Friday, November 18, 2005
The opportunity to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympic Games will fuel the excitement surrounding this year's U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Steamboat Springs.
"All the top American skiers will be here for this one," said Jeff Good, event co-chairman, and former U.S. mogul coach. "Nobody with hopes of making to the Olympics is going to skip this one."
The one-day event, scheduled for Dec. 30, features 24 mogul skiers, and 20 aerialists competing for right to be named to the U.S. Olympic Team. The mogul skiers will compete on Voo Doo ski run at the Steamboat Ski Area in the morning beginning with the women's qualifying at 9:30 a.m. The finals will take place from 11:10 a.m. until 12:15 p.m.
That night the show will move to downtown Steamboat's Howelsen Hill where the women's aerials are slated to begin at 6:40 p.m. An opening ceremony, complete with fireworks and an introduction of the skiers, will begin at 6:15 p.m. The event will be followed by a post-event concert at the rodeo grounds.
The aerial and mogul events use a winner-take-all format that rewards one skier in each of the four events with an automatic berth to the Olympic Games. The top skiers will compete at the Olympic freestyle events in Sauze d'Oulx, Italy, in February.
"There's a lot of pressure for this one," 2002 men's mogul silver-medallist Travis Mayer said. "It's deigned to replicate the Olympic situation -- well as much as possible. It is also a way for a skier to guarantee a trip to the Olympics."
Mayer won a similar event called the Gold Cup just weeks before the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Mayer, who would most likely have earned a spot on the U.S. Team anyway, was named to the team and went on to win the silver in the men's mogul event.
The Olympic Team qualifiers will offer many skiers one last chance to earn an Olympic spot, but it also will put pressure on the team's current stars to protect their positions.
"It's a double-edged sword," men's mogul coach Don St. Pierre said. "On one side it's a chance for skiers who are not World Cup qualified to earn a position on the U.S. Team.
"On the other side, it might mean leaving a skier who has finished on the podium at a World Cup event behind for an unproven skier who just happened to be skiing well on that day."
But the coach is confident that the best skiers will prevail if given a fair course and fair conditions. He also thinks the winner-take-all format will bring the best out from all the athletes in the field.
Mayer said making this year's Olympic Team is going to be difficult either way.
With standout skiers such as David Babic, Jeremy Bloom, Travis Cabral, Toby Dawson and Nate Roberts leading the way on the men's mogul team, making the Olympic team is not guaranteed. Not even for Mayer, who finished second in 2002 at Salt Lake City.
The event could be even more interesting with the addition of several up-and-coming skiers and a possible Olympic run by another former Steamboat skier, Ryan Riley.
"This is a chance to see all the Olympic skiers before the games," Good said. "No one is going to be holding anything back for this one. These skiers are going to be throwing tricks that will amaze us all."
A strong roster of veteran skiers, including Olympic silver medalist Shannon Bahrke, should make the women's event equally as entertaining. Steamboat's Eliza Outtrim and Emiko Torito, both on the women's C team, also will be hoping for a solid showing and a shot at Olympic glory.
The aerial event will include a star-studded lineup including 1998 Olympic gold medalist Eric Berqoust, Salt Lake City silver medalist Joe Pack, World Cup aerials champion Jeret Peterson and Steamboat's own Ryan St. Onge. On the women's side Steamboat skiing fans can cheer for such hometown favorites as Jana Lindsey and Kelly Hilliman, who both trained with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club in the past and will be looking to stamp their ticket to Italy with a top finish in Steamboat.
"I'm so glad this event is taking place in Steamboat Springs," Pierre said. "This event has as great organizing committee, a ski area that supports the sport and a track record of hosting great events."