Top jumpers to let it fly

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When the 2006 U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships open Satur-day in Steamboat Springs, Todd Lodwick is going to be a marked man.

He doesn't seem to mind. He's used to it.

For the past two years, Amer-ica's top special jumpers and Lodwick's Nordic combined teammates have been trying, un--suc-cessfully, to finish in front of the hometown skier at the championships.

"These could be my last jumps on Howelsen Hill before I retire," Lodwick said. " I want to end things with a strong showing on my home hill."

Since the 2004 national championships, Lodwick has swept the Nordic combined, normal and large hill titles and now has 15 during his career.

"It will be interesting to see how Todd and Billy (Demong) match up this year and how the rest of the team matches up to them," said Bard Elden, U.S. Ski Team Nordic combined coach. "Todd has always set the standard for our team."

This weekend's championships, which open Saturday with the large hill and Nordic combined events, will give Lodwick an opportunity to set that bar a little higher.

The championships also will give local skiing fans a chance to preview the teams before they head to the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Italy.

"This is a great event for the community," organizer Todd Wilson said. "It's an opportunity to see these guys one last time before the games. It could also be the last time Todd Lodwick jumps in Steamboat."

Olympic athletes who are expected to compete this weekend include Lodwick, Johnny Spillane, Demong, Carl Van Loan, Eric Camerota and Brett Camerota on the Nordic combined side. Elden said Spillane will jump Saturday and Sunday, but he does not expect Spillane to compete in the cross-country ski race.

Steamboat's Clint Jones will represent his hometown on the special jumping side along with Olympic teammate Tommy Schwall. Brett Denney of Duluth, Minn., and Alborn of Park City, Utah, also are expected to vie for national titles this weekend.

Noticeably absent will be Alan Alborn, the top American special jumper this season. Alborn, who trained for several years in Steamboat, has elected to skip the national championships to attend World Cup events in Japan.

"We all feel like Alan is at a point where he can break through on the World Cup," coach Corby Fisher said. "It's important for him to stay close to the World Cup competitors and to continue to improve against an international field."

The championships will open with official training from 9 a.m. to noon Friday on the normal and large hills. Cross-country training will take place that afternoon.

The first competition of the week will take place Saturday when the special jumpers and Nordic combined athletes compete in the large hill championships.

The trial jump will begin at 9 a.m., followed by the first competitive round at 10 a.m. The second round is at 11 a.m. and will be followed by the Merrill Cup -- a longest standing-jump competition.

The results from the jumping event will be used to seed the Nordic combined cross-country race. The 7.5-kilometer event will take place at 3 p.m. at Howelsen Hill.

On Sunday, the championships will come to a close with the normal hill championships. The trial jump is at 9 a.m., followed by the first competitive round at 10 a.m. The second is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m., and the event will come to a close at noon with the Ragnar Cup -- a longest standing-jump competition for juniors.

This is the fifth straight year Steamboat has hosted the national championships and the 10th time since 1993.

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