Nordic combined event begins today in Steamboat |

Nordic combined event begins today in Steamboat

— Russian Nordic combined skier Ivan Panin soared 96 meters off the normal hill to post the longest training jump in Friday's official Continental Cup training at Howelsen Hill, but that didn't shake the American team's confidence heading into the first of two weekend events today.

"It's just training," U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team member and Steamboat Springs resident Todd Lodwick said Friday. "It's a chance to get on the hill, find out who our competition is going to be and make a game plan."

Thirteen nations and 52 athletes will return to Howelsen Hill at 9:30 a.m. today for the Nordic Excavating 2010 FIS Nordic Combined Continental Cup meet. The one-jump, 10-kilometer ski race event will be the first Continental Cup competition of the season, and the U.S. team has high expectations.

"I feel like I have something to prove," skier Cliff Field said Friday afternoon. Field is one of several athletes from Steamboat Springs who hope to post top results in this weekend's events and use it as a springboard to a successful season.

A top finish for Field could lead to a World Cup start and a shot at the World Championships later this winter. He finished behind Lodwick and teammate Eric Camerota in Friday's results but was optimistic about his chances.

"I know that I can jump farther, and I know I need to," Field said. "That's the only way I'm going to ski with these guys."

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Field overcame a persistent tailwind to post an effort of 84 meters on his second jump. Lodwick, who is a World Cup veteran, former world champion and 2010 Olympic silver medalist, led the U.S. team with a jump of 91.5 meters. He also posted jumps of 91 and 86 meters in his other efforts. Camerota recorded a jump of 88 meters in the second round to go along with efforts of 84 meters in the first round and 85 meters on his final jump of the day.

Only a few of jumpers in the field leapt more than 90 meters in official training. Lodwick broke the mark twice along with Estonia's Aldo Leetoja (91.5 and 90.5), Russia's Niyaz Nabeev (93 and 90.5), Austria's Dominik Dier (92.5 and 91) and Germany's Wolfgang Boesl (91 and 92).

Panin, the Russian, set the mark in the second round before the start was lowered one gate. Other jumpers clearing 90 meters included Japan's Shun Yamamoto (94), Russia's Dimitry Matveev (93.5) and Germany's Manuel Faisst (91).

But make no mistake — Friday's event was about getting a feel for the jump at Howelsen Hill and trying to figure out which jumpers would contend for the podium in today's competition. And for the Americans, it was about readying for an event that could lead to bigger competitions in the weeks and months ahead.

"These first four competitions will decide who will move up to World Cup and maybe get a couple of starts there, and maybe eventually decide who goes to World Championships this year," Steamboat's Brett Denney said. "We are working to bridge that gap between us and the top guys on our team. We are hoping to be the next generation of guys who are consistently on the top of World Cup and World Championships."