Best of the West: Western Olympians to watch; investing in wave energy; producing critical minerals from ash; rowing 3,000 miles for a cause

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Jan. 31, 2022. (Photos courtesy of AP and Atlantic Campaigns)

With the start of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics upon us, Team USA is sending 222 athletes to compete for gold, including the second-highest number of women in U.S. Winter Olympic history. The West is well represented among world’s best, with 96 athletes competing in everything from snowboarding to skeleton. 

California is sending 29 athletes to Beijing, the most of any state. After becoming the youngest competitor to win the women’s halfpipe at age 17 in 2018, snowboarder Chloe Kim is going for gold again. Red Gerard from Colorado, who became youngest male Olympian to win gold in 90 years and the first person born in the 2000s to claim gold after he won the men’s slopestyle competition in 2018, will look to repeat this year.  Mikaela Shiffrin, also from Colorado, is looking to become the most decorated U.S. athlete in Alpine Skiing history. Shiffrin holds two Olympic gold medals and won a record-breaking 47th World Cup slalom in January. 

The U.S. Women’s Figure Skating Team is ready to compete with skaters of all ages, including 25-year-old Mariah Bell, originally from Oklahoma. She will be the oldest U.S. Olympic women’s singles skater since 1928. The team also features the youngest Team USA athlete this year, 16-year-old Alysa Liu from California, who is considered the “Simone Biles of figure skating” by figure skating champion Adam Rippon. In men’s figure skating, Nathan Chen of Utah is dubbed as an “athlete to watch”  by USA Today after winning three consecutive world championships — the first man to do so since the 1980s.

Former University of Idaho track star Andrew Blaser will be the lone male representing Team USA in skeleton. Representing the women’s U.S. skeleton team is Katie Uhlaender of California, who will become the first American woman to compete in an Olympic sliding sport five times

Several current and former service members are also set to represent the West in this year’s Olympics. Utah National Guard Soldiers Jasper Good and Benjamin Loomis will compete with the U.S. Olympic Nordic Combined Team. After being injured by an explosion during the Iraq War, Paralympian and former U.S. Army Sergeant Rico Roman of Oregon will compete for a third straight gold medal in sled hockey.

Doing the Wave for Clean Energy: The U.S. Department of Energy is investing in wave energy technology with $25 million in grants, much of which will be allocated to companies and universities in the West. “Diversifying and expanding our clean energy sources will usher in a new era of energy independence that makes the grid more resilient, curbs the climate crisis, and saves Americans money on their energy bills,” said Secretary of Energy, Jennifer Granholm. CalWave Power Technologies in California received $7.5 million to test “proprietary xWave™ technology.” Oscilla Power out of Washington received $1.8 million to develop wave energy converter designs. The University of Washington and Portland State University in Oregon are also contributing to the work. 

Ash to Critical Minerals: Coal might have a new purpose as researchers at the University of Wyoming, the Colorado School of Mines and the Idaho National Research Laboratory explore the possibility of extracting rare earth and critical minerals from coal ash – a potential solution to the current shortage of critical minerals that are used to build electric vehicles. The Western Governors’ Association submitted comments to the Biden Administration asking it to develop a National Mineral Policy that enables mineral exploration and development in a manner that balances the nation’s industrial and security needs with adequate protection of natural resources and the environment.

An Entrepreneurial Education Model: The University of Utah created a $5 million investment fund to help aspiring entrepreneurs and provide real-world experience for building a startup. “We believe this could become a new model in business education, and it is a very significant addition to the startup ecosystem we’re building at the university,” said Paul Brown, a lecturer at the University’s David Eccles School of Business, who will oversee the program. Professional staffers will oversee projects, and students will source potential deals, conduct industry and competitor analysis, build relevant financial models and pitch proposals to the fund’s investment board. 

Rowing 3,000 Miles for a Cause: To raise money for childhood cancer, Owen Gray from Nevada is rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, a journey that will take him two months. Gray is raising money by participating in the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge, referred to as the “world’s toughest row.” Throughout the journey, he’s raised $175,000 for the California nonprofit Okizu, which supports families impacted by childhood cancer through peer support, respite, mentoring and recreational programs.

Get the latest news about the West and its governors by following the Western Governors' Association on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Check out our podcast, Out West, on PodbeanSpotify and Apple Podcasts

sign up for our newsletters