Steamboat Springs They’re going to Europe, but don’t expect the Facebook feeds of U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team members to be filled with check-ins from the Louvre or pictures of them “holding up” the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Oh, the team will enjoy some fun moments, mostly watching and running alongside the riders on several stages of the Tour de France. But this is a work trip, and considering one of the final items on their itinerary, it’s a critical one.
Several weeks of tough training throughout France will culminate with a trip to Sochi, Russia, that will give the squad its first look at the venue for the 2014 Olympic Games.
“My first trip I had to Europe was to Russia, to St. Petersburg in 1992 as a ski jumper,” U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team Todd Lodwick said, pausing to wonder where the years went.
He regained his focus and let spill his excitement at previewing the complex. If all goes well, the 2014 event will be his sixth Olympic games.
“I really can’t wait for that,” he said. “Each jump has a different feeling and a different atmosphere, so it’s really nice to go and get that out of the way. ... It’s like a professional golfer going and playing a course before a big tournament.”
The athletes will get a chance to try out that jump hill and even stage their first competition, a summer butting of heads that should help them begin to get a feel for the venue.
From a technical standpoint, there’s much to be gleaned, even as the actual site of the competition — the Krasnaya Polyana ski area, in the Caucasus Mountains, is about 25 miles from Sochi — is basking in 80-degree temperatures. Getting a bead on the jump hill will be important, and simply seeing the terrain will help.
“We’ll get to see the cross-country course, and that will be nice,” said Bryan Fletcher, hoping 2014 will mark his first Olympics. “You can see where the hills are and what they’re like. It will all look a lot different with fans and snow, but it will definitely help.”
Becoming familiar with the town is important, too.
“There’s a lot of value in getting familiar with the venue, learning what to expect when we go over for the Olympics,” Steamboat’s Johnny Spillane said. “It always helps to get that much more comfortable with everything.”
The trip, from the bike riding and watching in France to the jump scoping in Russia, will be fun, Spillane said. But know this: It’s no vacation.
“We’re there to train,” he said. “This isn’t a sightseeing trip. We’re there to do our jobs.”
To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com