UO student set to compete at Sochi Winter Olympics

The fastest athlete at the University of Oregon has never pulled away over the final meters to win at Hayward Field, and has never outsprinted a defender into the Autzen Stadium end zone.

Arthur Delaney’s 100-meter speed? A mere 22 miles per hour. DeAnthony Thomas’ 40-yard speed? A pedestrian 19 miles per hour.

Neither of them comes close to School of Architecture and Allied Arts junior Laurenne Ross.

With her Völkl skis clipped to her boots, Ross flies down the face of a mountain at 75 miles per hour, a blistering pace that this month has taken her all the way from the UO’s campus in Eugene to the XXII Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Born in Edmonton, Alberta, to avid skiers Janey Purvis and Robert Ross, Laurenne Ross started skiing at 18 months old, and was just 6 years old when she first tackled a black diamond-rated ski trail, reserved for advanced skiers only. When Laurenne was 7, her father – himself a former competitive alpine skier – was named Director of Cascades East Family Medicine Residency in Klamath Falls, so the Ross family left Canada for Oregon and Laurenne swapped the ski fields in the Rockies for those in the Cascades.

Ross went from strength to strength as a skier while living in Oregon, and from the start of the 2010 season, which got underway when she was just 21 years old, until the end of the 2013 season, she won the NorAm overall title, won the Super-G title at the U.S. National Championships in Squaw Valley, California, and finished second in the Downhill at the FIS World Cup in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

U.S. Olympian and UO junior Laurenne Ross

Ten months removed from her Squaw Valley win, while competing in Cortina d'Ampezzo in Italy – where a 17th-place finish in the Downhill represented her best World Cup finish of the current season – Ross got the news every skier dreams of.

“We had a meeting after the races in Cortina, and they told us there that we had made the Olympic team,” said Ross. “I was a little bit relieved and really excited obviously. This is my first Olympics, and my season thus far hasn’t been as spectacular as I hoped it would be.

“I feel really lucky, I feel really fortunate, and I know people believe in me because I haven’t had that amazing season that I’ve had in the past. It’s definitely starting to get better, and I feel really lucky and I’m psyched to be part of the team.”

Ross is one of 124 first-time Olympians on Team USA’s 230-member team, and is one of 20 alpine skiers, joining the likes of three-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso, five-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller, four-time World Cup gold medalist Mikaela Shiffrin and two-time U.S. Super-G champion Stacey Cook.

Ross now calls the slopes of Mt. Bachelor homeBut this Duck, who now lives in Bend and calls the slopes of Mount Bachelor home, excels at more than just skiing, and one of her many other talents has made her just as popular off the snow as she is on it. The artistically-minded Ross grew up playing the piano and violin, and after adding the guitar to her repertoire five years ago, now leads the USA team’s jam sessions that have become so well known that the International Ski Federation produced a video about them last spring.

“[The jam sessions] are pretty regular,” said Ross. “My teammate Stacey always wanted to learn the guitar, so when I started playing she expressed some interest. I think it was two years ago she bought herself a travel guitar and I’ve been teaching her ever since. We’ve been playing a lot, and Julia Mancuso plays the ukulele, and that’s a nice addition. It’s a fun way to get everybody together to sing songs. It’s a stress relief thing, and a fun way for us to hang out without thinking about ski racing or the competitive environment we’re always in.”

However, being a professional athlete and recreational rock star can cause some problems when you’re also a college student. This season alone, Ross has competed in the USA, Canada, Switzerland, France, Austria and Italy – all before arriving in Russia on Feb. 4 for the Sochi Olympics. That means Ross has to be selective about when she schedules her classes, balancing her time in Eugene with her commitments at ski runs around the world.

“It’s definitely tough, but that’s why I go [to the UO] in the springs,” said Ross. “I don’t have time to go in the falls or winters, or even really the summers. I don’t really have the option of going to school during those times, but spring time is our downtime because our season ends at the end of March, so it’s the time where I have the most freedom. I just make it work. I really love it, so I try and go as much as I can.”

U.S. Olympian and UO junior Laurenne Ross (photo courtesy of the USOC)

Ross originally attended Westminster College in Utah, but found the university didn’t offer the classes she was looking for. She then returned home and enrolled in the art program at the University of Oregon, where older sister Allana earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2009 and younger sister Hilary is currently working towards her physics degree.

“I have always been drawn to art, and Oregon’s art program is great,” said Ross. “If I ever want to switch my major to music, fortunately that is another good department at the university. I’ve been thinking recently about architecture, another strong program at the UO, so all of my preferences are promising and positive here.

“It’s so close to home it just makes it a lot easier. For me it’s a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my house, so if I want to go home on the weekends while I’m going to school I can do that. I usually have a lot of stuff going on in the spring like camps at Mount Bachelor, but being in Eugene is really convenient. And I really love the U of O.”

—Damian Foley