Solidarity in skiing
Kristina Smigun-Vaehi - pronounced shmee-GOON VA-hee -- grew up in the Estonian university town of Tartu and was trained by her father, Anatoli, a former skier who won two gold medals at the 1972 Junior World Championships, representing the Soviet Union. Smigun-Vaehi made her Olympic debut for Estonia at age 16 at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. At the following two Games, in Nagano and Salt Lake, she was joined on the Estonian cross-country team by her younger sister, Katrin, who later excelled as a student-athlete at the University of Utah. Kristina's best result in her first three Olympics was seventh, in the 15km and 30km.
Fourth time, double charm
At the 2006 Torino Games, Smigun peaked at exactly the right time. She started off with a bang, winning the first event on the women's program, the 15km pursuit, on a crisp, but clear day at Pragelato Plan. Four days later, she won a second gold medal in the 10km classical, this time in overcast and mild weather conditions. The two medals are the only ones won by female athletes from the small Baltic nation at an Olympic Winter Games.
Studying a different course
When Smigun retired from cross-country after the 2006-07 World Cup season, she moved to an area whose climate totally differs from the one where she had found so much success: Florida, U.S.A. She bought a beach house in Palm Beach, and attended Florida Atlantic University for one year to study English. While in Florida, she married countryman Kristjan-Thor Vaehi, and the couple had a baby girl, Victoria-Kris, born in a Boca Raton hospital in June 2008.
In the spring of 2009, Smigun decided to take another stab at Olympic glory. With her toddler daughter in the capable hands of her mother, Rutt (also formerly a competitive skier), she set an ultimatum for herself: consistently set times within 20 seconds of her personal bests at various distances, or stay retired. After six months of training and reaching her goals, she committed herself for at least one more season on the competitive trails. In her fifth Olympics, she will likely focus on defending her titles in the 10km and pursuit, and cap it off with the 30km.
As the pilot for the USA-1 bobsled, I broke a 62-year gold medal drought when my sled, the 'Night Train" won the Olympic title at the 2010 Vancouver Games. A degenerative eye condition nearly caused me to quit my sport in 2008, but corrective surgery restored my vision to 20-20.