Skiers look for Steamboat bounce after Continental Cup finale | SteamboatToday.com

Skiers look for Steamboat bounce after Continental Cup finale

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The last verse was the same as the first Sunday as the Nordic combined Continental Cup event wrapped up its third and final day at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs, but even before the sweat dried athletes were looking ahead, some as far as February's Olympics, hoping their stay in Steamboat gave them the springboard they needed.

“This means I’m getting what I came here for, to build up my confidence and get mentally prepared for what’s coming after New Year’s," Norway's Mikko Kokslien said.

To be fair, he said that after winning Saturday's race, but the words proved just as true when he won again Sunday, finishing off a championship sweep of the weekend's three races.

He won all three races. His teammate Truls Johansen was second in two of the three, including in Sunday's finale. France's Hugo Buffard had one second and two thirds.

Kokslien came a two-time Olympian, a five-time World Championships medalist looking to get his feet back under him and prepare for the next stage of the season.

"We will have hard qualifiers for the Olympics," he said.

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No kidding.

He's currently 28th on the World Ranking List and 40th in this season's World Cup rankings, but he's behind five other Norwegians on the first list and six on the second.

"I’m hoping this trip to Steamboat can make me stronger and get me to the Olympics," he said.

Several Americans got a big boost to their Olympic hopes in Steamboat, as well, though they don't face quite the gauntlet Kokslien does.

None put themselves in a better place than 19-year old Ben Loomis, a jumper from Eau Claire, Wisconsin now living and training in Park City, Utah.

Loomis dominated the week with strong jumps from Steamboat's HS75 hill, then skied well in the 2-kilometer, five-lap course, all pushing him toward the U.S. Olympic team.

He had the second-best jump result Friday, third-best on Saturday and Sunday had the very best jump, starting the ensuing cross-country ski race in first place.

The top of the result sheet barely seemed to change throughout the weekend, and that worked out just fine for Loomis. He was fifth every single day, the best weekend of results of his career.

His powerful takeoff was well suited to Steamboat's HS75 hill, a small hill by international competition standards and one that led to the tight ski races that helped strong competitors like Kokslien to strong results day after day.

Loomis said his focus this season is on the Junior World Championships, but his results were a strong first step toward competing at the Olympics, as well.

"That's definitely on my mind," he said. "If things keep going well, it's definitely something that could happen. I'm trying not to get my hopes up too much, just trying to enjoy everything and see where that takes me."

Jasper Good, a U.S. team skier who grew up in Steamboat Springs, also placed himself near the top of the team with a strong weekend of results. Only an equipment accident kept him from a weekend full of top-10 finishes. His ski fell off Sunday as he charged toward the finish line, allowing two skiers to pass him and leaving him in 12th place.

Still, he was 10th Friday and eighth Saturday.

"I had some pretty solid, consistent jumps Friday and Saturday. Today wasn't my best performance on the jump hill, but I was happy with my cross-country results," Good said. "I was definitely hoping for another chance to mix it up with the front of the race, which is why I was trying so hard to get there today, but I'm happy with my personal performance."

Ben Berend, another Steamboat skier, logged a second top-20 finish on the weekend with an 18th-place showing Sunday. Stephen Schumann skied up from 35th to place 20th. Steamboat's Grant Andrews had a strong jump, 16th, and placed 27th, his best result of the weekend. Jared Shumate was 31st, Tucker Hoefler 41st and Steamboat's Bennett Gamber, the youngest racer in the event, 43rd.

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