A long road ahead

Young U.S. Nordic team's first jump training at Howelsen

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— For Steamboat Springs native Davis Miller, it felt good to get the first ski jumps of the training season under his belt.

"I'm working on my take-offs and really on technique -- going slow to fast and keeping it clean," Miller said.

Using the off-season training potential of Howelsen Hill's K-68 jump is fitting for Miller. In October, he was the first skier to launch onto the jump's new plastic surface.

Miller and his twin brother, Alex, along with Willy Graves, Skyler Keate and Steamboat's Bryan Fletcher are the new breed of athletes joining the 2007 U.S. Nordic Combined Team. Of the nominated team of 10, eight athletes finished their first summer jump training Thursday morning at Howelsen.

With the veteran void left on the team after Todd Lodwick's departure, Nordic combined B team coach Chris Gilbertson thinks exposing the rookie half of the team to as many World Cup B circuit events as possible will generate much-needed competition experience.

"We received funding this spring to do the entire World Cup B circuit; that's two to three times as many competitions as in the past," said Gilbertson, who coached athletes for the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for seven years before he was hired to coach the B team in April.

The increased funding for the Nordic combined and cross-country teams also has meant that the Nordic combined team has grown from eight to 10 fully funded athletes.

For Nordic combined assistant coach Dave Jarrett, the funds translate to a much deeper, more developed squad that could help elevate a team that is looking down the road to the 2010 Olympic Games.

"In the past, we could only take five athletes to the summer training camps. Now we can take all 10," Jarrett said. "This is a huge step for us to level with the best Nordic combined countries in the world. It's no mistake that the best nations also have the strongest World Cup B results."

While the five new athletes on the team have the long-sighted cushion of learning the ropes of year-round training and competition as well as maturing into endurance athletes, the pressure is on for the team's older members, who have been thrust into newfound leadership roles.

"I'm kind of stuck in the middle," said Steamboat native Alex Glueck. "I've been with the team for a while, and I was always one of the younger guys. Now it's time for me to step up my results. For me and (Eric and Brett Camerota), it's about moving up to the A circuit, staying there and establishing ourselves."

Jarrett said he hopes that winning multiple B-level events early will breed the confidence necessary for the team's experienced skiers to make this leap in time for February's World Championships.

"In baseball, there's a big difference between triple-A and the big leagues," Jarrett said of the comparable transition to A-level World Cup events, reserved for the world's top 40-ranked skiers.

"Guys like Eric and Brett (Camerota), whom we have high expectations of, who have been cutting their teeth on World Cup B for years, we want to make sure they're ready to move up and stay up."

Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane are the only team members eligible to compete at the start of the 2006-07 World Cup A events in November in Finland. Spillane did not jump Thursday because he is recovering from shoulder surgery.

Demong sees his teammates' youth as a positive force for the team's future.

"It's really refreshing," De----mong said. "There's a lot of potential. It will be fun. I'm looking forward to bringing them up."

Coach Lasse Ottesen plans to bring his team back to Howelsen in July to continue training on the jump that he said forces his athletes to perfect technical tasks.

-- To reach Dave Shively, call 846-1129 or e-mail dshively@steamboatpilot.com

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