More than 20 members of Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club's Alpine snowboarding team were in Copper Mountain on Thursday preparing for the upcoming season, but their hearts may have been somewhere else.
"We keep telling the athletes that they are here because they love to snowboard," Alpine snowboarding coach Thedo Remmelink said. "But it's hard to get their minds off the Olympics and the importance of this season."
Of the 22 athletes who were taking part in the early season training camp, several have chances of earning spots to compete in the parallel giant slalom in the Winter Olympic Games in February in Turin, Italy.
However, with a limited number of spots available for Olympic Alpine snowboarding teams, the competition is expected to be fierce.
"It's going to be a real battle this season," Remmelink said. "We've already seen some of it among the riders on our own team."
The coach said the pressure caused some tension among the Steamboat riders during the offseason, but he thinks the team has left any bad feelings behind and is moving forward as a group.
"Yes, it's true that our riders are going to have to step it up this season, but they also need to realize that they need one another in order to succeed," Remmelink said.
Steamboat has four riders on the U.S. Snowboarding Team: Justin Reiter, Tyler Jewell, Josh Wylie and Erica Mueller.
Remmelink said Reiter and Jewell have the best shot at making the U.S. Olympic team this February. Both riders have met all International Ski Federation requirements and should be regulars on the World Cup tour this season. To earn a shot at the Olympic Games, riders must earn 120 FIS points and finish in the top 25 in a World Cup event.
Steamboat also has several up-and-coming riders with outside shots at making the Olympic team.
Wylie, who picked up an 18th-place finish in a parallel giant slalom last year in Lake Placid, N.Y., is leading that group. Remmelink said Zac Kay and David Manthei also could make a run but would need strong showings at a NorAm race later this month at Copper Mountain to earn a World Cup start.
On the women's side, Mueller continues to carry the Steamboat Springs team's hopes for an Olympic berth along with several foreign riders that are training with the club.
"Erica is looking very strong this year," Remmelink said. "It will not be easy for her to make the team, but if she keeps progressing, I think it is possible."
Michelle Gorgone, a former member of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, looks like the strongest American rider headed into the 2005-06 season. However, it's hard to look past top veteran riders such as Lisa Kosglow, who will be looking for an invitation to her third Olympic Games.
Canadian Kimiko Zakreski and teammate Aimee Newton, who train with Steamboat, have earned the 120 FIS points needed to meet the first qualifying requirement for the Olympics. But both riders need a top-25 finish on the World Cup this year to make their Olympic berths official.
Johanna Shaw also is looking for a top World Cup finish to represent the Australian team in Italy, as is Eden Serina, who hopes to ride for the Philippines. Jen Grace, who hopes to represent Ireland, will need a strong early season to qualify.
"I think this is the strongest we've ever been heading into a season," Remmelink said. "We've been focusing on the Olympics for more than a year now, and putting riders on Olympic teams has been one of our main goals."
During the offseason, Rem--melink said the team took part in an on-snow camp in Chili, held two summer conditioning camps and traveled to Europe.
He thinks the team has done what it can to prepare for this key season and now will shift into a more regular competition schedule designed to get riders into NorAm and World Cup competitions -- and, if all goes well, to the Olympic Winter Games in February.
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