Taylor Fletcher appeared fairly relaxed Monday as he horsed around with another ski jumper at the base of Howelsen Hill.
It wasn't official training for Fletcher, one of Steamboat's Junior Olympic medal hopefuls, who was testing a new pair of jump skis on the K-68 hill.
"I just came over to try out some new skis," Fletcher said shortly after being pushed into the snow by the other skier. "If they're not right, I still have time to make a change."
With one of the biggest junior meets of the season just a few days away, picking the right skis is a top priority for the 14-year-old who is hoping to have a golden week during the 2005 Chevrolet Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Junior Olympic Championships.
Fletcher is one of five Steamboat jumpers and more than 60 from across the country who share the goal of winning gold.
The Junior Olympics start Thursday.
The athletes' first chance to win a medal will come during team special jumping and Nordic combined events. The events will open at 9 a.m. Thursday with a trial round. The first official jump will take place at 10 a.m., and the second round begins at 11 a.m. After the jumping is completed, the top three, four-person jumping teams will earn medals.
At 6 p.m. the two-man Nordic combined teams will alternate laps around a 6-kilometer cross-county course. The race starts and finishes at the rodeo grounds and will determine which teams take home the Nordic combined team title.
The athletes' first chance to win individual medals will come Saturday. In the morning, the athletes will compete in the special jumping event. The trial jump is at 9 a.m. followed by the first of two official rounds at 10 a.m.
That afternoon the Nordic combined skiers will compete in a 5-kilometer cross-country race at 3 p.m.
"This is the biggest event of the season for this age group," said Todd Wilson, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Nordic director. "This is what they've been working for, and it should be pretty exciting."
The events on Thursday and Saturday are the only official Junior Olympic competitions. However, on Friday the athletes will be invited to compete in an Elimination Target jump on the K-68 hill.
In that event, coaches will set a mark on the hill that jumpers will try to reach.
The competition will begin with 63 jumpers. During each round, the field will be cut in half. The jumpers closest to the mark without exceeding it will advance; those who are not in the top half of the field will be eliminated. The competition will include five rounds. At the end of the fifth round, the jumper who is the closest to the target distance will win.
All the skiers on this year's Rocky Mountain Division team will come from the ranks of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Fletcher, Brett Denney, Sam Chovan, Adam Peters and Charlie Stoddard will represent the division and the club in this week's events.
"I don't like to set personal goals because you never know what will happen," Fletcher said. "It would be nice to win a medal in the Nordic combined or in Saturday's special jumping. But the field is a lot stronger than last year, so it's not going to be easy."
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