On Wednesday, the top ski jumpers from across the country converged on Howelsen Hill for the National Championships.
For Clint Jones, it was a chance to visit home.
The 2005 Chevrolet U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Com-bined Champ-ionships feature the best jumpers and Nordic combined skiers in the country battling for titles, and recognition, in one of the last competitions of the winter.
Jones and several other homegrown athletes are expected to be in the hunt for those titles. But more importantly for Jones, it's a chance to return to the place that has supported him since he was in grade school.
"It's always great to come home," Jones said. "This is an event that I have looked forward to all year just because I knew I would get to jump at Howelsen in front of my friends and family."
Like many of the top ski jumpers and Nordic combined skiers who grew up in Steamboat, Jones moved to Park City, Utah, to be close to Olympic training facilities, coaching and the U.S. Ski Team's headquarters.
When he isn't in Utah, Jones is on the road chasing World Cup points in small towns in Germany, Finland, Norway and Austria.
He arrived in Steamboat Springs on Monday night after competing in a ski-flying competition in Planica, Slovenia, on Sunday. There, Norwegian Bjoern Einar Romoeren set the world ski-flying record at 239 meters.
"I came straight from a ski-flying competition, so it was great to get a couple of jumps under my belt," Jones said.
He expects this week's events on the K-114, and K-90 hill to be completely different from the ski-flying event.
"It's like going from an Indy race car to driving a go-kart," special jumping coach Corby Fisher said. "The basic fundamentals are the same, but you have to use a lot more finesse and balance to be successful on these smaller hills."
Jones will need to tone down the aggressive, direct style he used in the ski-flying competition before his first official run today. He expects to make a few small adjustments to transition to Howelsen, where skiers usually are so close in distance that a few style points can mean the difference between a title and not getting on the podium.
"There is a lot of strategy that goes into competing at Howelsen," Jones said. "I love jumping here -- especially on the big hill. But it's a little older and the landing flattens out a bit. It's really hard for the top jumpers to pull away from the pack."
Jones also knows he will have to share the "home-field" advantage with skiers Todd Lodwick, Tommy Schwall, Alex Glueck, Andy Garber, Logan Gerber Alex Miller, Brett Denney and Taylor Fletcher who also have grown up in the shadow of Howelsen Hill and will be looking for titles.
Those skiers, along with several other contenders including Bill Demong and Carl Van Loan, will take the hill for training at 7 a.m. The first competitive round is scheduled for 8 a.m., and the second is expected to begin at 9 a.m.
Nordic combined and special jumpers will take a shot at winning the large hill title. The first official jump also will be used to seed the Nordic combined cross-country race, which will begin at 5 p.m. today at the Howelsen Hill rodeo grounds.
The Nationals will come to a close Friday with the usual hill championships on the K-90 hill at Howelsen. Jumping will begin at 7 a.m. with the trial round. The first official round is slated for 8 a.m., and the second round will be at 9 a.m.
-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org