WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Several days of anxious waiting came to a thrilling end for Whitman College alumna Holly Brooks on Tuesday morning.
A phone call from Pete Vordenberg, head coach of the U.S. Olympic cross country ski team, confirmed that her dream had come true…
Brooks had just been added to the U.S. Olympic squad for the Vancouver (B.C.) Games that get underway Feb. 12.
Brooks, who graduated from Whitman in 2004 and lives in Anchorage, Alaska, got the good news while still at home with husband Rob Whitney.
“We hugged and jumped up and down,” Brooks told a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News.
Brooks, 27, a coach at Alaska Pacific University, came to Whitman from Seattle, Wash. She majored in sociology-environmental studies and led the cross country team in each of her four seasons.
She also was part of Whitman’s first Semester in the West program, an interdisciplinary course in which select students spend the fall semester traveling throughout the western U.S., meeting with variety of leading figures in conservation, ecology, environmental writing, and social justice.
Brooks has stayed in touch with Whitman, serving as one of its top alumni admission representatives.
A four-woman U.S. Olympic cross team was first selected and announced on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Brooks missed that cut but was told to stay ready in case a new Olympic quota system made an additional spot available to the U.S. team.
While a number of highly accomplished athletes were in line to fill that fifth spot, it isn’t surprising that Brooks got the nod.
She was fifth on the national points list, just 1.63 points out of the third spot.
Brooks picked up a silver medal earlier this month at the U.S. National Championships, placing second in the 20-kilometer classic with a time of 1:14.29.2. That was just 10 seconds behind winner Kikkan Randall, widely recognized as the top women’s cross country skier in the U.S.
Brooks added a fourth-place finish in the classic sprint race.
Late in 2009, Brooks made her opening statement for an Olympic roster spot by winning four of six races on the U.S. SuperTour in Montana and Canada.
Had the U.S. women’s team been allotted more than five Olympic spots, Whitman might well have a second alum headed to Vancouver.
Laura Valaas, a 2006 Whitman graduate, made her own statement at the national championships earlier this month, winning a silver medal in the classic sprint, taking bronze in the freestyle sprint, and placing sixth in the 20-kilometer classic.
While at Whitman Valaas twice qualified for the national championships, earning All-American honors in three different events, placing as high as fourth in a 15-kilometer freestyle race. An applied mathematics major, she also earned Second-Team Academic All-American honors as a senior.
After getting her good news Tuesday, Brooks left the next day to train with other Olympians at the Canmore Nordic Center in Alberta, Canada. The U.S. skiers also plan to race in World Cup races slated for Feb. 5 in Canmore.
Ironically, Brooks was named to the Olympic team just a few months after Whitman inducted the late Guttorm Berge into its Athletic Hall of Fame.
Berge, who skied for Whitman in the early 1950s, won a bronze medal at the 1952 Oslo Olympics, skiing for his native Norway.