Ohio to Sochi: Athletes set for Olympics

FILE-In this Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, file photo Team USA's Kelli Stack celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against Team Canada in the first period of a women's hockey game on in St. Paul, Minn. Three native Ohioans will be competing for the United States in the upcoming Olympics in Russia. The three women all come from hometowns in northeast Ohio. Brooklyn Heights native Kelli Stack and Sheffield Village’s Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle are trying a second time for OIympic Gold on the U.S. hockey team. Stack is the team’s forward and McLaughlin-Bittle is a goaltender. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Carlos Gonzalez, File) ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS OUT; SOFT OUT MINNEAPOLIS-AREA TV NOT TV; MAGAZINES OUT

CINCINNATI (AP) — Kelly Gunther wasn’t sure she would ever skate again after a serious ankle injury four years ago. Now she is one of three Ohioans competing in the upcoming Olympics in Russia.

Gunther, a native of northeast Ohio’s Lorain, fractured her ankle in competition in 2010. The injury came not long after Gunther barely missed a spot on the long track team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“2010 was definitely not one of my better years on the ice,” Gunther recently told The Morning Journal in Lorain. “But it was the year that helped shape who I am and made me realize what I can accomplish when I keep positive and focus on what I want.”

Gunther, 26, will compete in the 1,000-meter event in the Sochi Olympics that begin Friday.

Two hockey players, also from northeast Ohio, are trying again for Olympic gold. Brooklyn Heights’ Kelli Stack and Brianne McLaughlin-Bittle, from Sheffield Village, won silver medals in 2010. The United States and Canada are favored to meet again in this year’s gold-medal game.

Stack, a 26-year-old forward who had surgery last spring for a knee injury, says she thinks she is back to her pre-injury level.

“I think my speed and strength are catching up,” she told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.

McLaughlin-Bittle told The Chronicle Telegram of Elyria that she felt a sense of relief after learning she had made the 2014 team.

“The last time around, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into,” said the 26-year-old goaltender. “I was just happy to be there. This year, I knew how fun it could be to compete in the Olympics for your country.”

Members of the Columbus Blue Jackets also will compete but for other countries. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, center Artem Anisimov and defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin were named to the Russian roster. Right wing Marian Gaborik will represent Slovakia. Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards is an assistant coach for Team USA.

A University of Cincinnati professor won’t be competing, but some U.S. skeleton team members will be relying on a sled he designed.

Skeleton sleds support the upper body of lone riders who race head-first at speeds of 70 to 90 mph while steering with shoulder and knee pressure.

Grant Schaffner, an assistant professor in aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics and president of ProtoStar Engineering Inc., led the team that designed the ProtoStar V5. He will be in Sochi to watch it used by Katie Uhlaender, of McDonald, Kan., Matt Antoine, of Prairie du Chien, Wis., and John Daly, of Smithtown, N.Y.

“The V5 was designed to strike a balance between the flexibility needed to guide the sled and the strength and stiffness needed to support a lot of weight,” said Schaffner, noting that a rider’s weight can be four to five times greater rounding curves.

U.S. skeleton coach Tuffy Latour told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Sochi that the athletes are very excited about the latest ProtoStar, which he says is faster and stronger than the version used in 2010.

“There has been constant communication between the coaches, the athletes and Grant to be sure we got what we were looking for, and it’s a great fit,” Latour said. “The athletes believe they are riding on the best equipment built.”

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