Special jumping coach Corby Fisher left for Finland this week.
His luggage was packed with enough clothing to carry him through three weeks on the road, and his heart was filled with enough expectations to lift the U.S. Special Jumping Team through the season.
The team left for Kuusamo today to begin preparing for the opening World Cup event, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 26. The team also is scheduled to compete in Trondheim, Norway, on Dec. 4 and Harrachov in the Czech Republic on Dec. 11 before returning home for a 10-day break.
Steamboat Springs athlete Clint Jones -- the only American to compete on the World Cup Tour last year -- and Alan Alborn will make up this year's "A" team. Both skiers have spots on the World Cup circuit for the first period.
Alborn, a star at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City who trained in Steamboat Springs for several years, is returning to the team after what turned out to be a brief, one-year retirement. He received an exemption for the first few events, but will need top finishes to improve his position in the World Cup points standings.
"Everyone on the team is pretty optimistic," Fisher said. "We've been training hard all summer, and we are hoping to make a big step when the season opens."
But though Fisher is excited about the Americans' potential, he is trying to keep the team's progression in perspective. He said he would be happy if the Americans can place consistently in the top 30 during the opening period of the World Cup Tour.
"We are coming off of two very disappointing years," Fisher said. "It's going to take some time and lots of small steps to get to where we want to be."
However, the team has plenty to be happy about.
Jones and Alborn are promising young ski jumpers who have posted top World Cup finishes in the past. They are good friends who seem to feed off each other when they are on the road and have proven they can ski together.
Fisher was happy with the progress both skiers made during the summer in domestic events and during several trips to Europe.
"Our guys may be the hungriest skiers in the world right now," Fisher said. "It showed in training this summer, and I think it will show in the results this winter."
Unfortunately, the team has been off the jumps since late October -- longer than Fisher anticipated. But the good news is that most of the teams around the world also have been sidelined while waiting for snow. Fisher thinks most of the teams will be on a level playing field when the World Cup returns in Kuusamo. He also knows the Americans will have their work cut out for them as they try to overcome the disappointments of the past two years and build momentum for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.
"People need to understand that the level of competition on the World Cup is very high right now," Fisher said. "Just getting into the top 20 is a challenge."
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