SSWSC Nordic skiers Europe-bound for Junior World Championships
January 13, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic skier Erik Lynch laughed off the prospect of losing sleep Monday night thinking about boarding a plane Tuesday morning to compete with five of his teammates in Europe.
Like Lynch, most of the Nordic skiers, who include Ben Berend, Aleck Gantick, Jasper Good, Nicholas Madden and Lars Hannah, have enough international experience under their belts not to be overwhelmed by the moment.
The stage in Val di Fiemme, Italy, for the Junior World Ski Championships at the end of the month may not be too astronomical for Lynch and company, but the expectations are as high as ever.
"This year, we have a really strong team, even stronger than last year," Berend said Monday. "For World Juniors, we usually get smoked in the team events by the Euros. This year, we have a goal to do better and surprise people."
The event that five of the six Steamboat skiers are competing in that precedes the Junior World Championships is a bit of a different story, however.
On Jan. 25 and 26, Lynch, Berend, Gantick, Good and Madden will head to Oberstdorf, Germany, for the World Cup, which will feature some of the world's premier Nordic skiers, including Olympians. Hannah, who is making the trip as a Junior World cross-country qualifier, is the only one of the group not competing in the World Cup.
"When you're up against the best, it's inspiring," Lynch said. "There are not too many expectations. You just see what kind of competition you can put together and how that stacks up against the best."
The competition in Oberstdorf also will give the skiers a shot at some World Cup points if they finish in the top 30, a prospect Lynch called "as high as my hopes get."
Lynch is competing in his fourth straight Junior Worlds and has skied in several Continental Cups over the years. He and Gantick bring in perhaps the most overseas experience, but Lynch said Berend's performances this winter have made him the clear team leader.
And Berend embraces the moment, saying he loves pushing his teammates and being the go-to guy in pressure situations. He's also putting a little extra pressure on himself after reaching his goal last year at the Junior World Ski Championships.
"I have a lot of expectations for World Juniors," Berend said. "I know last year I had a goal of finishing in the top 30, and I finished 26th. My goal is to finish in the top 15 this time around."
Making the trip with the team is SSWSC Nordic coach Martin Bayer, who, as Berend puts it, has all the necessary tools to make competing in a foreign country a little simpler.
"He's so helpful," Berend said. "He speaks multiple languages and has a lot of connections and friends. He makes everything so much easier. He's been our coach for the last three years so we're all very comfortable."
Berend said it's a business trip, not a vacation for the skiers. Traveling to Europe for nearly three weeks to compete with some of your closest friends, though? That's pretty special.
"It's awesome. We are always together," Berend said. "We know how to have fun. It's a blast; it really is."