Skiers head to Finland

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When Gina Gmeiner was a little girl, she dreamed about the day she would ski moguls at the World Championships.

Next week, her dream will become a reality in Ruka, Finland -- sort of.

Gmeiner is one of four Steamboat athletes representing the U.S. Team, but she will not be skiing moguls.

"I'm so surprised," Gmeiner said. " I'm really blessed, and I just want to go there and represent my country."

Gmeiner, who will be one of the first freeskiers to represent the United States, will take part in the halfpipe along with Kristi Leskinen and Jamie Sundberg.

It's the first time that freeskiing has been included in the World Championships, and it's something Gmeiner is happy to see happening.

Twenty-three American athletes were named to the FIS Freestyle World Championship team that will compete March 17 to 20 in Ruka.

Mogul skier Travis Mayer and aerialist Ryan St. Onge also earned invitations. Leskinen, who trained in Steamboat Springs for two winters, brings the number of locally trained skiers to four.

Mayer, a silver medallist at the 2002 Olympic Games, will join World Cup moguls champion Jeremy Bloom, along with Nate Roberts, Toby Dawson, Travis Cabral and Dave Babic, on the men's mogul squad. The women's team will include Jillian Vogtli, Hannah Kearney, Michelle Roark and Laurel Shanley.

St. Onge is part of the aerial team that includes Jeret Peterson and Joe Pack. Kate Reed (of Montrose), Jana Lindsey, Kelly Hilliman and Emily Cook will represent the women's side of the U.S. Team.

But it is the new-school movement that will best represent Steamboat. Gmeiner and Leskinen will make up two-thirds of the U.S. Ski Team in the women's halfpipe. Sundberg is from Vail and also will be a part of the American women's team. Tyler Peterson of Sandy, Utah, will ski the halfpipe for the men.

Gmeiner earned her spot with two podiums during a World Cup held in Park City, Utah, in December. Gmeiner was third and second in the two events. The results marked Gmeiner's return after injuring her knee a year earlier while training in Steamboat.

"After blowing out my knee, I never dreamed I had a chance to make it to the World Championships," Gmeiner said. "I'm very blessed."

She said her main goal next week is the same as it has been all year. She just wants to stay healthy and have some fun skiing.

The Americans did very well at the 2003 World Championships, which were held at the Deer Valley Resort in Utah. The Americans won six medals including two each from Bloom and Dawson.

-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com.

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