Junior Olympians take stage at Steamboat’s Howelsen Hill | SteamboatToday.com

Junior Olympians take stage at Steamboat’s Howelsen Hill

Event brings 77 Nordic combined athletes to town

Lake Placid, N.Y., Nordic skier Spencer Knickerbocker leads his teammates on a training run Tuesday at Howelsen Hill. The team was preparing for the 2010 Junior Olympics, which start Thursday in Steamboat Springs.

Routt County residents and visitors to Steamboat Springs who were thrilled for the Olympic Nordic combined competitions on television last week have an opportunity this week to watch some of the best young competitors in the United States at close range.

The 2010 Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping Junior Olympics will take place Thursday through Saturday at Howelsen Hill.

Chuck O'Connell put the level of competition spectators will see in perspective.

"When (2010 Nordic combined Olympian) Taylor Fletcher was a sophomore in high school during the Torino Olympics in 2006, he competed in the Junior Olympics," O'Connell said.

Fletcher's rapid rise to Olympian stature illustrates how much is at stake for the 16- to 17-year-olds in the J1 classification this week. Also taking part will be J2 competitors who are primarily 14 and 15 years old, plus some 16-year-olds whose birthdays fell after the cutoff date.

In all, 77 athletes from as far as New England and the upper Midwest are expected to take part this week, O'Connell said. They include some of the best young female ski jumpers in America.

Recommended Stories For You

With defending Junior Olympic champion Sarah Hendrickson in Poland for a Continental Cup this week, Nina Lussi, 15, of Lake Placid, N.Y., and Nita Englund, 17, of Florence, Wis., are favorites in ski jumping.

Lussi picked up three gold medals in the Empire State Games in Lake Placid last weekend, but it was her experience Jan. 31 at the Nordic Junior World Championships in Hinterzarten, Germany, that has her brimming with confidence. She placed 27th with jumps of 84.5 and 85.5 meters. Englund jumped 80 meters and just missed qualifying for the second jump.

"I have a lot more confidence than I did in my first Junior Olympics," Lussi said after her training jumps Tuesday at Howelsen Hill.

Lussi said she immediately noticed that Steamboat's air is less dense than in Lake Placid, both on the ski jump and in cross-country ski practice.

"The cross-country hurt me a little more, but this will be the end of my cross-country career, and I want to do well," she said.

Englund said Junior Oly­m­pics is important to her as the season-ending race.

Like the men, a number of the women will compete in ski jumping and Nordic combined.

Also in the girls ski jumping and Nordic combined field this week are Mary O'Connell and Maddison Keeffe, of Steamboat Springs.

Among Steamboat's top entrants in the J2 competition are Nordic combined skiers Aleck Gantick and Erik Lynch. They'll also take on defending special jumping champion Christian Friberg, of St. Paul, Minn., and last year's third-place winner, Will Rhoads, of Park City, Utah.

When it comes to the J1 boys, Steamboat athletes promise to be dominant, after their strong showing in World Juniors and the Continental Cup in Europe this winter.

After struggling with unfamiliar jumping skis at World Juniors, Cliff Field, of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club, sent a strong signal that he has the ski jumping chops to hold his own in an international field during a Nordic combined Continental Cup that included senior athletes in Eisenerz, Austria.

Field jumped ninth in the first day of competition and skied to 26th place, good enough for his first Continental Cup points. He placed sixth in jumping on Day 2 but didn't have enough left in his tank to post a result that rivaled the opener.

Winter Sports Club Coach Martin Bayer, who coached the World Junior team, said Field's result was validation that the Steamboat program is right on track.

"It proved that what we're doing here in our training sessions" is on track, Bayer said. "In terms of technique, they are close to where they need to be."

However, Bayer was quick to point out that a Steamboat trio of top-flight J1s have an active rivalry among themselves, and Michael Ward and Adam Loomis are capable of coming out on top on any given day.

Loomis, who moved to Steamboat from Eau Claire, Wis., to concentrate on his ski jumping training, just missed out on a World Junior berth.

Ward placed as high as 23rd in World Juniors.

"This will be a fun competition," Ward said about the Junior Olympics. "It's a great way to end the year."

For more

For results, schedules, videos and Tweets about the Junior Olympics, go to http://jncjo2010.com.

Today’s schedule includes three rounds of ski jumping training from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Howelsen Hill.

The individual ski jumping and Nordic combined jumping competitions take place simultaneously Thursday with two rounds of jumping at 10 and 11 a.m. The 5-kilometer cross-country ski race begins in Brent Romick Rodeo Arena at 2:30 p.m.

Friday’s action begins at 11 a.m. with special and Nordic combined team ski jumping. A second round of jumping is at noon. The team sprint for Nordic combined offers a spectator-friendly event from 6 to 7 p.m. at the rodeo grounds.

The Junior Olympics conclude Saturday with elimination jumping at 11 a.m.