Shelby Reardon // [email protected]
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The U.S. ski jumping and Nordic combined national team members added flair to a media day Thursday at the newly renovated Lake Placid Olympic facilities hosted by Olympic Regional Development Authority and USA Nordic.
The athletes helped show off the brand new aspects at the Olympic jumping complex and the Mount Van Hoevenberg Nordic center.
Over the past couple days, athletes grew familiar with the venue, which will hold the U.S. Olympic Team Trials on Dec. 24 and 25.
“I am thrilled to have the Olympic Trials back in Lake Placid, the place where I learned Nordic combined,” said Billy Demong, CEO of USA Nordic Sport and Olympic Gold Medalist, in a news release. “The youth and depth of the athletes preparing for their chance to make it to Beijing remind me of my teammates — this will certainly be a Christmas holiday the competitors and fans will never forget.”
Many Steamboat Springs athletes will take part in the trials, which will play a role in determining who makes the Olympic team bound for the Beijing 2022 games.
The Lake Placid Olympic Center has undergone an extensive renovation this past summer in preparation of the 2023 World University Games, which will bring in collegiate athletes from more than 50 countries to compete in winter sports for 11 days.
The successful bid for the event has resulted in a massive project, costing upwards of $70 million and improving facilities across the historic Olympic site. The 1932 and 1980 rinks were renovated, and a new refrigeration system was installed. The outdoor speed skating circle was also replaced, and the ski jumps saw major improvements. The hills now have refrigeration and were regraded and covered in material that allows for year-round use, while frost runs were installed on the inruns.
Steamboat ski jumper Logan Sankey said the track is smooth, and the flight trajectory felt great. She also thinks the new facility has neutralized the event space, evening the playing field in a way.
“I think it’ll be great,” Sankey said. “Lake Placid isn’t my home hill, but I think because it’s new, it’s not really anyone’s home hill right now.”
There is also a new gondola and elevator bringing 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, allowing more spectators to take in the exciting end of a Nordic race. Next door is the new 50,000-square-foot Mountain Pass Lodge, which holds competition services and training facilities.
The U.S. Olympic team trials on Christmas weekend will help determine who makes the Olympic team, but isn’t the sole way athletes can earn the trip to Beijing. The winner of each discipline at Lake Placid will be guaranteed a spot, while everyone else must continue to fight through competitions to earn a spot.
Qualifying is a big deal because there are only so many spots available to athletes in each event. Men’s Nordic combined will have 55 total athletes, and the U.S. has five spots to fill as of October, according to the International Ski Federation, or FIS.
Countries earn those quota spots by having athletes perform well at a high level competition. To fill those spots, athletes must compete at the World Cup, Grand Prix or Continental Cup level. The qualification period ends Jan. 16, 2022, but began back on July 1, 2020.
After the winner of the U.S. Olympic Trials, the next spots will be filled based on top World Cup placements. Athletes who have earned a top-10 World Cup result will be nominated. If that doesn’t apply, athletes ranked in the World Cup standings will be nominated in rank order. An athlete earns a ranking by placing in the top 30 and earning points. After that, Continental Cup points are used to select athletes. That format applies to both Nordic combined and ski jumping.
There are three Nordic combined disciplines, or events. The normal hill and the large hill individual events consist of one jump, followed by a 10-kilometer race. The person with the most points following the jump begins the race. The rest of the skiers are sent out in intervals that are determined based on how many points behind the jump leader they finished.
There is also a team event in which four men jump, then take part in a relay with each athlete skiing a 5K.
There are no women’s events since women’s Nordic combined is not yet an Olympic sport. In fact, it’s the only sport at both the winter and summer games in which women do not compete.
Ski jumping is now open to women after it debuted at Sochi in 2014. Right now, the U.S. hasn’t gained any spots available for women ski jumpers, but that could change if the women were to perform well in the months leading up to the games. There will be 40 women competing in ski jumping in Beijing and 65 men.
“The women are still competing for jumping spots in the Olympics,” said USA Nordic Communications Manager Riley Elliott. “Obviously, there is no women’s Nordic combined in the Olympics, which is something we’re trying to fix. The women are still fighting for spots to get in there. It’s just a matter of how they score in their competitions leading up to the Olympics.”
While other teams will be a little more combative as individuals fight for spots, the women’s team is still unified in its goal.
“We don’t have any spots to fight over,” Sankey said. “We all really need each other to do well and push each other forward. I think that’s providing some good team goals and some camaraderie among us. If anyone of us want to go, we need other people to do well, as well. Right now, it’s all about working really hard as a team and trying to get those spots for Team USA.”
There are five ski jumping events total — the men’s normal hill, large hill and team event, the women’s normal hill and the mixed team event will debut in 2022.
The American male ski jumpers have two spots in the games right now, so the fight for a trip to Beijing will be a competitive one.
Keeping the tradition of Steamboat athletes being excellent jumpers, there are eight athletes from Steamboat on the Nordic combined and ski jumping national teams that could earn a spot on the Olympic team.
In Nordic combined, Steamboat’s own Taylor Fletcher is aiming to get to his fourth Olympic games, while Jasper Good is hoping to make his second. Grant Andrews and Niklas Malacinski have yet to compete at the Olympic level but are strong contenders for Team USA.
Erik Belshaw is just 17, and this is his first winter on the ski jumping national team, so the young skier would have to literally fly through the ranks to earn one of the two American spots at the Olympics, but can’t be ruled out completely.
Decker Dean is also in the running. He missed the Lake Placid event, because he’s been spending a lot of time in Europe improving his skills.
“We’d like him to be here, but he’s training with some team members out in Europe right now,” Elliott said.
If they earn a spot or two, the women’s team will be all new faces in Beijing. 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 on the national team since 2015 and could be in the running. Annika Belshaw, 19, made a name for herself in July by winning all three national titles in the normal hill, large hill and Nordic combined competitions in Park City, Utah.
Lake Placid native Nina Lussi, who has been on the team since 2009, is at the top of her game, so it could come down to a battle between the seasoned veteran and Annika Belshaw.