REDMOND, Wash. —Feb. 12, 2010 — On the morning of January 21, Microsoft employee Danny Lange was getting ready for work when he heard footsteps bounding down the stairs. It was his daughter, Yina Moe-Lange, who ran down to him and held out her cell phone. Her hands were shaking so badly that Lange couldn’t read what was on the screen, but she was trying to show him an e-mail that had come in overnight from Denmark.
Microsoft employee Danny Lange’s 16-year-old daughter, Yina Moe-Lange, competing in Schweitzer, Idaho.
Yina had just been informed that, at age of 16, she would fulfill her childhood dream of skiing in the Olympics.
In the e-mail Yina, a Danish citizen who has lived in the U.S. since she was 4, was officially asked to compete for Denmark at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, which start on Friday. The teen will be one of the youngest Olympians at the Games when she races in the giant slalom and slalom skiing events February 24 and 26, respectively.
Yina knew she was being considered for the Danish team, but the invitation came as a surprise. “I didn’t know what to think I was so excited,” she said. “Even though I knew it was a possibility, the shock was a lot bigger than I thought it was going to be.”
The news also surprised her father. Lange, a principal architect in Microsoft’s Startup Business Group, said that countries typically only send athletes who have a chance to medal. In Yina’s case, the Danish committee’s decision looks toward the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia. “By picking her, they’re basically saying, ‘here’s the kick-off of our four-year plan,’” he said.
Yina said she understands the thinking behind the decision. She doesn’t expect to medal, but does have her own goals. First off – she’ll inhale as much of the Olympics as possible. Second, she hopes to place in the top 30 during the first run of the giant slalom. During the second and final run, skiers race in the reverse order of their rankings. If she just cracks the top 30, she could be one of the first to compete; for a little while, then, she would be at the top of the leader board. “That would be awesome,” she said.
Yina spoke to the News Center via phone from Cannon Mountain, New Hampshire, where she trained with her coach, Mike Savage, who will join her at the Games. When she has downtime, Yina said she enjoys being “a lazy teenager” – watching TV, reading, talking on the phone. That said, most waking moments are devoted to hard training.
Over the past year, she has skied in Chile, Germany, Austria, and multiple locations in the U.S. and Canada. In December and January alone, she participated in 26 international races in North America, logging 15,000 miles. “The travel is definitely some of the best part of skiing,” she said. “If I didn’t do this sport, I'd be at home over the summer, not over the world.”
Yina strapped on her first pair of skis in Tokyo when she was 3 years old. Her parents had moved there after her mom, a Danish diplomat, took a job in the embassy. When she was 4, the family moved to California after Lange got a job in Silicon Valley. Ski trips to Tahoe soon became family tradition.
Lange said that no one in the family had ever participated in competitive skiing. But at an early age Yina showed so much promise that a coach told Lange and his wife she should join a team. At 8, she won her first race. The Olympic dream started soon after, she said. “I thought, ‘maybe I’m actually good at this. What if I become even better?’” She’s been training ever since.
Microsoft employee Danny Lange with daughter Yina Moe-Lange.
Lange admits it can be nerve-wracking to watch Yina streak down a mountain. “When she’s skiing downhill, she’ll hit speeds beyond 70 miles per hour. It’s faster than you go on the freeway, and there’s no seatbelt.”
He has watched her stumble on occasion. In fact, it was an early spill that made Lange realize his daughter had a gift. She was halfway down the mountain when she fell on her side. Instead of giving up, though, she dug her skis back into the snow and used her momentum to get back into the race. She wound up in second place.
It was a pivotal moment, Lange recalled. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘Wow, she has something in there.’ Most kids would just give up, but she realized that even if she fell, she wasn’t out of the race. She refused to give up.”
Yina admits she gets nervous thinking about competing in front of such a large audience. But she won’t blink when she’s ready to race on the mountain. “At night now, before I go to bed, it's OK to think those thoughts,” she said. “But on the hill you always have to focus. I’ll be ready when the time comes.”
When Lange and his wife drop Yina off to stay with the Danish team, he’ll remind her to stay focused on her racing and encourage her to soak up the experience. Then he’ll proudly watch her race on February 24 and 26.
“I’m so happy on her behalf. You always want to see your kids being successful, and you could say she’s already been successful. Even if she stopped skiing next month, she already would have a tremendous career.
“But of course she has no plans of stopping,” he said.
Visit Yina’s Web site, where she’ll blog about her experiences at the Winter Games.
Watch complete coverage of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver on NBCOlympics.com, which uses Microsoft Silverlight technology.