By Bill Speltz MISSOULIAN
MISSOULA – For Darian Stevens, the feeling is even more special the second time around.
On Friday Stevens was named to the Team USA athlete roster for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February. The 25-year-old skier, who grew up in Missoula and still visits, also represented the United States in 2018 in South Korea.
“It definitely is different this time—it feels better for sure,” said Stevens, who will take aim at her first medal. “Knowing you can come back and do it again is really awesome.”
“It’s been a pretty tough four years for me with injuries and everything else going on in the world. I’m really happy I was able to fight back and be able to make another Olympic team. Being four years older makes it that much harder.”
Stevens, who currently resides in Park City, Utah, will compete in the slopestyle and big air skiing events. Both are freesking competitions.
Slopestyle competitors navigate a course and try to do the best combination of tricks. Big air skiers slide down a nearly 60-foot tall ramp that tilts up at the end and shoots them into the sky, allowing them to complete gravity-defying tricks. Both are judged events, not timed.
What makes Stevens’ second trip to the Winter Olympics remarkable is the storm she weathered to get to China. While she overcame injuries to make her first trip to the Olympics, the adversity she has faced the past four years has created even higher hurdles.
Stevens tore her ACL for a third time shortly after the 2018 Winter Olympics. Then she had knee surgery on her other leg. Now she’s managing the pain of a meniscus tear, cartilage damage and a deep bone bruise.
Still, the former Missoula Sentinel student has found a way, the Missoulian reports.
“I definitely knew I was in contention this time, but I wasn’t sure exactly where I was sitting, so it was a little bit of a surprise to make the team I guess,” said Darian, whose mother, Christina, is the principal at Jeannette Rankin School in Missoula.
“At the end it pretty much came down to my (Federation of International Skiing) ranking. All the qualifiers went pretty decent for me and I’d say Steamboat (Springs, Colorado) was the best when I ended up 11th last week.”
Darian does expect a different experience this time around because of COVID-19 restrictions. For one thing, the athletes will not be allowed to roam around and watch all the other events like in 2018.
“There’s not many spectators and we can’t be as social as we were last time, but I’m excited,” she said. “My parents don’t get to go. But the girls on the team are all really good friends, so it’s awesome to travel the world with them.”
The women’s big air event is slated for Feb. 8 and the slopestyle event for Feb. 13. Stevens’ friend, Maggie Voisin of Whitefish, will also compete in the slopestyle and big air events. Montana’s Brad Wilson (moguls, Butte) and Jake Sanderson (ice hockey, Whitefish native) have also made the Team USA roster.
To learn more about Stevens, Voisin and Wilson, tune in to a special documentary on Montana freestyle skiers called “Mavericks” on PBS.
“I’m really excited to see what they’ve created,” Stevens said. “They put so much time and effort and money into it.”
“It’s a cool little group to be part of, the Olympians from Montana. There’s not too many of them.”