Steamboat Springs Michael Ward, who moved to Steamboat Springs from Aspen last winter to train with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, led the American team Wednesday at the FIS Junior World Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany.
Ward placed 24th in the sprint event, which included one competitive jump followed by a 5-kilometer cross-country race, to lead the American team. Taylor Fletcher, who was named to the U.S. Olympic Team last week, and Nick Hendrickson struggled on the jump hill but turned in strong showings on the cross-country course. Both skiers are members of the Winter Sports Club.
“We are off to a pretty good start,” said Martin Bayer, who is the Americans’ junior world coach and also a coach at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “Especially our younger guys.”
Bayer said he had hoped for more from Fletcher and Hendrickson in the event but that after a rough day on the jump hill, he was pleased to see the skiers continue to push in the cross-country race.
Fletcher, who finished 30th overall, was 43rd after the jumping but posted the second-fastest cross-country time in the race. Hendrickson jumped slightly better in his 28th-place showing. He was 41st after the jumping and moved up in the final results by posting the third-fastest cross-country time.
“Those two guys were able to work together in the cross-country race, and that helped,” Bayer said. “If they can jump a little better on Friday, then they should do pretty well.” Japan’s Junshiro Kobayashi won the event, which is the first of three this week in Germany.
“I’m sure that Taylor and Nick are not happy with their jumping performance,” said Todd Wilson, Nordic program director at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. “But they are just one good jump away from a good start — and if they get that, they will be right in there.”
Steamboat’s Cliff Field also competed in the sprint event. He finished 36th. Field and Ward were forced to borrow jump skis after their luggage was lost en route to the event. Bayer said Field is expected to sit out Friday’s final individual event, so teammate Brett Denney will get a shot.
“I’m impressed with how Michael jumped at the event,” Wilson said.
He added that this is Ward’s first trip to the Junior World Championships and that it is only his second international-level event.
Bayer said he thinks the American skiers will fare better in the more traditional one-jump, 10-kilometer race, which is scheduled for Friday. He said the shorter 5-kilometer course didn’t give the American team, which has several strong cross-country skiers, the time they needed to catch the leaders. Wilson also said he thinks the Americans could have a good showing in Sunday’s team event.