Steamboat Springs It's not the Olympic Games just yet, but U.S. Nordic Combined and ski jumping coaches will treat next week's events at the Nordic Ski Festival in Park City, Utah, much like the real deal.
The Nordic Festival, which features cross-country skiing, nordic combined and special jumping World Cup events, began Wednesday with the women's cross-county pursuit race and men's 30-kilometer mass start and will end with the nordic combined team relay Jan. 21.
"It's a pre-Olympic test event," U.S. Nordic Combined coach Tom Steitz said. "For us, and the rest of the world, it's a practice run on the Olympic venue."
While the event will help nordic teams from around the world get a taste of what the Utah Olympic Games will be like, Steitz isn't expecting huge crowds at the events.
"I think there will be more reporters and cameras there than spectators, but I just don't know what to expect," he said. "I think there will be a lot more people at the Steamboat World Cups."
Steitz is expecting big crowds next February, when the Olympic Winter Games come to Utah. The crowds are an element that national coaches really can't control or plan for.
Steitz, however, said his team has a plan for how to control most of the other events on the Olympic schedule. This week's event in Utah will be a perfect setting to test the strategy.
The coach has planned everything on paper from transportation routes to what the athletes will eat for breakfast. Still, he knows it's hard to get everything on paper, so he is excited about the upcoming events in Utah.
"We've already started," Steitz said. "The plan begins about three weeks out and carries through the events."
In this case, the events will be the ski festival. A little more than a year from now, the plan will include the Olympic Games.
"We want to run through it a few times before the Olympics, so that we can fine-tune and make changes if it looks like certain things are not going to work," Steitz said.
The U.S. Nordic Combined team will have six members skiing in the Park City events. Steitz is hoping to have some solid results in the first two World Cups in the United States this year. Following the events, the skiers will head back to Steamboat for a pair of World Cup events here Jan. 24 through 27.
"It's going to be fun to go there (to Utah) and see how our plan works," Steitz said. "It will also be helpful to see what we need to fix and what we can leave alone."
For the American special jumpers, the event will be more about gaining experience than trying to experience a taste of what the Olympics will be like.
"For sure, this is an Olympic test," American coach Kari Ylianttila said. "But for us, the most important thing is just getting World Cup experience."
Ylianttila isn't expecting much in the way of results from the event, saying his top jumper, Alan Alborn, was injured during his last trip to Europe. Alborn, who is a member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club and has trained at Howelsen for several years, is considered questionable for the event.
Ylianttila said the Americans will be represented by a young group including Steamboat's own Brendan Doran, Clint Jones and Tommy Schwall. Hartman Rector, of Salt Lake City, will also jump in the competition.
Doran did not go to Europe for the first part of the World Cup season but has posted several top domestic results in the past few weeks.
The opening ceremonies for the events will be held tonight at the Wasatch High School in Heber City. That event will include a parade of countries, cowboy poetry and country music.
There will also be a closing ceremonies at The Canyons in Park City that will include recognition of U.S. Alumni, a flag ceremony and fireworks.
Nordic combined events will take place Jan. 19 with a sprint event and Jan. 21 with a three-man team event.
The special jumping team will take part in competitions on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20.