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Champions Take Flight

Behind the scenes with Team USA

Author Jennifer Dohm

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Sarah Hendrickson has tackled mountains all over the world. The 19-year-old world champion thought she’d seen every ski jump imaginable. That was, of course, until she showed up on set for United’s new Olympic commercial.

“I’ve never been on a luggage conveyer belt before, so that’s a new experience!” she says enthusiastically. For the spot, created by United’s ad agency, mcgarrybowen, and directed by Michael Haussman (he also directed United’s “Friendly Skies” commercials), U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and hopefuls use airline equipment in unusual ways. Hendrickson opts for the airline’s baggage belt in lieu of her traditional take-off ramp.

In another scene, Team USA bobsledder Nick Cunningham speeds down the aisle of a Boeing 777 pushing a beverage cart with his four-man bobsled team. While it was his first commercial, he says acting can be natural for athletes. “We often need to hide our emotions when we’re competing, so there is always a little bit of acting for us,” he says.

Hands down, the most comfortable scene is luger Erin Hamlin’s. Dressed in full competition gear, including racing “booties,” Hamlin stretches out and “luges” in the 6’4″ space of United’s BusinessFirst flat-bed seat—which is a heck of a lot more comfortable than the small, composite-made luge sled she’s used to. Though she’s never managed to luge in a flat-bed seat, Hamlin has had plenty of opportunities to nap in one. As a United MileagePlus Premier member, she flies more than 10 roundtrips a year to competitions. Hamlin says she and her teammates get pretty competitive: “We all want to be in BusinessFirst!” she says.

United’s “Athletes Aboard” commercial will air during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

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