Sporting

Thrilling Southerners to Watch in the Winter Olympics

Seven star athletes who will have you cheering during the games

photo: US Figure Skating, David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire, and Steven Kornreich/U.S. Ski Team

Left to right: Olympians Ashley Cain-Gribble, Maame Biney, and Ashley Caldwell.

While most of the South isn’t exactly prime training grounds for snow sports, there’s an outstanding contingent of Southern athletes representing at the Beijing games, which officially kick off today. From bobsled to figuring skating to aerials skiing, here are seven athletes we’re rooting for.


Katie Uhlaender 

Skeleton

The thirty-seven-year-old skeleton veteran, who was raised in McGregor, Texas, has said she literally giggles while flying headfirst downhill at eighty miles per hour. It’s that enthusiasm that’s carrying her into to her fifth Olympic Games. She finished sixth in Torino in 2006, and fourth in Sochi in 2014, but was way off the podium in PyeongChang in 2018. She is hoping for redemption in what will certainly be her final Olympics. After retirement, Uhlaender plans to return to the Lone Star State to attend the University of Texas or Baylor University.

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Hakeem Abdul-Saboor 

Bobsled

This thirty-four-year-old Powhatan, Virginia, native is a former football star for the University of Virginia at Wise—his impressive stat sheet includes 1,292 rushing yards, 1,118 receiving yards, and 31 touchdowns for the Highland Cavaliers. After college, in 2015, Abdul-Saboor started training for bodybuilding competitions in Knoxville, Tennessee. A viral video of his outstanding vertical leap caught the attention of a bobsledding official, and his career took off. He finished twenty-first in the two-man competition and nineteenth in the four-man at the 2018 Games in South Korea.

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Ashley Caldwell 

Women’s Aerials Freestyle

Though only twenty-eight-years-old, Caldwell has already competed in three Olympic Games, and has two top ten finishes. A gymnastics star for eleven years, the Ashburn, Virginia, native only took up aerials skiing after watching the 2006 Olympics. It wasn’t long before she was proving herself, winning World Cup championships and landing tricks no one thought possible. In fact, Caldwell is the only woman who to land “The Daddy,” a quadruple-twisting back flip.

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Maame Biney 

Short Track Speed Skating

In 2018, the Reston, Virginia, native became the first Black woman to compete for the United States in short track speed skating at the Olympic level. Known for her beaming smile, the twenty-two-year-old, who was born in Ghana, is among the favorites to bring home the gold in Beijing after finishing first at the U.S. short track Olympic trials in December. Her father won hearts in 2018 when he appeared in the stands with a sign reading, “Kick some hiney, Biney.”

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Sylvia Hoffman 

Bobsled

The thirty-two-year-old Hoffman picked up bobsledding later in life—after a great career as a high school basketball player at Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas, and then for Louisiana State University. In 2018, U.S. Bobsledding discovered and recruited her while watching Hoffman compete on NBC’s Next Olympic Hopeful. In 2020, Hoffman and her partner, Kaillie Humphries, won the bobsledding World Cup in Germany.

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Ashley Cain-Gribble 

Pairs Figure Skating

Cain-Gribble, twenty-six, and Timothy LeDuc have been skating together since 2016, but this will be their first Olympics. The Coppell, Texas, native and LeDuc go into the games ranked seventh in the world and hope to be the first Americans to earn a pairs medal in thirty-four years. They are coached by Cain-Gribble’s father, Peter Cain, a five-time Australian national champion pairs skater who placed eleventh at the 1980 Olympics and has been championing ice skating in North Texas since 1990.

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Brittany Bowe

Speedskating

The three-time Olympian and bronze medalist led the USA as a flag bearer in Friday’s Opening Ceremonies. Born and raised in Ocala, Florida, thirty-three-year-old Bowe excelled as an athlete from a young age, playing soccer and basketball (at two she performed dribbling shows in college basketball halftime shows), and ultimately became a highly decorated inline skater. In 2010 she tried speedskating, and by 2013 was landing on top of podiums at the World Cup level. Bowe is the current world record holder in the 1,000-meter speedskating distance and holds the American record in the 1,500-meter event.

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