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Greetings from San Fransochi

Ellen Lee | February 3, 2014 | Lifestyle Story Culture

Don’t let the complete lack of snow around here fool you: The Bay Area is, believe it or not, crawling with winter athletes, many of whom had, at press time, a decent shot at participating in the Winter Olympics, February 7–23 in Sochi, Russia. Here, five local hopefuls—some dark horses, some possible gold medalists, not all of them competing for the US—worth watching.

Chuck Berkeley
Sport: Bobsled
Seen around: Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek
Representing: USA
The next time you complain about being overextended, consider Chuck Berkeley: father of two, full-time employee at a medical instrument company, prolific blogger, and hopeful Olympic bobsledder. The former UC Berkeley track star gave bobsledding a try in 2007, inspired by past Cal athletes who had made the same switch from track and field. He competed in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, but didn’t make it to the podium. After taking some time off, he decided to start training again last season in hopes of winning an Olympic medal this time. “The day-to-day grind pales in comparison to the privilege of calling ourselves United States Olympians,” he says. “When it’s all said and done, it’s why I do this.”

Polina Edmunds
Age: 15
Sport: Figure skating
Seen around: San Jose
Representing: USA
Polina Edmunds has always been precocious: She first stepped onto the ice at 20 months old, started taking formal skating lessons at four, and became the US junior champ last year at the tender age of 14. In January, Edmunds beat out several older and more experienced skaters, some of whom were Olympics vets, to become the youngest member of this year’s US team by three years. The Archbishop Mitty High School student is coached in part by her mother, Nina Edmunds, a Russian immigrant, at the Sharks Ice Arena in San Jose. If she takes gold, she will become one of the youngest individual gold medalists in the history of the games. Not bad for someone who just got her learner’s permit last month.

Elizabeth Swaney
Age: 29
Sports: Half-pipe skiing and skeleton racing
Seen around: Berkeley
Representing: Venezuela
When she was a sophomore at UC Berkeley, Elizabeth Swaney ran in the California gubernatorial recall election. She lost (obviously), but it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect from someone who’d later make a name for herself by hurtling down a mountain at breakneck speed and performing complex ski tricks in midair—in the same Olympics. Swaney, whose mother is Venezuelan, picked up skeleton in 2006; during training, she tried—and liked—half-pipe skiing. If she qualifies, she’ll be among the first female half-pipers at the Olympics. “I like pursuing opportunities that are rare,” she says.

K.C. Oakley
Sport: Freestyle skiing
Seen around: Piedmont
Representing: USA
When K.C. Oakley was a little kid, her dad would threaten to send her to ski school whenever she balked at big hills or bumpy courses. That ultimatum was apparently enough—Oakley, whose parents drove her from Piedmont to Squaw Valley every weekend as a child and teen, ended up joining the Alpine Meadows Freestyle Team at age 10. By her early 20s, she had been tapped for the US National Ski Team, placed well in a number of national and world competitions, earned a psychology degree from UC Berkeley, and started a foundation in honor of her best friend, Jill Costello, who died from lung cancer at 22.

Arman Serebrakian
Age: 26
Sports: Slalom and giant slalom
Seen around: Novato
Representing: Armenia
Arman Serebrakian’s father placed him on skis when he was barely two; by five, he was a member of Northstar’s ski team. But shortly after high school graduation, a knee injury ended his Olympic aspirations. While continuing to ski and compete, he headed to the University of Colorado and then to Temple University to pursue another dream—a medical career. Then he was approached by the Armenian National Ski Team. A dual citizen, he started racing for his parents’ native country several years ago, as did his younger sister, who competed in the 2010 Olympics (but did not place). Last May, Serebrakian took a break from med school to dedicate himself full-time to training. It was a risk, but he says the experience has been “100 percent worth it, no matter what happens. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it."

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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