Steamboat Springs Shortly after getting out of school on Thursday, Nathan Gerhart threw on a pair of running shoes and was out the door.
The Steamboat Springs High School senior knows it's going to take some hard work and dedication to make the most of his latest chance with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team. He was one of seven skiers named to the squad by head coach Tom Steitz just last week.
"I made the team two years ago after a good showing at nationals, but I had to go back down," Gerhart said. "But I jumped well at the end of last season and I'm really looking forward to training with these guys this summer."
The other guys on this year's U.S. ski team include veterans such as Todd Lodwick and Bill Demong. The squad's ranks will also include Matt Dayton, Johnny Spillane, Kristoffer Erichsen and Jed Hinkley.
"There are seven athletes on it which is the biggest in the history of the team," Steitz said.
The head coach said he is glad athletics coach Jan-Erik Aalbu will be back this season.
The coach also said that the Americans would not be in this position without the help of Aalbu, who joined the team just one year ago.
"I can't stress enough, how much Jan-Erik has contributed to this team," Steitz said. "We wouldn't be here without him."
Bard Elden, assistant coach in charge of cross-country, and personal coach Ed Meagher will also be back.
Meagher will act as a individual coach for each of the seven athletes and will also specialize in sports psychology for the team.
"We are right where we need to be for Salt Lake City," Steitz said. "We've got a busy summer, but we are in a lot better position than we were a year ago."
Steitz said the team will spend the next two weeks training on top of Rabbit Ears Pass before heading to Park City to start a jump camp May 21.
All but one of the skiers on the U.S. team are qualified to ski on World Cup's A tour during the first period next year and Steitz said he thinks that's pretty impressive considering that only the top 45 skiers in the world get that opportunity.
This summer he plans on getting as much international exposure as possible and will make two trips to Europe for three camps. The team will also head to Alaska to train on a glacier in July.
"We are going to have more contact with a top international field," Steitz said.
The coach feels that the team's summer plans are strong and the skiers should be well prepared for next year's World Cup and the upcoming Games in Salt Lake.
Gerhart said he is also looking toward the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake.
"I think this summer is going to be a lot faster paced than it was in the past," Gerhart said. "I just want to try to keep up with these guys and see what happens. There are a bunch of us shooting for one of those four spots (on the Olympic Team) and I want it just as much as the other guys."
Steitz said his athletes will pay the price to make that Olympic team this summer on glaciers, roller skies and plastic jumps.
"This is the time when we make up ground on those other teams," Steitz said. "Summer is when your team makes its strides."