Five North Carolinians go for Olympic gold

Team USA features four Olympians from N.C., plus one on Team Korea

Team USA’s Bobby Sanguinetti, who played 40 of his 45 career NHL games with the Carolina Hurricanes, now lives in Wilmington and plays professionally in Switzerland. (Courtesy Carolina Hurricanes)

The Winter Olympics start on Thursday in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Four members of the 243 athletes that make up Team USA have North Carolina connections, and at least one North Carolinian will be competing for another nation.

Here’s a quick look at the state’s home-grown Olympians:

Bobby Sanguinetti

The 29-year-old defenseman is a member of the U.S. Men’s Hockey team. Sanguinetti grew up in New Jersey but currently lives in Wilmington. He was selected in the first round of the 2006 draft by the Rangers, but 40 of Sanguinetti’s 45 NHL games came with the Carolina Hurricanes.

He had two goals and four assists for the Canes in 2012-13. Most recently, he’s been playing in Switzerland, for HC Lugano.

This will be Sanguinetti’s first time competing in the Olympics. His only international experience was in the 2008 World Junior Championships, when he had three points and two assists as the U.S. team finished fourth.

Team USA plays in Group B, opening with Slovenia Feb. 14 at 7:10 a.m. (Eastern). They play Slovakia Feb. 15 at 10:10 p.m. and the team of Russian athletes Feb. 17 at 7:10 a.m. The qualifiers start Feb. 19, quarters Feb. 20, semis Feb. 23 and the two medal games Feb. 24.

Randi Griffin

A North Carolinian will also be competing in Women’s Hockey, but don’t look for her on Team USA. Griffin, an Apex native and Duke grad student, will compete for the Korean team. Her mother is Korean, which qualified her to play for the host nation.

The Korean team features a mixture of North and South Korean players, competing under a unified flag, a significant development between the two nations.

After playing youth hockey in North Carolina, Griffin was a four-year starter at forward for Harvard, graduating in 2010.

Team Korea takes the ice against Switzerland Feb. 10 at 7:10 a.m., Sweden Feb. 12 at 7:10 a.m. and Japan Feb. 14 at 2:40 a.m. The quarterfinals will be Feb. 16, the semis Feb. 19 and the medal games Feb. 21.

Heather Bergsma

The long-track speedskater from High Point returns to the Olympics for the third time. She’s competed in four different events at the Olympics. She finished sixth in the 500-meters at the 2010 Vancouver Games and eighth in the 2014 Sochi Games. She finished ninth in the 1,000 in 2010, then improved to seventh in 2014. Bergsma also had significant improvement in the 1,500, going from 16th in 2010 to seventh in 2014. Bergsma also added a fourth event in 2014, finishing sixth in the team pursuit.

Since her last Olympics, Bergsma has improved in each event, and the 28-year-old may contend for medals this year. She holds the world records in the 500 and 1,500 and had the 1,000 record as well in 2015, before it was broken. Bergsma won the 1,000 and the Mass Start — which will become her fifth Olympic event — at the Olympic trials and finished second in the 500 and 1,500.

Bergsma will have a busy schedule. The 1,500 will be held at 7:30 a.m., Feb. 12. The 1,000 goes Feb. 14, 5 a.m.. The 500, Feb. 18, 6:56 a.m. The three rounds of the Team Pursuit will be held Feb. 19 and 21, and the two rounds of the Mass Start will both go Feb. 24.

Kimani Griffin

The Winston-Salem native will represent the U.S. on the men’s speedskating team. The 27-year-old is a classically trained guitarist who performed at Carnegie Hall at age 17.

Griffin qualified for the U.S. team in the 500-meter long-track event after finishing third in the Olympic Trials. It will be his first trip to the Olympics.

The medal for the 500-meter will go up for grabs on Feb. 19 at 6:53 a.m. The U.S. hasn’t medaled in that event since another North Carolinian took the ice. Greensboro’s Joey Cheek won the event in 2006 at Turin.

Lowell Bailey

The 36-year-old Bailey was born in Siler City but currently lives in Lake Placid, N.Y. He’ll compete in men’s biathlon.

This will be Bailey’s fourth Olympics. In the 2006 Torino Games, he placed 27th in individual, 46th in sprint, 48th in pursuit and ninth in relay. In 2010, he was 46th in individual, 38th in both sprint and pursuit, and 13th in relay. Four years later, he was eighth in individual, 35th in sprint, 38th in pursuit, 16th in relay, eighth in mixed relay and 23rd in mass start.

Bailey is the reigning world champion in the individual race, becoming the first American to ever win gold in the event at the world championships.

The sprint will be Feb. 11 at 6:15 a.m. The pursuit, Feb. 12, 7 a.m.; individual, Feb. 15, 6 a.m.; mass start Feb. 18, 6:15 a.m.; mixed relay Feb 20, 6:15 a.m.; and relay Feb 23, 6:15 a.m.

UNC Charlotte’s Briauna Jones is also in South Korea as an alternate on the US Women’s Bobsled team.