• Vt Olympic families to cheer from home
    By Kevin O’Connor
    Staff Writer | February 07,2014
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    East Montpelier lawyer Mark Stephen still savors the “thrill, honor and privilege” of his 2010 trip to Vancouver to watch his daughter, Liz, cross-country ski at the Olympics. So when she was named to this year’s U.S. team for Sochi, Stephen and his wife, Susan, knew they’d again witness history.

    This time, on their home television.

    “We’re going to watch it here,” he says, “like most everyone else.”

    Stephen is speaking not only for the millions of Americans set to tune in to the 2014 Winter Games starting today but also for a majority of the families of Vermont’s 14 Olympians, who, challenged by high airfare, accommodations, tickets and terrorism threats, will cheer from their living rooms.

    Back when Shaftsbury cross-country skier Andy Newell traveled to Italy in 2006 for his first Olympics, he took along his parents, David and Carol, as well as his then-81-year-old grandfather, 80-year-old grandmother, aunt, two uncles and two cousins.

    Four years later, Newell’s parents decided to save the rest of the family the stress and flew to Vancouver alone. This year, with their son competing in his third games, they’re staying put entirely.

    “My wife and I made a decision before all the security stuff,” says David Newell, an insurance agent. “Even at better venues, it’s a task for spectators. Russia is a whole other sphere.”

    The families of Vermont’s three other cross-country skiers agree.

    “It would be great to go,” says Peru resident and Stratton Mountain School coach Sverre Caldwell, whose daughter Sophie is a first-time Olympian. “But there are too many unknowns.”

    Teammate Ida Sargent, of Barton, experiencing all the potential turbulence during a trip to Russia last year, gave her parents permission not to travel.

    “It’s nerve-wracking anyway,” her father, David, says of such events, “and it’s more so when you’re there.”

    Liz Stephen similarly convinced her family — and not just because the games are 5,000 miles away, in a different language and rife with security risks.

    “Her sense was, ‘I’m going there to do a job.’ If she’s going to excel, she’s got to focus,” her father says. “Had she said, ‘I really want you there,’ there’s no question we would have figured out a way. But we don’t want her to worry about making time to visit Mom and Dad.”

    The Stephen and Caldwell families instead reunited with their daughters just after Christmas at a Tour de Ski contest in Italy, while the Newell and Sargent families met their children at a similar competition last month in Poland.

    Back home, they’re all ready to watch the games through a combination of network television (the Sargents just upgraded from their usual basic cable) and live Internet broadcasts (although the Caldwell computer may be too old to receive them).

    “Everyone makes a huge hoopla about the Olympics,” Sverre Caldwell says, “but they’ve raced without us many times before.”

    “You want your kids to be in a safe environment, and that requires lots of restrictions,” Mark Stephen adds. “We knew we would hardly see her if we went to Sochi. Certainly our hearts will be torn if we’re not there and she’s on the podium. We’ll regret we took her advice.”

    Then again, next year’s Nordic world ski championships are set for more travel-friendly Sweden.

    “We’re all probably going to get together there,” David Newell says. “That’s the plan, anyway.”

    kevin.oconnor @rutlandherald.com
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