More than 40 current and former Pioneers have represented the University of Denver as either athletes or coaches at the Olympics dating back to the 1948 Winter Games in St. Moritz, Switzerland—and that’s just in alpine skiing. Add in the other world-class competitors from both the summer and winter games, and that number becomes even more impressive.
“I think it just talks about the quality of this academic institution,” says Peg Bradley-Doppes, vice chancellor for athletics, recreation and Ritchie Center operations. “It attracts outstanding student-athletes, outstanding coaches who have the desire and also the talent to compete at the highest level possible. This upcoming Olympics won’t be any different.”
As the 22nd Winter Olympics kick off Feb. 6 in Sochi, Russia, Pioneers will be making the journey to compete for their respective countries. Paul Stastny, who played hockey at DU for two seasons—including the 2005 NCAA championship season—and is now a member of the Colorado Avalanche, is probably the most recognizable name on the list. The 28-year-old will play on the U.S. men’s hockey team for the second time; in 2010 in Vancouver, Stastny helped the Americans to the final game and skated away with a silver medal after an overtime loss to Canada in its own backyard.
Also in the hockey arena, Kevin Dineen (attd. 1981–83) is head coach of the Canadian Women’s Olympic Team in Sochi. Dineen is a former Pioneers hockey captain who played for Canada in the 1984 Sarajevo Games prior to his 20-year National Hockey League career as a player and coach.
A strong crop of skiers will trek to Russia as well. Alumnus Leif Kristian Haugen (BSBA ’12) will make a return trip to the Olympics as a member of the Norwegian alpine team. In 2010, Haugen won the individual NCAA giant slalom title for DU. Later that year, he went on to compete in Vancouver in both the slalom and giant slalom events, finishing 28th in giant slalom.
Haugen will be joined in Sochi by two current alpine team members, Trevor Philp and Sebastian Brigovic. Philp, who comes to DU from Calgary, Alberta, and will represent Canada, has won four of his five NCAA races this season, while Brigovic, in his first year at Denver, will ski for his native Croatia and has also landed on the podium in four of five NCAA races, including three second-place finishes.
Last, but certainly not least of the skiers, Keri Herman (BSBA ’05) — who was not a Division I athlete at DU, but who grew up playing hockey in her native Minnesota and started skiing when she moved to Colorado for college — has long been a contender in freeskiing slopestyle events, namely at the X Games. Freeskiing will make its Olympic debut at Sochi, and Herman quickly stamped her ticket for the U.S. in qualifiers. Herman, 28, is a favorite to secure a medal in this historic contest.
The Winter Games have a DU connection off the slopes as well: Alumna Michelle Kwan (BA ’09), a two-time Olympic medalist in figure skating before arriving at DU, will cover the games as an analyst for FOX Sports.
“It just shows that the University of Denver is a global institution,” Bradley-Doppes says. “Our coaches have been very understanding in making that possible so that the dreams of our student-athletes can be fulfilled, not only representing the Pioneers, but representing their country. We certainly use it as a magnet to attract top-caliber athletes in all of our sports. I think it kind of signifies the commitment that the University has made to athletics.”