U.S. Ski Team member Taylor Fletcher races down the in-run of Howelsen Hill's plastic-covered ski jump Wednesday. Fletcher is one of several young athletes on the team that are pushing the veterans and vying for a place on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Team.

Photo by John F. Russell

U.S. Ski Team member Taylor Fletcher races down the in-run of Howelsen Hill's plastic-covered ski jump Wednesday. Fletcher is one of several young athletes on the team that are pushing the veterans and vying for a place on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Team.

U.S. Nordic Combined team looks to complete Olympic squad

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— U.S. Nordic combined head coach Dave Jarrett admits he's in a pretty darn good position.

Coming off a record showing at the World Championships that included four individual medals and worldwide recognition that America will be a major player at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Jarrett beams at the possibilities in Vancouver.

Although all four or five spots on the Olympic team are up for grabs, it's a relative certainty that world champions Todd Lodwick, Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane will be three of the skiers at the Olympics. Who will fill the fourth and potentially fifth spots remains a question.

"It's a good position to be in as a coach," Jarrett said Tuesday. "It wouldn't necessarily be as nice as an athlete. It's going to be cutthroat for those spots. It's an opportunity to be on the team with something special that doesn't happen every Olympics."

The 2010 Olympic Team will be announced Jan. 21, 2010, but the jockeying for those last positions already has started. Spots will be picked based on results from this season and last season. One spot also will be reserved for the winner of the U.S. Olympic Qualifier in Steamboat Springs, tentatively scheduled for Dec. 22 and 23. The skier that wins the qualifier also has to be eligible for the Olympics by having scored points in a World Cup or Continental Cup in the past two seasons.

Among those expected to compete include Taylor and Bryan Fletcher, Eric and Brett Camerota, Alex Miller, Nick Hendrickson, Alex Glueck and former Olympian Carl Van Loan, who recently came out of retirement.

As of now, Brett and Eric Camerota and Bryan Fletcher appear to have the inside track on the final spots after traveling to the World Championships with the team last year in Liberec, Czech Republic. Brett was scheduled to compete with the team last year in the team event in Liberec before the U.S. was disqualified for a bib mishap.

"Added pressure can make a difference," Brett said. "If you put more pressure on yourself, you can definitely push yourself to train harder and get to the next level. I've went once (to the Olympics), and I was young. It's definitely a goal to go this time being a little older and knowing we can do so well. It would be huge. It would be awesome."

Still, Jarrett said Brett's performance - along with the rest of the team's - during the next seven months will be a big factor in which skier gets a spot.

"After (the top three) it's going to be a tough decision," Jarrett said. "It would make our lives easier if two guys separated themselves. It would be nice if going into January the decision was clear. Certainly, there are going to be some disappointed individuals. That being said, the more competition for those two spots, the higher the level is going to be. The goal is to have all these guys pushing Bill, Johnny and Todd to be even better."

That includes several of the younger skiers. Taylor Fletcher and Hendrickson have been especially impressive in early camps, Jarrett said.

"The pressure is not on us, it's on them. We're the underdogs, and they're the veterans," said Taylor, 19. "We're going out, and like the coaches said in a meeting, we're pushing the pace all the time. It'll be interesting to see what happens. It's a little early to tell, but if I get my jumping up, there's a shot."

Although U.S. athletes should be some of the favorites for individual medals, the team medal might mean the most.

In 2002, the team finished one spot out of the medals, in fourth. In 2006, the team skied to a disappointing seventh-place finish.

So while the team does boast three world champions, it won't mean much in the team event unless a fourth or fifth skier can be found.

"It takes four to make a team," Lodwick said. "In the Olympic Games, it's important, but the most important thing is in these camps as a team, we can push each other to be better than we are. That goes for the young guys pushing me, and hopefully what I do during the day is an influence to them.

"I mean who is to say I, Billy or Johnny happen to be sick for the team event. Hopefully with the system we can enable two or three guys pushing us. Hopefully it gets to that level. The better that level is, the better we are at the Olympic Games."

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