Steamboat Springs In the final 25 meters of Friday's 7.5-kilometer cross country race, Norway's Kenneth Braaten glanced back as if to say farewell to the field of World Cup B competitors he had just left in the dust.
Winning the sprint event was exactly the way the World Cup veteran had hoped to open this weekend's run of events in Steamboat Springs.
"I had a very tough season last year," Braaten said. "I was not qualified for the A cup : but my goal is definitely to move up to the A camp, and every point is definitely important to me."
To do that, Braaten will need to continue a run of recent successes.
He filled in for a sick teammate in a World Cup A event in Trondhiem a week ago and finished 18th.
Friday's first-place finish in the first World Cup B event of the season will also push him toward his goal of moving back to the top level of Nordic combined.
Braaten led Norway to a 1-2 finish in the one-jump, 7.5-kilometer race held at the base of Howelsen Hill.
It is the first of three events that will take place at Howelsen this weekend.
Today, the competitors will compete in another sprint event and on Sunday the competition will take the more expanded Gundersen format, where athletes take two jumps and then ski in a 15-kilometer race. Jumping rounds for both events begin at 10 a.m.
On Friday, Braaten finished 19th in the jumping portion but blazed past the field in the cross country race by posting the fastest time of the day at 19 minutes, 2 seconds.
Teammate Moan Magnus, who finished 16th in the jumping, worked with Braaten to take second place.
In the final 100 meters, it was the more experienced Braaten who took control.
"I don't know what to say I never thought that I would end up in second place," Magnus said. "I knew that Kenneth would beat me in the end. He has skied at this altitude before, but this was my first time at this altitude.
"But this is incredible for me : this is my first time to U.S.A. and Steamboat and I love it."
Russian skier Alexej Barannikov finished third, and the top American was Brett Camerota, who finished eighth.
"I know I can stay with the pack and ski up," Camerota said after the 7.5-kilometer race. "I jumped better yesterday, but it wasn't that bad today."
Camerota is one of several club-level skiers who is hoping to make an impression in this week's events and next week's in Park City.
Development coach Dave Jarrett was happy with the American team's finish in Friday's events but admits he would like to have a better showing on the jump hill today.
"Jumping is a big part of Nordic combined and I didn't feel like we got it done today," Jarrett said.
The Americans may have fared better but the team's top jumper, 15-year-old Skyler Keate, was disqualified after posting the longest jump of the morning. His skis did not conform to World Cup rules.
Camerota was the next best American but started the cross country race in the 21st position a little less than a minute behind the leader.
Morgan Goodwin was 22nd after the jumping and Carl VanLoan, who is just off the World Cup A, placed 29th following the jumping round.
"The end of the round was tail round, so the last 15 guys got some bad air," VanLoan said. "But ski jumping is an outdoor sport and that's just part of it."
VanLoan is confident the Americans will pick it up in the next two days and he is hoping to crack the top five before things wind down here on Sunday.
He knows that it will be a challenge, however, as he and fellow teammate Nathan Gerhart try to get used to the altitude here in Steamboat again.
"I just got off a plane three days ago," VanLoan said. "Before that, we were at sea level in Norway."
Top Americans in the final results included Camerota in eighth, VanLoan in 14th, Eric Camerota in 25th, Alex Glueck in 32nd and Morgan Goodwin in 36th.
Gerhart was 44th, Bryan Fletcher came in 47th, Matt Cook was 50th and Adam Schwall was 55th.