Locals leave Olympic marks

Ski jump markers have best seats in house

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— Several Steamboat Springs residents have cheerfully traded in a few hours of sleep and warm toes for one of the best seats at the Winter Olympics.

"Just the wind noise when the jumpers come through, it is pretty amazing," ski jump marker Mitch Clementson said. "You can hear them as well as see them."

Clementson is one of more than 40 markers who line the sides of the jumps at Olympic Park. The job is to mark the exact distance each jumper travels down the pitched slopes of the normal and large hills at Olympic Park during the games.

It means getting up and arriving at the park each day before the sun rises, then spending hours standing on the cold metal stairs alongside the Olympic jumps and watching for the exact spot where the jumpers land on the hill.

Clementson said the markers act as the manual backup for a video system that keeps the official distances for the competitions.

"We do the garbage can (a celebration dance were the hips and arms are moved around in a circular motion) when we get a good mark," Clementson said. "We get pretty excited when we hit the mark on the nose."

Today, the markers' emotions will be mixed as they take the hill for the Nordic combined sprint event. The competition on the K-120 hill will be the final jumping event of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"It has been great getting to know the people," Clementson said. "There are people from Park City, Maine, New York and all over the place. I'll miss that."

The thing he will not miss is getting up at the break of dawn in order to be at the jump site in time for official training or a competition.

There are a total of 47 markers from around the country working at the Olympics. Nine of those markers are from Steamboat Springs.

"These are the best markers anywhere in the United States," Clementson said. "We take pride in what we are doing."

While the job is pretty routine, there have been a few exciting moments during the last week. On Tuesday, Ronny Ackerman soared 137 meters down the big hill at Olympic Park, which would have been a new hill record if the German had been able to land it without falling. Since he didn't, it wasn't an official jump.

"I was standing at the bottom when he came flying down and I had to run down the stairs to keep up with him and make the mark," said another Steamboat marker, Larry Glueck.

No matter what happens in today's final Nordic combined event, the Olympics have been a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for the Steamboat Springs markers.

The jumping and cross country portions of the sprint event, which includes one jump off the big hill and a 7.5-kilometer cross country race, will be held over two days.

The jumping will lead things off at 10:30 a.m. today and the cross country will take place at Soldier Hollow at 10 a.m. Friday.

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