It’s pretty easy to indulge your own Winter Olympic fantasies around these parts. Extend that line of thinking and it makes total sense that the Treasure State would churn out a few hometown heroes. The most recent games in Sochi stirred up a lot of buzz about young Maggie Voisin, the 15-year-old Whitefish skier who wound up unable to compete in slopestyle after injuring her ankle just days before the event’s Olympic debut. And over the years, we’ve all become familiar with other big names such as Heather McPhie, Eric “Bergy” Bergoust and Judy Morstein (more on her in a bit). But exactly how deep do Montana’s ties to the winter games go? We recently asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to furnish us with a list of those Montanans who have taken to the snow and ice to rep this country, and the Big Sky. Not all of them made it to the podium. Still, each one is a fascinating piece of this state’s Olympic history.
Born in Terry, Johansen competed in women’s luge at Grenoble in 1968 at the age of 21. She came in 17th. Johansen was among several University of Montana students who trained at the nation’s first luge track, established at Lolo Hot Springs in 1965. UM records show she was among 11 students, all members of the U.S. Olympic Luge Squad, who contended for a spot in the ’68 winter games at a training camp in Vail. She later became a nurse practitioner working in mental health in the Seattle area.
A Bozeman native, McCabe was a two-time Olympic contender at the winter games—first in Lillehammer in 1994, then in Nagano in 1998. Her highest ranking across a number of cross-country skiing events was 10th, in the women’s 4x5 kilometer relay at Lillehammer. By the time her Olympic career started, McCabe was living in Winthrop, Washington, where her prominence in a post-Nagano games parade inspired Sadie Bjornsen to vie for a spot on the 2014 cross country squad in Sochi (Bjornsen’s relay team wound up placing 9th). But McCabe has popped up in Montana in the years since, competing in the 2009 Yellowstone Rendezvous in West Yellowstone. She placed 7th overall in the 50 kilometer that year, and first among women.
Livingston-born cross-country skier Kelly Milligan placed 37th in the women’s 20 kilometers at the 1984 winter games in Sarajevo. Based out of Park City, Utah, she continued to compete in cross-country events throughout the U.S. and Canada, and in February 2002 helped ferry the Olympic Torch to Salt Lake City for the winter games, quipping to a CBS News crew, “I didn’t fall, break the torch or singe my hair.”
Better known in Montana by her married name, Judy Martz went to the 1964 winter games in Innsbruck, where she placed 15th in the women’s 1,500 meters speed-skating event. The daughter of Big Timber ranchers, she’d been crowned Miss Rodeo Montana in 1961. Martz entered politics as a field rep for Sen. Conrad Burns in the late 1980s, and eventually served as governor from 2001 to 2005. Martz died on Oct. 30, 2017.
Born in Kalispell, Owen-Spencer traveled to the winter games twice in her cross-country skiing career: first in 1972 in Sapporo, then in 1980 in Lake Placid. She achieved her highest standing at the latter games, taking 7th in the women’s 4x5 kilometer relay. Owen-Spencer won the first-ever women’s Nordic World Cup in 1978. But a cloud descended over that title in 2007, when the International Ski Federation (FIS) declared Kikkan Randall the first American woman to win a gold medal in the event. Apparently the FIS didn’t officially recognize the women’s World Cup until several years after Owen-Spencer’s victory. According to the New York Times, that revelation left Owen-Spencer—by then living in Boise as Alison Kiesel—“incredulous.”
Hailing from Miles City, Roberts competed in luge at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck. It was her first year competing in the sport, and she placed 24th overall.
Kathleen Ann Roberts-Homstad
The sister of Olympic luger Karen Roberts, Roberts-Homstad participated in her first winter games at age 16 in Grenoble (1968), where she finished 14th in the women’s luge. She then traveled to Sapporo for the games in 1972, and competed alongside her sister in 1976 in Innsbruck. Roberts-Homstad claimed six U.S. Championships and seven North American championships during her luge career.
Ah, Missoula’s beloved Bergy. This hometown skier competed in men’s freestyle aerials at four winter games: Lillehammer (1994), Nagano (1998), Salt Lake City (2002) and Torino (2006). He famously took the podium with a gold medal win in Nagano, and has racked up two World Cup championships and three U.S. Aerials championships over the years as well. He’s one of only five aerialists in history to have completed a quadruple flip on snow. These days he splits his time between Missoula and Park City, Utah.
This renowned U.S. figure skater came in eighth at the 1994 winter games in Lillehammer. He was born in Great Falls, and is still touted as a past member of the Great Falls Figure Skating Club. Davis lives and coaches skating in Calgary, but according to news coverage still maintains a cabin in Montana.
Another Missoula-born skier, Moe grew up shredding the slopes at Big Mountain in Whitefish, where his dad worked as a ski patroller. Moe raced in men’s downhill at three winter games: Albertville (1992), Lillehammer (1994) and Nagano (1998). During the Lillehammer games, he became the first American male skier to win two medals—a gold in the downhill and a silver in the super-G. He retired from competitive skiing after the Nagano games, and was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 2003. Today he works as a ski ambassador in Jackson Hole and co-owns the Tordrillo Mountain Lodge in Alaska.
Originally from Helena, Murray was a secondary education and history major at UM when he joined the campus’ fledgling luge club in the mid 1960s. By the club’s second year, he’d become its captain. Murray wound up competing at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble (1968), Sapporo (1972) and Innsbruck (1976). He ended up in the real estate business, eventually settling down in North Carolina.
Olson competed for nearly a decade as a skier on the World Cup circuit, taking time in 1988 and 1992 to travel to the winter games in Calgary and Albertville, respectively. He raced in men’s downhill and men’s combined, and placed 13th in men’s super-G in Albertville. Born in Missoula, he became an entrepreneur following his exit from competitive skiing, co-founding several organizations, including the health and nutrition company Well Nourished Worldwide.
During the 1964 winter games in Innsbruck, the United States claimed just seven medals. Two of those belong to Saubert. Already an accomplished ski racer on the international circuit, she took the bronze medal in women’s slalom and the silver in women’s giant slalom (a medal she shared with French racer Christine Goitschel). She was inducted into the National Ski Hall of Fame in 1976. Though Saubert was born in Oregon, she spent her latter years living in Bigfork, where she died in May 2007.
Honestly, we couldn’t find much about Bozeman-native Paul Renne beyond what the U.S. Olympic Committee supplied us. He competed in the men’s 20 kilometer biathlon during the 1962 Innsbruck games, where he placed 39th, and served in the U.S. Army. He died in April 1970. His father, Ronald Renne, was president of Montana State University for 21 years and was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1964.
Bob Rock Jr.
Like so many others on this list, Rock was a Missoula athlete. And like so many others, he got his start in luge at Lolo Hot Springs. He competed in the winter games only once, in Sapporo in 1972, and ranked 44th in that contest. Rock later served as president of the Olympians for Olympians Relief Fund, a national organization founded to aid Olympic athletes who have fallen on hard times.
Butte native Dave Silk didn’t have to travel far for his sole winter games excursion. He competed in three speed-skating events in Calgary in 1988, with a top standing of 6th in the men’s 5,000 meters. It’s a story he still shares from time to time—when he’s not busy with his work as an emergency room physician at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena.
Among the latest generation of Montana Olympians, freestyle skier Bryon Wilson trekked to Vancouver in 2010 for his first (and so far only) winter games and came home with a bronze medal in men’s moguls. Wilson grew up in Butte for a time, before his family relocated to Park City, Utah, so he and younger brother Bradley could better realize their competitive skiing dreams. According to an Associated Press story, Bryon spent the early part of 2017 rehabbing his right knee, which he injured during a January World Cup event at Lake Placid.
For Montanans, the 2010 winter games were all about moguls. And Bozeman native McPhie accounted for half of that hype, having been named rookie of the year by the FIS in 2007. She ranked 18th overall in women’s moguls in Vancouver, then returned four years later to claim 13th in Sochi. Since starting her skiing career, McPhie has collected eight World Cup medals for moguls—two gold, three silver and three bronze. In 2012, she became the first mogul skier to pick up a sponsorship from Red Bull.
The story about the Wilson brothers is that they got their start in moguls skiing bumps and jumps they built themselves on the side of I-90 near the Continental Divide. Bradley made his Olympic debut at Sochi in 2014, ranking 20th in men’s moguls. A knee injury knocked him out of competitive skiing shortly after those games, but he hit the World Cup circuit again in early 2016 and won a silver medal at the FIS Freestyle World Championships this year.