Siblings give family feel to Sochi Olympics
KRASNAYA GOLYANA, Russia (AP) When Martin Fourcade won his first Olympic gold this week, the French biathlete got to celebrate in the finish area with the teammate he grew up trying to beat – older brother Simon.
”Being an Olympian is something wonderful, but sharing it with him is something incredible,” Fourcade said.
The Fourcades are far from unique at these Winter Games, where the term ”Olympic family” can often be used literally.
All over Sochi, siblings are competing next to each other – some as teammates, some as rivals. For all of them, the experience makes for a special addition to the family album.
”It’s not like we’re going to go back home from Sochi and it’s like, `OK, good working with you,”’ said American ice dancer Alex Shibutani, who is competing with sister Maia. ”She’s my sister for the rest of my life. To be on this journey, it means so much more to us for that very reason, and to our family as well.”
While famous siblings can also be found in summer sports – tennis has both the Williams sisters and doubles pair Bob and Mike Bryan for instance – the number definitely goes up at the Winter Olympics.
The biathlon venue especially is one big family affair. Aside from the Fourcades, there are two brothers on Norway’s team, three sisters on Switzerland’s and female twins on Ukraine’s, while women’s sprint gold medalist Anastasiya Kuzmina – who competes for Slovakia – has her brother Anton Shipulin on the Russian team.
Over at the Extreme Park, the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters of Canada made headlines when Justine and Chloe took gold and silver in moguls. And that hasn’t been the only Sochi podium with siblings on it.
In the speedskating arena, Dutch twins Michel and Ronald Mulder won gold and bronze in the men’s 500-meter race. In men’s double luge, Austrian brothers Andreas and Wolfgang Linger took silver, and Latvian brothers Andris and Juris Sics won bronze.
In skeleton, two-time world champion Martins Dukurs of Latvia has brother Tomass on the team. Cross-country skier Dario Cologna will try for his third gold in Sochi when he competes in the team sprint next week with younger brother Gianluca for Switzerland.
”We have seven sets of siblings on the U.S team and there are plenty more around the world,” said Taylor Fletcher of Steamboat Springs, Colo., who is competing in Nordic combined along with brother Bryan.
And the explanation might be simple.
”Some families have the genes to be in the top,” said Norwegian biathlete Johannes Boe, whose older brother Tarjei is a seven-time world champion and won gold with Norway in the relay in Vancouver four years ago.
”I think also when siblings are small, they always fight for being the best one,” Boe added. ”And we always take that with us in the competitions.”
In some cases, they end up spurring each other on all the way to the Olympics. Such was the case for Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, from Winthrop, Wash., both on the U.S. cross-country team.
”Erik and I have a unique competitive nature with each other. We’re always trying to beat each other,” Sadie Bjornsen said. ”That’s the way it works.”
Johannes Boe also said he probably wouldn’t have reached this stage if he hadn’t grown up trying to emulate his brother.
”I have to thank him for (being) the biathlete I am today,” said Boe, who has a good chance of winning a medal with his brother in the men’s relay.
So does Simon Fourcade, who won a world championship gold medal in 2009, and has since seen Martin overtake him as the family’s top athlete.
It can lead to mixed emotions when one sibling succeeds and the other doesn’t – such as in the men’s 20-kilometer race on Thursday. Martin Fourcade won that event for his second gold medal, but this time Simon wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
”I didn’t talk to him much because I was really disappointed about my race,” Simon Fourcade said after the finish. ”Last time during the pursuit I enjoyed Martin’s medal a lot. But today … it will take a bit of time to let these bad feelings disappear about my race, and then I will enjoy Martin’s performance.”
For perhaps the best example of the influence an older sibling can have, one should look to the three Gasparin sisters.
Selena Gasparin, 29, has been a trailblazer for women’s biathlon in Switzerland, and for years was the country’s only representative at major events. So getting her younger sisters Elisa and Aita involved was the only way to get some company.
”Before, I was really alone,” Selena said.
First, she convinced the seven years younger Elisa to take up the sport. Then, after Aita turned 16, the two gave baby sister a rifle as a present and told her to join them.
Four years later, the three are all on the Olympic team. And on Friday, they cried together in the finish area after Selena surprisingly took silver in the 15K individual race.
”It’s really cool. They are happy, they’ve been crying for me,” Selina Gasparin said. ”And I think it also helps for them for the future, to see that it’s possible. I think they’re really proud and motivated.”
In the team events, family connections help in different ways.
In the luge doubles, where one rider lies directly on top of the other as they zip down the course at high speed, knowing your partner well is crucial.
”We understand each other, without words, without gestures even,” said Latvia’s Andris Sics, the bronze medalist with brother Juris. ”Just a look.”
And even when one sibling ends up beating the other to the gold, there have been scenes of solidarity rather than jealousy in Sochi.
When Justine Dufour-Lapointe won the moguls event, she grabbed sister Chloe’s hand as they stepped onto the podium together – needing a bit of family support to help deal with the emotions.
”Holding Chloe’s hand meant that I wasn’t alone,” Justine said. ”I was in shock. I saw Chloe and I felt calm. Holding her hand, I knew it would feel more like home.”
AP writers Eric Willemsen, Rachel Cohen, Dennis Passa, Angela Charlton, Eddie Pells and Will Graves contributed to this report.