Nordic combined skiing partnership benefits US, Czech athletes
December 3, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The language can be a barrier. Words flew fast Thursday afternoon on a cold, wind-swept fairway of the Rollingstone Ranch Golf Club in Steamboat Springs.
Not one word was in English. Instead, Czech ruled the air, filling in instructions, offering advice and cracking the occasional joke.
For a few Steamboat Springs-centered Nordic combined athletes, the words, whatever their language, translate to good news.
In the world of cutthroat Nordic combined competition among deep-pocketed, national powerhouse programs, development teams from the United States and Czech Republic have joined forces in hopes of saving a few koruna and helping balance the international scales of competition.
On Thursday, that cooperation took shape in a day of training. Czech skiers and their American allies flew through the crisp afternoon air, logging laps on the Steamboat Ski Touring Center trails.
Finding a way
Money has become a nearly constant headache for the American athletes perched on the second tier of Nordic combined. Funding drawbacks haven't hampered the World Cup A team, which continued its World Cup season Saturday and Sunday in Lillehammer, Norway, and will keep a full schedule.
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They have, however, affected the skiers a step away from that squad, many of whom live and train in Steamboat Springs. As of Friday afternoon, the National Nordic Foundation's Nordic Combined Pillar Projects General Fund, the fundraising effort kicked off last month to help support those near-elite Nordic combined athletes, was at $43,508.
The income expected from a Friday night fundraiser — Ciao Gelato decided to celebrate its second anniversary with a party and fundraiser for the Nordic combined athletes — wasn't expected to push the overall total to the organization's $250,000 goal. Nearly a month remains in the organization's drive, so there's plenty of opportunity to get closer to that still far-off goal.
In the meantime, sharing resources with the Czech Republic squad can be a big help.
The idea first sprang to life several years ago, and it seemed natural to Martin Bayer, a native of the region himself. He actually grew up in the Slovakia portion of the former Czechoslovakia but is plenty familiar with the Czech team.
"I know many of those coaches and the ski teams since I was skiing over there, teammates and people I'd ski against," Bayer said. "This probably started two years ago when we were all at a Continental Cup event in Australia. I was the waxer, and the waxer for the Czech team asked for a little help. Then they helped me later with some wax testing."
The teams worked together again early last season when Steamboat hosted a Continental Cup event at Howelsen Hill. By the end of last season, the two teams realized a more elaborate cooperation could be mutually beneficial.
"We sat down and said, 'Let's do some training camps together,'" Bayer said. "We wrote something up on paper, where we were going to do it, what it was going to be."
Hand in hand
The United States contingent cashed in on its part of the deal this summer, starting when the National Training Group — the name assigned to the group on the precipice of the World Cup team — touched down in Prague for 10 days of offseason training camp.
That trip included Bayer, Michael Ward, Adam Loomis, Erik Lynch, Cliff Field, Tyler Smith, Ben Berend and Aleck Gantick.
Their Czech hosts helped with club fees and free housing, food and even a trip home from the airport.
"It was great, really beneficial for our guys," Bayer said. "Our budget for the Continental Cup team is almost zero, so any help we can get we really appreciate."
They didn't have to wait long to return the favor, welcoming the Czech team to the United States last week. Again, the hosts arranged for room and board, assisted in the cause by a swell of generosity from Steamboat Springs. The Ski Touring Center helped with fees on its network of trails, and the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club helped with access to Howelsen Hill and the ski jumps there.
The Czech athletes found lodging with help from Dan Dean and Resort Group LLC, borrowed a van from the Winter Sports Club and even got to partake in Thanksgiving dinner, a first for the young skiers.
"That was definitely something different," Czech B Team coach Marek Sablatura said about the feast. "It was great."
Looking for results
There have been plenty of off-snow advantages, but Bayer and Sablatura are banking the partnership can yield better results on the snow, as well.
For the Czechs, simply being able to work on snow at this point in the season is an advantage.
"In Europe, there is no snow yet," Sablatura said. "Here, they've done everything for us, so it's been perfect. Our guys can jump, and that's been great."
Each team has something it can teach the other.
Bayer said the Czechs bring a jumping ability that stands to be a big help to his squad.
"It's definitely helping," he said. "The Czech Republic has really strong jumpers, and they jump a little better than we do. We've learned from them, from their exercises and through imitation, and picked up little tricks from seeing how those guys do it."
He said the Czechs, meanwhile, have been able to glean information from the United States' skiing style.
"We have really good cross-country skiers, a really good program, so we're helping them there a little bit," Bayer said. "We're learning something from them, and they're learning something from us. It definitely helps raise the level of our countries, and so far, it's all worked really well."
— To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com