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Steamboat Springs jumper Erik Belshaw climbs to a title at the US Nordic Junior Championships.
LAKE PLACID, NY – Members of the US National Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Team added flair to a media day Thursday at the newly renovated Lake Placid Olympic Facilities hosted by the Olympic Regional Development Authority and USA Nordic.
The athletes helped show the brand new aspects in the Olympic jumping facility and in the Nordic center of Mount Van Hoevenberg.
Over the past few days, the athletes have familiarized themselves with the venue where the US Olympic Team Trials will take place on December 24th and 25th.
“I am very pleased that the Olympic tests are again taking place in Lake Placid, the place where I learned Nordic combined,” said Billy Demong, CEO of USA Nordic Sport and Olympic Champion, in a press release. “The youth and the depth of the athletes preparing for their chance at Beijing remind me of my teammates – this is sure to be a Christmas vacation that the competitors and fans will never forget.”
Many Steamboat Springs athletes will take part in the trials that will play a role in deciding who will line up the Olympic team for the Beijing 2022 Games.
The Lake Placid Olympic Center underwent a major renovation last summer to prepare for the 2023 World University Games, where college athletes from more than 50 countries compete against each other in winter sports for 11 days.
Successful application for the event has resulted in a massive project costing more than $ 70 million that improves facilities on the historic Olympic site. The ice rinks from 1932 and 1980 were renovated and a new cooling system installed. The outdoor speed skating rink has also been replaced and the ski jumps have been greatly improved. The ski jumps are now cooled and have been renovated and covered with a material that enables year-round use, while frost tracks have been installed on the inrun.
Steamboat ski jumper Logan Sankey said the track was smooth and the flight path felt great. She also thinks the new facility neutralizes the event space and, in some ways, smooths the playing field.
“I think it’s going to be great,” said Sankey. “Lake Placid is not my home hill, but I think because it is new it is not really anyone’s home hill at the moment.”
There’s also a new gondola and elevator that brings athletes, coaches, and equipment to the top of the HS90 and HS120 jumps. Mount Van Hovenberg has 5,000 meters of new Nordic trails and a new ski stadium so that more spectators can experience the exciting end of a Nordic race. Next door is the new 50,000 square foot Mountain Pass Lodge, which offers competition services and training facilities.
Annika Belshaw flies from the HS75 jump at Howelsen Hill during the US Nordic Junior Championships 2021 in March. Belshaw led the women’s U20 class, while her brother Eric won the men’s U20 class in the special event. (Photo by John F. Russell)
The U.S. Olympic Team Tests over Christmas weekend will help determine who makes the Olympic team, but it’s not the only way athletes can earn the trip to Beijing. The winner of each discipline in Lake Placid is guaranteed a spot, while everyone else continues to battle their way through competitions to claim a spot.
Qualifying is a big deal because there are only a limited number of places available for athletes in each event. The men’s Nordic combined will have a total of 55 athletes, and the USA will have five places to fill from October, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS).
Countries earn these quota spots by getting athletes to perform well in a high-level competition. In order to occupy these places, the athletes must compete at World Cup, Grand Prix or Continental Cup level. The qualification period ends on January 16, 2022, but started again on July 1, 2020.
After the winner of the US Olympic Trials, the next places will be filled according to the best placements in the World Cup. Athletes who have achieved a top 10 World Cup result are nominated. If this is not the case, the athletes placed in the World Cup ranking will be nominated in the ranking. An athlete receives a ranking by placing himself in the top 30 and collecting points. After that, Continental Cup points are used to select athletes. This format applies to both Nordic combined and ski jumping.
There are three Nordic combination disciplines or events. The individual competitions, the normal hill and the large hill, consist of a jump, followed by a 10-kilometer race. The person with the most points after the jump starts the race. The remaining skiers are sent off at intervals that depend on their backlog on the ski jumping guide.
There is also a team competition where four men jump and then compete in a relay, with each athlete driving a 5 km.
There are no women’s competitions because women’s Nordic combined is not yet an Olympic sport. In fact, it’s the only sport in both the Winter and Summer Games that women don’t compete in.
Ski jumping is now also open to women after it debuted in Sochi in 2014. At the moment the US has no vacancies for female ski jumpers, but that could change if the women perform well in the months leading up to the ski jumping games. 40 women and 65 men will compete in ski jumping in Beijing.
“Women are still fighting for the Olympic jump spots,” said Riley Elliott, US Nordic communications manager. “Of course there is no Nordic combined women in the Olympics, and we’re trying to fix that. The women are still fighting for places to get in there. It just depends on how they do in their competitions before the Olympics. “
While other teams will be a bit more combative in the individual fight for places, the women’s team is still united in their goal.
“We don’t have any spots to argue about,” said Sankey. “We all really need each other to be good and to advance each other. I think that brings some good team goals and some camaraderie among us. If one of us wants to leave, we also need others who are doing well. Right now it’s about working really hard as a team and trying to get those spots for Team USA. “
There are a total of five ski jumping events – the men’s normal hill, the large hill and the team classification, the women’s normal hill and the mixed team classification will be debuted in 2022.
The American ski jumpers currently have two places in the games, so the fight for a trip to Beijing is fierce.
In the tradition that Steamboat athletes are excellent jumpers, there are eight Steamboat athletes in the Nordic Combined and Ski Jumping national teams who could earn a place on the Olympic team.
In the Nordic combined, Taylor Fletcher from Steamboat wants to come to his fourth Olympic Games, while Jasper Good is hoping for his second place. Grant Andrews and Niklas Malacinski have yet to compete at Olympic level, but are strong contenders for Team USA.
Erik Belshaw is only 17 years old and this is his first winter in the national ski jumping team, so the young skier would literally have to fly through the ranks to get one of the two American places in the Olympics, but it can’t be ruled out quite and at all.
Decker Dean is also in the running. He missed the Lake Placid event because he spent a lot of time in Europe improving his skills.
“We want him to be here, but he’s training with some team members in Europe right now,” said Elliott.
If they get a spot or two, the women’s team in Beijing will be a whole new face. The three women who represented America in 2018 are no longer on the national team, so this race is wide open.
Sankey, 23, has been with the national team since 2015 and could be in the race. Annika Belshaw, 19, made a name for herself in July by winning all three national titles on the normal hill, the large hill and the Nordic combined in Park City, Utah.
Nina Lussi from Lake Placid, who has been with the team since 2009, is in top form, so there could be a fight between the experienced veteran and Annika Belshaw.
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com, or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.