Norway skis to the top of the podium Friday at Continental Cup | SteamboatToday.com

Norway skis to the top of the podium Friday at Continental Cup

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mikko Kokslien hadn't ever raced a Nordic combined Continental Cup heading into Friday's race in Steamboat Springs, and not because the Norwegian skier is a wide-eyed, knees-knocking rookie.

He’s anything but, actually, and when the thoroughly experienced 32-year-old, who's logged more than a decade on the World Cup, dropped down to the Nordic combined minor leagues Friday, he put all that experience to work.

Kokslien skied up from his 15th-place jump to win Friday's Continental Cup event, charging into the finish corral in Romick Rodeo Arena 0.6 seconds ahead of teammate Truls Soenstehagen Johansen.

Hugo Buffard of France laid down one of the day’s best skiing performances to place third.

"I had a tough start is Kuusamo (Finland) and Lillehammer (Norway), and I'm trying to build up the self-confidence," Kokslien said of his stop in Steamboat.

About that feeling of getting back on the podium?

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"I feel really good. It's just fun. It's been awhile."

He's had plenty of experience dominating at the sport's highest level.

He has three Olympic event starts over two Olympics. He's started at five different World Championships and collected five medals there.

The only reason he’d never raced a Continental Cup before Friday? Back when Kokslien raced at that level, one step below the World Cup, it was called World Cup B instead of Continental Cup.

He raced there plenty, including in Steamboat in 2005, but it’s been all World Cups since 2008.

Friday, he made quick work of what he termed an easy 10-kilometer cross-country ski course.

"I had hoped to get away, but the conditions are really fast and it's a pretty easy course, so it was hard to get away,” he said. "We had a big pack of fast skiers and I tried for the last one and a half laps to stay a bit behind and save energy for the sprint."

Two steep stretches stand out on the course, but otherwise it was a flat run around the base of Howelsen Hill for the day's racers, five laps with the start and finish in Romick Rodeo Arena.

Often, hills are the place to make a move, but the Norwegians tried an opposite approach Friday.

"Actually, we caught up with a lot of guys who went faster on the hills. We were really fast on the flats and not so fast on the steep hills," Johansen said. "We made our moves on the flats."

He skied up from 17th place with a strategy that was pretty simple: find his veteran teammate, Kokslien, and follow along as well as possible.

Buffard, meanwhile, skied up from 29th place to land on the podium.

It was a strong day for several U.S. skiers, as well, especially Wisconsin's Ben Loomis.

Loomis, a member of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, opened the day with a huge jump of Howelsen's HS75 jump, flying into second place.

He stuck with the lead pack through much of the race and ended up fifth, one of the best results of his career. It was his fifth appearance in a Continental Cup top five.

Steamboat racer Jasper Good also was strong. He turned a 12th-place ski jump into a 10th-place finish.

He broke a ski pole midway through the fourth of the day's five ski laps, which he said cost him valuable energy, but that didn’t stop him from recording just the second top-10 finish of his career.

Elsewhere for the U.S., Stephen Schumann was 16th, Ben Berend 18th, Jared Shumate 30th, Grant Andrews 36th and Tucker Hoefler 42nd.

The action resumes at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Howelsen Hill with the second of three days of Nordic combined.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253, email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @JReich9.

Saturday and Sunday, competitions No. 2 and No. 3

9:30 a.m. Trial round jumps at Howelsen Hill HS75 jump

10:30 a.m. Competition jumping begins

2:30 p.m. 10K cross-country ski race at Romick Rodeo Arena at Howelsen Hill

3 p.m. Awards at Romick Rodeo Arena