Jumping with the big guys

Local juniors get chance to compete with their 'heroes'

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— The schedule called last weekend's jump meet at Howelsen Hill a Junior Olympic Qualifier, but many of the athletes who showed up could just as easily been on the podium of a World Cup.

"It was interesting," Steamboat Springs' Paul Berry said. "It was like going up on the jump with your heroes."

The 13-year-old Nordic combined skier was one of many local juniors skiing in the qualifier. In addition to their normal competition in Utah and Winter Park, an international field of elite skiers also greeted the Steamboat Springs skiers.

Among the athletes were Finland's Jaako Tallus and American medal hopefuls Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong and John Spillane.

"A lot of the really good Park City skiers were not here, but it was fun to go up there with those international guys," Berry said.

Berry finished second in the K-60 jumping event to teammate Bryan Fletcher. Logan Oxford of the National Sports Federation was third. Other top Steamboat finishers on the smaller hill included Taylor Fletcher in fourth, Andy Garber in sixth and Andreas Aalbu in eighth.

Berry got his big chance to match talents with the international field on the K-90 jump. He finished fifth in that competition behind teammates Bryan Fletcher, who was first, Ethan Johnson, who was second, and Davis Miller, who finished third in the J-1 class.

Tallus won the senior class and was followed by American Bill Demong in second and Lodwick in third. Those skiers led a field of 29 senior jumpers in the meet.

The international skiers also competed on the K-114 hill at Howelsen.

Tallus also topped the field in that event. Japan's Daito Takahashi was second and the U.S. Ski Team's Lodwick came in third.

Steamboat Springs' Davis Miller won the J-1 class and was followed by Berry in second and Garber in third.

Taylor Fletcher came in fourth and Aalbu was fifth.

Last weekend's events also included competitions on the K-18 hill and the K-38. Steamboat's Jake Barker won the J-6 boys and Cliff Field won the J-5 boys on the smallest hill at Howelsen.

Steamboat's Aalbu soared off Howelsen's K-38 hill to top teammate Taylor Fletcher in the J-3 competition. Steamboat's Charlie Stoddard was fourth, Brett Denney was ninth and Ian Noble was 10th.

In the Nordic combined events, Tallus won the senior field and Fletcher topped the J-1 skiers.

Field, Stoddard, Denny and Berry were also winners in their age divisions at the event.

"It was great to ski with those guys," Berry said. "They go up the hills so fast and it makes you want to go up the hills after them."

Steamboat coach Chris Gilbertson thinks the event was a good experience for the local jumpers and expects this year's Junior Olympic team to be a strong one.

"I think this is the most Nordic combined skiers we've ever had on a Junior Olympic team," Gilbertson said. "I think they will have a good shot at the medals in Minnesota."

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