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USA Nordic to hold virtual national competition for young ski jumpers

Shelby Reardon
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Young Steamboat Springs ski jumper Ella Wilson takes her turn on the HS-45 jump one summer morning at Howelsen Hill. Ski jumpers and Nordic combined athletes from across the country travel to Steamboat for the July 4 competition, which has become a holiday tradition.
Steamboat Today file photo

2019 USA Nordic virtual champions

U14 boys: Skyler Amy (Team Alaska)

U14 girls: Adeline Swanson (St. Paul Ski Club)

U12 boys: Sawyer Graves (SSWSC)

U12 girls: Ella Wilson (SSWSC)

U10 boys: Nathan Rind (SSWSC)

U10 girls: Kaija Coperhaver (Ishpeming Ski Club)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — For the past few years, USA Nordic has provided junior ski jumpers, age 14 and younger, with a virtual national competition. Athletes at the U14, U12 and U10 levels from all over the country send in a video of their best jump, which is then judged and put into a compilation video that is narrated by a pair of commentators.

The last few years, the six videos, one for each gender at each level, have been posted on YouTube. This year, USA Nordic will be showing them live starting Monday on YouTube and Facebook as a way to get the whole junior ski jumping community together for something special. To kick off the event, there will be a Facebook watch party on the USA Nordic page at 3:30 p.m. Monday.

“We kind of realized how big an event we can make this,” said Ben Berend, marketing manager for USA Nordic. “Usually it’s a fun thing we do to get our younger athletes something fun and cool. … It’s a little different this year, because we realized this is one of the only sporting events going on in the world.”

Since athletes that age don’t travel much for competition, there is never a time where many North American ski jumpers get together. The virtual championships offer a way for Steamboat Springs ski jumpers to see where they stand compared to everyone else. The winner of each category earns their club a brand new pair of skis.

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“Our athletes love it,” said Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club U14 ski jumping coach Garrett Fisk. “It’s just another way for them to represent their club and actually feel good about. Especially this year, it really makes them feel good because of the whole not being able to jump because of coronavirus. I think it really keeps these kids engaged and excited for their sport.”

The first year of virtual nationals, it was up to coaches to find and send in videos of their athletes. That required hours of digging through the hundreds of clips taken throughout the season. Now, the event has caught on, and parents, who usually have a better view anyway, have taken the lead on recording and sending in videos.

Jeff Hastings, a former Olympic ski jumper who finished fourth at the 1986 Sarajevo Winter Games, had the original idea for virtual nationals in 2014. This year, he is one of the commentators for the event alongside Peter Graves, who announced ski jumping, Nordic combined and cross country events at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“He does a wonderful job, and I just try to add some encouragement and some excitement,” Hastings said. “It’s exciting. You go from a kid in Steamboat to a kid in Lake Placid, a kid in Chicago to a kid in Park City to a kid in Salisbury, Connecticut. It’s like they’re all in the same room, and we play it like it’s live.”

National team members judge the youngsters’ jumps, and this year, Steamboat native and U.S. women’s national team member Logan Sankey is one of the judges.

Home from her spring semester at Dartmouth College, Sankey has been staying busy with her family, running, working out and playing a lot of board games.

As a ski jumper on the Continental and World Cup circuits, Sankey knows exactly what to look for in a jump.

“I watch all the videos and then I give scores based on an overall jump,” Sankey said. “So not just how far you went, but how controlled they look in the air, if their arms are by their side. Then I give bonus points if you have a telemark landing.”

Judging isn’t as systematic as an official contest, as each video shows a skier in a different venue on a different sized hill in varying conditions.

Last year, three SSWSC athletes earned victories — Sawyer Graves for U12 boys, Ella Wilson for U12 girls and Nathan Rind at the U10 boys level. Fisk said there are a few jumpers that he thinks have a shot at winning this year, including Graves, who is competing at the U14 level this year. Wilson also has a chance to repeat as national champion.

Widespread cancellations due to coronavirus have robbed spring winter sport athletes of their championships.

“A lot of the older kids are missing out on the end of their season, and this is a really nice way to culminate all the hard work that the juniors have put in,” Sankey said. “It’s nice to be a part of the end of one season, even if I can’t be a part of the end of my own.”

sreardon@steamboatpilot.com


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