Field fails to defend title, still earns two more

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— Cliff Field was hoping to defend the special jumping title he won a year ago at Junior Olympic Championships in Park City, Utah.

That didn't happen.

Last week Field, Steamboat's top prospect to bring home the special jumping title, finished third in that event at the 2008 Junior Olympic Championships in Ishpeming, Mich.

He could have blamed the wind. He could have blamed the lack of training time on the "old school" jumps at Ishpeming, or he could have blamed himself.

But after the first of four events, he didn't blame anybody. Instead, the 15-year-old Nordic combined skier used his disappointment to fuel his efforts in the remaining events.

"Not winning the special jumping title was a blow," Field said. "But I think that's why I did so well in the other events. I was angry, and I took it out on the course."

After losing the title on the K-66 hill, the Steamboat Springs High School student rebounded by winning the Junior Olympic Nordic combined title, was part of the Rocky Mountain Division team that placed second in the four-man special jumping event and teamed up with Erik Lynch to bring home the two-man team title.

"The week worked out," Field said. " I went there to have fun, and I had a lot of fun. I can't really say what the best part was. I enjoyed hanging out with my teammates, seeing some friends that I only see once a year and competing."

The championships opened Feb. 28 with the special jumping title on the K-66 hill. Field's first jump of 63.5 meters gave him a slight edge against Central Division ski jumper Adam Loomis and his teammate Brian Wallace in the first round. Loomis jumped farther with an effort of 64 meters, but his style points were not as strong.

But in the second round, Loomis and Wallace were able to take advantage of favorable headwinds, which allowed them to fly into uncharted distances. Wallace soared 66 meters to set a new hill record and take the competition lead on his second jump. But the mark didn't last. A few minutes later Loomis flew 66.5 meters to set a record of his own and take the Junior Olympic title.

Field had one last chance, but the swirling winds didn't cooperate. Coaches said Field had a strong effort, but with a stiff tail wind, he could fly only 62.5 meters on his final jump, and fell to third in the final standings.

"I would like to blame the wind, but I can't," Field said. "The wind didn't help me, but I needed to jump better."

Field may have been disappointed, but his coaches were not.

"It was nice to get on the podium but bittersweet after expecting to repeat winning the gold. Such is the life in ski jumping," coach Kerry Lynch said.

Still, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach was happy with the medal and the RMD's performance in the first event. A strong second round jump by Aleck Gantick helped Steamboat collect a fourth-place finish. Erik Lynch finished eighth.

On the girls side, it was Eastern Division skier Nina Lussi winning the title. She was followed by Central Division skier Nita England in second and her sister Danielle Lussi in third. Steamboat's Mary O'Connell was sixth.

The results of the special jumping event were used to seed the skiers for the 5-kilometer cross-country race, which took place Thursday afternoon. Field moved up one spot (Wallace was the only special jumping in the top 10) and started 40 seconds behind Loomis in the race for the Nordic combined title.

"We dialed in an awesome wax combination and had ripping skies," Kerry Lynch said.

It took three kilometers for Field to catch up to and then pass Loomis. But once Field passed the Central skier, he continued driving to the finish line and the Junior Olympic Gold medal. Loomis held on for second, and Steamboat's Erik Lynch passed four other skiers to collect the bronze medal.

"I had a really good race," Erik Lynch said. "I was able to work my way up to third, and I had one of the fastest cross-country times. It was a good race."

Nina Lussi landed the gold on the girls side. She was followed by her sister Danielle Lussi in second and England in third. O'Connell had her best finish of the week, placing fourth after a strong showing on the cross-country course.

"Mary posted the fastest time in the girls cross-country race, and the 13th fastest time overall," Kerry Lynch said. "With a little more time on the jump hill, who knows?"

The championships came to a close Feb. 29 with the four-man special jumping event and the two-man Nordic combined race.

The Central Division won the four-man special jumping event by edging out the RMD guys. Field, Gantick, Erik Lynch and Michael Ward made a strong push for the gold by winning the second round, but it wasn't enough to overcome a shaky start.

Field and Erik Lynch started in the two-man Nordic combined race in third place, 40 seconds behind the leaders, but proved to be the fastest team on skis.

The Steamboat team passed teams from the Central and Eastern divisions en route to winning the title in the 6-kilometer race. Michael Ward and Gantick finished in fifth place, and Ben Berend and Austin Reed placed sixth.

-To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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