Texans competing in winter sports? Given the past two years of weather in the state, the notion’s neither as funny nor as far-fetched as it might be.
But even if Texas doesn’t produce Winter Olympians at the same rate it pumps out sprinters and swimmers for the Summer Games, the state has always had its share of cold-weather athletes, especially over the past two decades. Often, these competitors have migrated from other sports, but that’s true of most Olympians who hail from states that lack mountains or reliable amounts of snowfall. Many a speed skater has been made on wheels and pavement before razoring icy ovals, and most figure skaters don’t start out on frozen ponds.
This year, the state even has a genuine Winter Olympics éminence grise in Katie Uhlaender, who grew up in McGregor (long before Chip and Joanna got there). The 37-year-old skeleton racer has represented the United States in five Winter Olympics, joining curler John Shuster and snowboarders Shaun White and Lindsey Jacobellis as the only Americans ever to do that.
The Games are already over for Uhlaender, who finished sixth in her event. But still to come this weekend are the two-woman bobsled heats, with Arlington native Sylvia Hoffman, and pairs figure skating, with the Dallas duo of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc. And while Texas doesn’t have a big air snowboarder or skier, the state has also been part of the freestyle action via DJ EJ (Erik Jorgensen), who can usually be found cranking music at Dallas Cowboys games (among many other places).
Here’s a brief look at the three Texas Olympians in 2022, as well as a look back at the state’s performance in past Winter Games—and, perhaps, future competitions.
Women’s Bobsled: Sylvia Hoffman
Texas is a bobsled state.
That started with Todd Hays. The Del Rio native helped the U.S. win silver at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics—the country’s first bobsledding medal in 46 years. He competed again for the 2006 team in Turin. Hays was both a champion kickboxer and a former football player (for the University of Tulsa and in the Canadian Football League), setting something of a template for the sliders who would follow.
Justin Olsen—Lubbock-born and Helotes-raised—played high school football for O’Connor before joining the military; he won a gold medal in 2010 and also competed at the 2014 and 2018 games, and is now a Team USA coach. McKinney native Johnny Quinn starred at wide receiver for the University of North Texas and played on two NFL practice squads (as well as in the CFL) before turning to bobsled. He joined Olsen on a 2014 four-man team in Sochi, finishing tenth, and also went viral for getting locked inside an Olympic Village bathroom.
And Cypress native Sam McGuffie, another former football star (Cy-Fair High School, Rice University), was on the 2018 four-man team that finished ninth.
Now comes Hoffman, the state’s first woman to compete for Team USA in bobsled. The 32-year-old Arlington native was a high school and college basketball player (LSU-Shreveport), as well as a volleyball and track and field athlete. She once aspired to make the Summer Olympics as a weightlifter. But there had also been mutual interest between Hoffman and the U.S. bobsled and skeleton team; according to Kelly Cohen of ESPN, even Uhlaender encouraged her to try the sliding sports.
Hoffman wound up getting there via reality TV: the 2018 season of NBC’s The Next Olympic Hopeful. In 2020, she teamed with former Canadian pilot Kaillie Humphries (now a U.S. citizen) to win gold in both the North American Cup and World Cup. This weekend, Hoffman will be pushing Elana Meyers Taylor. They’re expected to medal, along with the fellow Team USA duo of Humphries and Kayla Love.
As the New York Times wrote earlier this week, four of the five American women bobsledders in Beijing also happen to be Black, exactly twenty years after bobsledder Vonetta Flowers became the first Black athlete—male or female—to medal for Team USA in any winter sport. Texas also had a Black women’s bobsledder in 2018, although she wasn’t competing for Team USA. Mesquite native Ngozi Onwumere was one of several University of Houston track and field athletes who suited up for Nigeria.
Pairs Figure Skating: Ashley Cain-Gribble
Texas’s solo figure skating history includes Dallas native Paul Stanton Wylie (1992) and gold medalist Tara Lipinski (1998), who grew up in Sugar Land and trained at the Houston Galleria. In pairs skating, Amanda Evora (also from Sugar Land) competed in 2010, and married couple John Baldwin (from Dallas) and Rena Inoue participated in the 2006 Games. And now, Coppell’s Ashley Cain-Gribble, who comes from fairly famous stock.
No, not King of the Hill’s Dale Gribble—for one thing, Gribble is her married name. Rather, she’s the daughter of Australian pairs skater Peter Cain, a 1980 Olympian, and Canadian ice dancer Darlene Wendt. Cain-Gribble actually did get her start on outdoor frozen ice, as a two-year-old on Ottawa’s famous Rideau Canal, but it was indoor Texas ice that made her, thanks in part to the Dallas Stars, with its network of practice facilities and youth programs in the Metroplex. Cain-Gribble’s preferred home rinks are the Children’s Health StarCenters in Valley Ranch and Euless.
Her skating partner, Timothy LeDuc, is from Iowa, but has lived in the DFW area to train with Gribble for the past five years. Coached by Peter and Darlene Cain, the duo are two-time national champions (2019 and 2022) making their first Olympics trip, and LeDuc is also making history this year as the first out, nonbinary Winter Olympian in any sport.
Women’s Skeleton: Katie Uhlaender
Uhlaender was also a born athlete, her father being the late Ted Uhlaender, who played baseball for Baylor—thus the family’s McGregor residence—and three major league teams (the Minnesota Twins, the one in Cleveland, and the Cincinnati Reds) before going into coaching. The baseball field at McAllen High School, where Ted also played football and ran track, is named for him.
Katie Uhlaender has spent most of her adult athletic life in Kansas—where she took over her father’s farm and ranch—and Colorado (winter sports, duh), but still has lots of ties to Texas, including family in Austin, Cedar Park, and Waco. Right now she’s also the most patriotic thing on television this side of Peacemaker, with her helmet sporting both a star-and-stripes motif and a bald eagle. It’s a look that she’s been known for since 2014, when it was the subject of a Twitter vote.
That’s also the year that Uhlaender should have medaled, having finished fourth behind bronze winner Elena Nikitina, who was later banned from the sport as part of the widespread Russian doping scandal. That could have given Uhlaender a retroactive bronze, but the ban was overturned in 2018. A two-time World Cup champion and six-time world championship medalist, Uhlaender finished sixth in her first Olympics, in 2006, eleventh in 2010, and thirteenth in 2018. So finishing sixth again this year took things full circle.
The state’s only other skeleton Olympian was Kevin Ellis, a former all-American hurdler for Stephen F. Austin who competed in 2006. But Collinsville native Kellie Delka, a UNT alum, was also in Beijing as a member of the Puerto Rican team.
Texas is also a speed skating state.
While there aren’t any Texans on the Beijing oval this year, speed skating is actually the state’s strongest Winter Olympics sport, having produced seven medals over the years. That’s largely because of Spring native Chad Hedrick, who snagged bronze (1,500 meters), silver (10,000 meters), and gold (5,000 meters) at Turin in 2006, and two more medals (a bronze in the 1,000 meters and a silver in the team pursuit) at Vancouver in 2010.
Before getting on the ice, Hedrick was a massively decorated in-line skating racer, which is also how Denton’s Jordan Malone found his way to winter glory. Malone was part of two medal-winning 5,000-meter relay teams, winning bronze in 2010 and silver in 2014. A third in-liner, Katy’s Jonathan Garcia, took more of a roundabout path—he got his first pair of Rollerblades as a little kid after seeing Dan Jansen speed skating to a gold medal in 1994. Years later, Hedrick inspired Malone to try the ice, and he made it to both Sochi in 2014 and PyeongChang in 2018.
And has been for almost 100 years.
Texas can also claim a genuine speed skating pioneer, at least as far as the Texas Almanac is concerned. Its list of Texas Olympians includes not just natives, but anyone who lived or went to school here. So let’s just say that Dorothy “Dot” Franey wasn’t born in Texas, but she got here from Minnesota as soon as she could. A multiple world record holder, she competed in three races at the 1932 Olympics at Lake Placid, when women’s speed skating, which was being held for the first time, was still a “demonstration” sport (it did not become official until 1960).
She then switched to figure skating and turned pro, which landed her on Broadway and then at the Adolphus Hotel, where the “Dot Franey Ice Revue” played for fourteen years (yes, there was a temporary ice rink in one of the ballrooms).
Franey spent the rest of her life in Dallas and remained an active Olympics booster, including becoming the first president of the U.S. Olympians (the athletes’ own organization, not the U.S. Olympic Committee). In 2002, when the Olympic torch made its way through Dallas on the road to Salt Lake City, the then-89-year-old former champion was the city’s final bearer.
So what’s next?
Skiing or snowboarding? Stranger things have happened, though the artificial surface of “Mt. Aggie” is still not enough to train on. A bigger indoor mountain with fake snow just might suffice, if the proposed project in Addison gets off the ground (a similar planned facility in Grand Prairie never panned out).
Curling? Texas already has more than enough ice rinks and youth programs around the state to produce hockey players and figure skaters, and long-standing curling clubs in Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Heck, Austin has as many dedicated curling rinks (one) as it does hockey and skating options.
And then there’s the most natural fit of all: biathlon. We’ve already got the guns and the shooters. Just gotta send them to New Mexico or Colorado for cross-country training.
And hope that it won’t ever actually be possible to do it here for more than a week or two.