ingemar Stenmark (b. 1956) of Sweden. His gold-medal breakthrough came in 1984 at Sarajevo with a dazzling victory in the slalom. Reported The Associated Press: "The gold medal draped around Phil Mahre's neck for winning the men's slalom still was only the second-best moment of his day. His wife gave birth in Arizona to a son just before he was making his first run down Mount Bjelasnica. He found out about it after he had won the gold, and walked away in tears" ("The Mahres Save Their Best ..."). Later that year, the brothers retired from ski racing to spend more time with family and pursue other interests, including auto racing. Phil retired with 27 World Cup victories, the second-most of all time. More than 20 years later he attempted an improbable comeback at age 49 and was on the verge of returning to international racing when a knee injury sent him into retirement for the second time.
Steve Mahre -- Silver medal, Alpine Skiing (1984). Four minutes younger than his twin brother, Phil, Steve Mahre walked in lockstep with his slightly more famous sibling. "We were inseparable," Phil said in 2018. "To this day we still are. We just have a certain bond that we don't have with any of our other siblings" ("Success Never Stopped ..."). The boys began skiing at age 6 and racing at 8, and Steve joined Phil on the U.S. national team when he was 16. Steve won nine World cup events during a career that landed him in the U.S. Skiing Hall of Fame along with his brother, and like Phil, he earned an Olympic medal in 1984 at Sarajevo. As Scott Hanson wrote in The Seattle Times, "Had there been no Phil, Steve's accomplishments would have made him the top American skier of all time when he finished" ("Success Never Stopped ...").
At Innsbruck in 1976, his first taste of Olympic competition, Steve finished 13th in the giant slalom. He was 15th in the giant slalom at Lake Placid in 1980. Two years later he recorded his greatest victory when he edged Ingemar Stenmark to win the giant slalom at the 1982 World Alpine Skiing Championships in Austria -- the first individual title by a U.S. skier in world championships history. That put Steve in good form for the 1984 Olympics at Sarajevo, and after the first of his two runs in the slalom, he stood atop the leaderboard. But, skiing aggressively on his second run, Steve made mistakes that left the door ajar for his rivals. Phil swept past him to win by .21 seconds. Steve's prize was a silver medal. He joined his brother in retirement just a few months later.
Apolo Ohno -- Two Gold medals, two Silver medals, four Bronze medals, Short Track Speedskating (2002, 2006, 2010). Ohno's parents divorced shortly after his birth in 1982 and he was raised in Federal Way by his father, Yuki, an immigrant from Japan. While his dad worked long hours running his hair salon in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood, Apolo immersed himself in swimming, roller-blading, and other sports before taking up short-track speed skating at age 12. Within two years he was one of the best short-track athletes in the U.S., and in 1997 he became the youngest national champion in history at age 14. Ohno "struggled with his dedication, focus, and commitment for the next year and failed to make the 1998 Olympic team but rededicated himself to the sport after famously spending a week of soul-searching alone in a secluded cabin" (National Speedskating Museum).
Ohno graduated from Federal Way's Decatur High School in 2000 and ruled the speed-skating world for the next decade. He was the face of the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, where he captured a gold medal in the 1,500-meter event and a silver in the 1,000 meters. At Turin, Italy, in 2006, he won gold in the 500 and a bronze medal in the 5,000-meter relay. He capped his Olympic career with three medals at Vancouver in 2010, including a silver in the 1,500. His total of eight medals made him the most decorated Winter Olympian in U.S. history. In retirement he found opportunities as a TV personality, pitchman, coach, author, and entrepreneur. In 2007 he participated in ABC Television's "Dancing With the Stars." He won that too.
Kelly Stephens -- Bronze medal, Ice Hockey (2006). Born in Seattle in 1983 and raised in Shoreline, Stephens tried competitive skiing, snowboarding, and swimming before taking up hockey at age 8. Before long she was one of the best players, boy or girl, in the Seattle Junior Hockey Association, earning high marks for her skating speed, toughness, and offensive acumen. She moved to Canada at age 14 to sharpen her skills and compete against the best. "Obviously, that was a big decision within the family," she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "But my parents are very supportive. I was basically begging to go and they let me" ("Stephens an Impact Player ..."). After graduating from Shorewood High School in 2001, she attended the University of Minnesota, a hockey powerhouse. There she helped the Golden Gophers win two consecutive national championships.
In 2005, Stephens was a member of the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the World Championships, setting the stage for a medal run at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, where Canada and the U.S. were overwhelming favorites to meet in the gold-medal game. But after going 25-0 in previous outings against Sweden, their semifinal opponent, the Americans suffered a stunning 3-2 shootout loss. The Associated Press called it the biggest upset in women's hockey history. Two days later, Stephens scored the first goal and the U.S. defeated Finland 4-0 to secure the bronze. "You win a medal; you don't lose in the Olympics," Stephens said a few weeks later. "I never had it in my mind that we wouldn't be in the gold-medal game, but welcome to sports. Things happen. We played well. It was my first Olympics in the first place and it was awesome" ("Five Minutes ...")
Rosalynn Sumners -- Silver medal, Figure Skating (1984). Born in Palo Alto, California, in 1964, Sumners was raised in Edmonds and learned to skate at a rink in nearby Lynnwood. She began competing at age 7. "Sumners lived a life unlike other kids. She wanted to be a champion, and she was driven. She left regular school after the eighth grade, training hours a day while becoming one of the great skaters in American history. She won three straight national titles from 1982-84 and was the world champion in 1983. And in the Olympics, she was the only skater in the field for whom a silver medal could have been considered a disappointment" ("Rosalynn Sumners' 1984 Olympics ...").
At the 1984 Games at Sarajevo, Sumners, then 19 and a dynamic athlete at 5-foot-2 and 100 pounds, was denied a gold medal by rising star Katarina Witt of East Germany. The judging was close and controversial, and Witt prevailed by a two-tenths of a point. Witt would validate her standing with a repeat gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary; Sumners chose to turn pro and make some money, but the loss hounded her. "I felt like a failure for three years for not winning the gold," she recalled in 1988. "I was never seen as winning the silver, but losing the gold" ("State's 1984 Medal Winners ..."). Sumners said she regretted not being honest with the media about her confidence. "I made it seem like I could handle it (pressure) and I was tough and strong. Inside I was scared to death. Everyone has fears and insecurities. Most important, I grew up and I'm proud of representing Seattle and I'm proud of my silver medal. I'm happy and I'm normal" ("State's 1984 Medal Winners ...").
Vic Wild -- Two Gold medals, Snowboarding (2014). Born in White Salmon in 1986, Wild got hooked on snowboarding at nearby Mt. Hood at age 7 and gradually worked his way up the ranks. "Wild trained hard and raced hard. Soon he was splitting time between White Salmon and Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where he attended a premier snowboard academy ... He made his U.S. national team debut at age 20" ("Snowboarder Vic Wild ..."). An injury prevented Wild from competing in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., and his woes were compounded the following year when the U.S. Olympic Committee slashed funding for alpine snowboarding in favor of the more popular halfpipe, slopestyle, and snowboard cross. Disillusioned, Wild briefly quit the sport, but in 2011 he reconsidered, married Russian snowboarder Alena Zavarzina, and applied for Russian citizenship with an eye on continuing his career.
Wild had enjoyed modest success with the U.S. team, competing in 29 World Cup events but never finishing higher than sixth. But he was sensational with the Russians, routinely finishing in the top 10 in the run-up to the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia. There, with the world watching, Wild put together the best rides of his life. "Wild won the parallel slalom race, parlaying an incredible come-from-behind win in the semifinals to a gold-medal-winning victory over Zan Kosir by a little more than one-tenth of a second. He became the first snowboarder in Olympic history to win two medals in the same games, his first coming three days earlier in the parallel giant slalom" ("How an American Snowboarder ..."). "This all has been a dream," Wild said. "I never could have imagined having one medal at the Olympics. Then to have two golds like that in front of the home crowd ... it's been the most beautiful thing I could have ever imagined to come from snowboarding" ("Vic Wild, Born in U.S. ...").
Wild returned to the Olympics in 2018 at Pyeongchang, South Korea, but was quickly eliminated in his only event. He was still competing in late 2021, at age 35, hoping to earn a berth on the Russian team for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.