Steamboat Springs When the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team returns to the World Cup A tour a few days after Christmas, there will be a few more skiers wearing red, white and blue.
"It's great having four new guys at the top level for the second period," American athlete Carl Van Loan said.
The United States will field its largest team ever with six American skiers breaking into the top 45 in the world for the first time ever. Four of those qualified during the recent string of North American World Cup B events.
"It's pretty exciting," coach Tom Steitz said of his team's recent growth. "We used to be one of the smallest teams on the tour. Now we are tied as one of the largest teams with Norway and Germany."
The reason for the growth comes from the U.S. Ski Team's recent success on the World Cup B circuit, which held events in Park City, Utah, and Calgary, Canada. The Americans did so well in those events, recording nine top-10 finishes in the first three events in Park City, that four more skiers will make the move to World Cup A when the second period starts. The team's most recent success came in Calgary, where Kristoffer Erichsen won the individual competition, which incorporates a two-jump event on the hill with a 15-kilometer cross-country race. Erichsen edged out Slovenia's Andrej Jezersek by 13 seconds. Van Loan was fourth in the competition.
"It's been a really solid couple of weeks," Van Loan said. "But this (qualifying in the top 45) was our master plan. So I don't think we are surprised to be moving up."
The current American World Cup A team includes Bill Demong and Todd Lodwick. After Christmas, however, Americans Johnny Spillane, Matt Dayton, Van Loan and Erichsen will also be promoted to the top level.
"We are walking on a cloud right now," Steitz said of his team's emotions.
Steitz said the most the American team has ever had is three skiers at one time. He said during the Steamboat World Cups, the team's size has grown to four, but that was thanks to a wild card that is awarded to the country hosting the event.
This news of the young skiers' success has helped to erase some of the frustration Steitz and the A team members have experienced in the early part of the season. The World Cup A tour has hosted only two events in Europe in the first session of the World Cup season. A lack of snow has forced the cancellation of the remaining World Cup B events.
"Sure it's been frustrating," Steitz said. "We've had to guess on whether to stay here and train or go there because they might have an event. We just have to keep our heads down and keep training.
Steitz is optimistic that the team will return to the World Cup A schedule a few days after Christmas in Lillehammer, Norway. However, the details are still fuzzy as European sites battle to make snow and hold events.