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Two local athletes headed to South Korea on U.S. Olympic ski team

Chodounsky and Blunck to represent CB and U.S.

by Than Acuff

Locally raised winter athletes Aaron Blunck and David Chodounsky are both making their second trip to the Winter Olympics as part of the U.S. Ski Team.

Both made the team for the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia in 2014 with Chodounsky’s experience in the men’s slalom coming to an end when he straddled a gate and Blunck reaching the finals of the men’s halfpipe to close out his Olympic debut in seventh place.

Whether or not they would return to the Olympics came down to the wire for both Blunck and Chodounsky this year. Chodounsky had a rough month of racing but posted a 15th-place finish at the slalom in Kitzbühel, Austria on Sunday, January 21 to punch his ticket to the Olympic games.

“After the rough January that I had, I’m really happy,” says Chodounsky. “I stuck to my game plan and did what I wanted. I definitely could have pushed a little more in that second run. Skiing two solid runs and scoring a top 15 result helps calm the mind.”

Chodounsky is currently ranked 29th in the overall World Cup slalom rankings and is the top American. He has another race this week in Schladming, Austria and then his sole focus will be his upcoming return to the Olympics.

“There is another race coming up, so this is just a little confidence boost,” Chodounsky said. “The plan is to get some World Cup points, make sure I stay in the top 30, then I can go hammer.”

Blunck met the initial Olympic qualifying criteria by posting two podiums in the first four qualifier events but several other skiers had as well. As a result, a trip to South Korea came down to the final qualifying event in Mammoth, Calif. last week.

“Going into Mammoth there were still so many possibilities,” says Blunck. “It was a really stressful week for sure. No matter hard you try to block it out, you still go to bed thinking about the Olympics. Going into it I was thinking I have to do something big but I reminded myself I was in a good spot to qualify and whatever happens, happens. I want to make it but it’s not going to ruin me.”

But as he ran through his practice runs, he took two big crashes separating the AC joint in his shoulder. Down but not out, Blunck relied on a quote from a classic sports movie to refocus for the finals at Mammoth.

“There’s a quote in the movie Miracle, ‘A bruise on the leg is a helluva long way from the heart,’” says Blunck. “I just had to go ski.”

Blunck was second to last to drop into the halfpipe on the third and final run of the competition and when he crashed again he thought his shot at the Olympics was gone. But when the final skier also crashed, it meant Blunck finished sixth in Mammoth and made the U.S. freeskiing team headed to the Olympics in South Korea in February.

“It was not the result I was looking for, but I felt a sense of accomplishment having pulled through mentally,” says Blunck.

This will be Blunk’s second trip to the Olympic games. The first time he went he was 17 years old, not even expecting to make the team. This season he was under a bit more pressure but he’s still taking it in stride.

“I’m just going to the Olympics to enjoy the voyage and the experience,” says Blunck. “Sure, I want some hardware but it’s not every day you can say you are a two-time Olympian. It’s just such an honor to represent the U.S.”

Before he heads to South Korea though, he has one more big competition: the X Games in Aspen this week. Blunck is the defending X Games gold medalist and while he is banged up, he can’t promise he will hold back with the Olympics on the near horizon.

“I’d like to say I’ll take it easy but I know I won’t,” admits Blunck.

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