Rivalry between ski teams continues

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— Two champions were crowned at the Chevy Trucks U.S. Ski Jumping Championships in Park City, Utah last weekend.

One was a special jumper, the other a rising star on the nordic combined ski team and both share one thing in common Steamboat Springs.

Special jumper Alan Alborn, who was born and raised in Alaska, won the weekend's biggest prize by topping the field in the large hill competition on March 24.

U.S. Nordic Combined skier Bill Demong won the other jumping title by collecting the most points in the normal hill event held on March 25.

Ski jumping coach Chris Gilbertson compares the year-end championships to a sibling rivalry between two brothers.

Normally the members of the U.S. Nordic Combined and Special Jumping teams share a common interest in beating the rest of the world. But once a year, the two teams are pitted against one another, fighting for the same pay checks and national recognition.

It's a friendly rivalry, according to head coach Tom Steitz, but one that has come to push both sides.

This year the nordic combined team collected the normal hill title and four of the top six podium spots. The special jumpers, however, earned the coveted large hill title in the events that were held in Park City last weekend.

"We wanted more," Gilbertson said. "We would have liked to see Clint (Jones) and Brendan (Doran) finish a little bit higher in front of those nordic combined guys. But Bill (Demong) is a strong jumper and he had a good weekend."

The highlight of the weekend for the special jumpers had to be when Alborn earned the large hill title. He netted 259 points on efforts of 126.5 and 128.5 meters.

He was followed by Demong who finished second with 231.2 points and local favorite Todd Lodwick took third place at 219.7. Lodwick is also a member of the U.S. Nordic Combined team.

"It was a good weekend for our boys," American coach Tom Steitz said.

In the normal hill competition, Demong topped Alborn for the title with 241.5 points and jumps of 93 and 92.5 meters. Alborn was second at 237.5 points and Lodwick was third with 227.5 points.

John Spillane came in fourth, Clint Jones was fifth and last year's normal-hill king Doran was sixth.

But no matter which team finished on top, the one thing both American coaches could agree on was that Steamboat Springs was a clear-cut winner. Demong and Alborn, both moved to Steamboat to train and compete before being elevated to the ranks of the American team. Both skiers have strong ties to Steamboat Springs. In fact, current or former members of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club took the top-six spots in both the large and normal hill competitions. In addition, Gilbertson was happy with strong performances by several young skiers including Logan Gerber who was 19th in the large hill and 14th in the normal hill; and Tommy Schwall who was 21st in the large hill. He also felt that Bryan Fletcher and Davis Miller looked strong in the national field.

Demong was also the top dog in the nordic combined title hunt. He outjumped teammate Todd Lodwick to take a slight advantage into the cross country race. He then held off Lodwick in the cross country race to earn the title. Lodwick finished 56 seconds back, Spillane took third 1:10 back, and Kris Erichsen was fourth 1:48 back.

Another local athlete, Alex Glueck turned in one of his best showings ever taking sixth place a little over two minutes behind the leader. He was also 12th in the normal and 16th in the large hill competitions.

"Bill was on fire all weekend," Steitz said after the meet. "He was clearly The One last weekend and he was definitely the big money winner."

Steitz said the conditions for the nationals were brutal. Skiers had to get up before 5 a.m. to be ready to jump by 6:30 a.m. He said the snow on the jumps was hard at first, but by 9 a.m. had started to soften, making jumping conditions dangerous for the athletes.

Demong was celebrating his big finishes on Monday by floating down the Green River in Utah. Steitz said the nordic skiers will have the next two or three weeks off before beginning a rigorous training program aimed at the 2002 Olympics in Park City.

The situation will be similar for the special jumping team. Gilbertson said those skiers will also be off until mid-May, but will be working hard in dryland conditioning and weight-training programs.

Both teams want to be prepared for next ski season and the chance to return to Park City in search of Olympic glory.

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