Olympian with western Kansas ties in Sochi

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KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — The public has spoken: Katie Uhlaender went with the larger eagle on her helmet for the women’s skeleton competition at the Sochi Games on Thursday. Uhlaender, who spent much of her youth in the Rawlins County community of McDonald, had two helmets to choose from and couldn’t decide which design she liked best.

She turned to Twitter. A quick search of her mentions shows the helmet with a larger eagle and stars-and-stripes motif was the popular pick. She trained in the new headgear on Monday.

And she’s got some gold-medal mojo working already. Turns out the helmet was painted by the artist who also did designs for some of Olympic gold medalist Picabo Street’s headgear during her alpine skiing career.

“I had a helmet that I’ve been sliding with since Vancouver basically, with a design that was inspired by Jimmy Shea,” Uhlaender said, referring to the 2002 men’s skeleton gold medalist from Lake Placid, N.Y. “And then Picabo and I hooked up in 2010 and she’s been a mentor, a huge inspiration for me. I got a new helmet and she offered to hook me up with her guy who painted her helmet for the 2002 Games.”

Early returns are good: Uhlaender, of Breckenridge, Colo., was in fourth place following the opening round of competition.