Home field advantage

Locals hope to shine in hometown

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— When the top nordic combined skiers in the world arrive in Steamboat Springs this January for the seventh Ski Town USA World Cup, they may be more prepared than in the past.

"Because of the World Cup events in Park City, the teams and the skiers will probably be better prepared," American coach Tom Steitz said.

He expects all of the top teams to arrive in Steamboat directly from Park City, Utah. This means the European teams will have larger support staffs, including coaches, medical staff and sports psychologists to help their skiers' performances on the jumps and the ski trails.

The athletes themselves may also be better prepared to compete in Steamboat because they will have had at least a week to adjust to the altitude in Park City which is almost the same as in Steamboat Springs.

"I'm not sure that I like it," Steitz said. "There goes our advantage."

The one advantage the Americans will not lose is the hometown crowd. This year, the local fans will have a lot more skiers to cheer for as the Americans have qualified the largest team ever to compete on the World Cup's A tour.

Hometown favorites will include natives such as Todd Lodwick and Johnny Spillane. Transplants Billy Demong, Carl Van Loan, Kristoffer Erichsen and Matt Dayton will also be battling for a Steamboat title.

Steitz said at this point of the season, favorites such as Bjarte Engen Vik of Norway and teammate Kristian Hammer are starting to take control.

Both skiers have always liked to ski in Steamboat and will be in top shape at this point of the season.

Other skiers to watch for include Germany's Ronny Ackermann, who has been hot in early season events, as well as last year's winner Ladislav Rygl (Czech Republic) and also Samppa Lajunen (Finland).

"This is the time of the season where if you haven't prepared well, things can start to get to you," Steitz said. "The wear and tear starts to show and the guys who normally dominate start to take over."

Steitz has high hopes for his skiers who are, on a whole, jumping better than they were when the World Cup came to Steamboat in 1999.

The team's top skier, Lodwick, is coming off an eighth-place finish in Reit Im Winkle. While his jumping results are still not up to his own expectations, Steitz expects his ace to come around soon. Lodwick has also been able to overcome some sluggish jumping results with spectacular efforts on the cross-country course.

Lodwick is a pressure skier, who has already proven he can win in Steamboat. Steitz also expects Demong and Spillane to show well at home.

Demong has been placing consistently in the top 15 in the European events and may take advantage of the American swing to move up. While the rest of the American team is new to the World Cup's A Tour, Steitz was impressed with Spillane's efforts in his first events and is expecting big things in Steamboat.

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