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Sept./Early Oct. Roundup: National Champs, Snowmaking in Lake Placid; PyeongChang News

— This past weekend, American ski jumpers and nordic-combined skiers flew high over the Olympic Jumping Complex at Lake Placid, N.Y., for the 2017 U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships, part of the Flaming Leaves Festival, from Oct. 7-8.

Lake Placid native Nina Lussi, captured national titles in both the women’s ski jumping and nordic combined events, besting her USA Women’s Ski Jumping teammates Nita Englund and Abby Ringquist (who placed second and third respectively) in the normal-hill ski jumping championships. Lussi notched the longest and third-longest jumps of the day with her distances of 94.5 and 88 meters.

Just two women competed in the nordic-combined championships, where Lussi started 4 1/2 minutes ahead of Gabby Armstrong (also of USA Women’s Ski Jumping) based on their jumps. Lussi went on to hold off Armstrong by 2 minutes and 46 seconds for the win. Armstrong recently graduated from Lake Placid High School.

“I feel relieved, honestly,” Lussi told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. “I was coming into this weekend obviously focusing on the ski jumping competition, so after I jumped well this morning I had the enthusiasm for the day. I lost that quickly on the cross-country course. But I’m really proud of my work out there and happy it’s over.”

She and Armstrong competed in a pursuit-style race separate from the men.

“Gabby knows how to cross-country ski, so that was definitely in the forefront,” Lussi reflected. “When we were on the course alone, I knew to just try and ski what I could. I tried to strategize. It’s nice to have the course spotted with fans to push you along the way.”

On the men’s side, USA Nordic national-team jumper Michael Glasder took the win over Ski Canada’s Mackenzie Boyd-Clowse and Kevin Bickner (USA Nordic), respectively.

Bryan Fletcher, a veteran US Nordic Combined skier who has indicated this is likely his last season, placed fourth in the ski-jumping competition. Later on Sunday, he raced to his third nordic-combined national title, after jumping to first and starting with a 1:14 minute lead.

“It was definitely a confidence booster knowing that I had some time in the pocket,” Fletcher told the Enterprise. “… But I still went out and skied hard knowing that anything can happen. Somebody could have a great race, and you just never know.”

He said wind (and some heavy rain at times) was a major factor in the jumping portion, where he recorded distances of 91 and 82 meters.

“For sure, I had good conditions, a good jump to have that cushion,” he said.

Ben Loomis (US Nordic Combined) started the rollerski race in third behind Fletcher and Nathaniel Mah of Ski Jump Canada. He passed Mah to finish second, 2:16 behind Fletcher. Jasper Good (US Nordic Combined) rounded out the podium in third (+2:57), while Mah slipped to seventh (+3:48).

Results: Ski Jumping | Nordic Combined

 

— A few weeks earlier in mid-September, USA Nordic appointed a new development director in Sarah Anderson, the mother of two ski jumpers who practice at the Nordic Ski Club in Park City, Utah, where USA Nordic is based. According to Inside The Games, Anderson is tasked with “strengthening existing partnerships”, “identifying new opportunities”, “developing strategic relationships” and “assisting in the planning and execution of fundraising events”.

“Her extensive skills in organization and fundraising were evident in a variety of volunteer roles,” USA Nordic stated.

 

— Machine-made snow is flying earlier than ever at Mt. Van Hoevenberg just down the road from the Olympic Jumping Complex in Lake Placid, with the nordic center firing up its TechnoAlpin machine on Oct. 1 in preparation for a U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing training camp Oct. 23-29.

The Snow Factory is on at Mt. Van Hoevenberg in Lake Placid, N.Y. According to a Facebook video on Oct. 4: “The 75 degree weather is currently no match for the Snow Factory at Mt Van Hoevenberg. We are now 100% focused on making snow and grooming it out at the end of the month. We have winter on demand here in Lake Placid, New York.” (Screenshot: Mt. Van Hoevenberg Facebook)

“The Snow Factory is on, and we’ve got a quickly growing pile of snow,” Kris Cheney Seymour, Mt. Van Hoevenberg’s manager, said in a phone interview on Oct. 5. “The last week and a half, we’ve had our technicians here. It’s running more efficiently than it has ever run.”

Seymour and John Farra, U.S. Paralympics Nordic’s high-performance director, raced on the same junior ski team in high school. Farra grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., but went to high school in Lake Placid.

“He’s a very good friend and a colleague,” Seymour said.

The two began talking about offseason skiing options — ones closer to home than cost-prohibitive European ski tunnels — about a year and a half ago, Seymour explained. Mt. Van Ho is aiming to blow enough snow for a 20-foot-wide, 500-meter-long strip that enables two-way skiing so that the Paralympic athletes can ski a kilometer out-and-back loop.

Seymour said they would also be setting up a biathlon range for the athletes.

“We have found that there is not much that compares to training on actual snow for sit skiers in particular,” Farra wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “While standing and visually impaired athletes can simulate much of the skiing motions and movements on roller skis, it is not the same for sit skis, which when put on wheels become fixed devices with grippy wheels, and making it impossible to slip, skid, and slide around a corner like happens when they make turns over snow. So we have found it less valuable to host dryland camps for sit skiers, and we have prioritized getting on-snow more often, which becomes a very expensive proposition to find snow in the summer in places like south America & New Zealand, and to ski tunnels in Sweden and Germany.

“In short, we are very excited to schedule a camp in late October in Lake Placid, and hope that it will provide us the opportunity to get Para Nordic skiers some critical on-snow time, without the need to travel overseas,” he continued.

According to U.S. Paralympics Biathlon/Nordic Coach BethAnn Chamberlain, eight athletes will attend the camp, most of which are sit skiers, and they’ll be a mix of elite-level skiers aiming to qualify for the 2018 PyeongChang Paralympics as well as a few development skiers.

“I am looking forward to having the opportunity to get this group of athletes together,” Chamberlain wrote in an email. “It is always great to have a group to train together and it is even better to do so when we can get on snow and have the athletes work on tactical elements alongside one another.  It should be a great step in prepping everyone for the winter season.”

And after the camp is over on Oct. 29? “Assuming that everything is going well, we’ll be opening up,” Seymour said. “If everything goes well, our intention is to open up for season pass holders.”

 

— One stop for more than 100 American athletes on the road to PyeongChang, South Korea, for the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympics included four days of interviews Sept. 24-27 in Park City. The 2017 Team USA Media Summit, hosted by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), gave attending journalists a chance to access these athletes in advance of the Olympics, which will be held in February 2018. Several U.S. national-team skiers appeared at the event, including Simi Hamilton, Jessie Diggins, Kikkan Randall and Sadie Bjornsen (U.S. Cross-Country Ski Team), Bryan Fletcher (U.S. Nordic Combined), Lowell Bailey and Susan Dunklee (US Biathlon), and Oksana Masters (U.S. Paralympics Nordic).

In an email to FasterSkier, Hamilton explained this was his second media summit of the year; he also attended one hosted by NBC and the USOC in Los Angeles in April.

“I thought the summit here in Park City was much more relaxed, although it still made for a long day,” he wrote. “I think it made a huge difference having some of my teammates at this one … Even though we all attended the summit in LA in the spring, I think we were all scheduled on different days so there was no overlap between the nordic athletes.

“There’s just so many ridiculous things that happen during the photo shoots and you get asked some pretty funny, random questions, so it’s nice to be able to laugh about those experiences right afterward with some of your close friends,” he added. “… All in all, both the spring media summit and this one were fun experiences.”

Both Hamilton and Bailey dedicated one full day to interviews and photoshoots, all of which took place inside.

“It definitely would have made a big difference energy-wise to be able to have an afternoon to go train or get outside for a little air,” Hamilton wrote. “But it’s great to see a huge amount of excitement and media attention in the lead-up to the Olympics. You can tell that every interviewer and photographer you meet is genuinely psyched to hear your story and add to your stoke as an athlete, regardless of how popular or fringe your sport is.”

After 10 hours of interviews, Hamilton ventured out for an evening mountain-bike ride:

While Hamilton stuck around Park City after for a U.S. Ski Team training camp, Bailey was only there for 24 hours.

“Flew in sunday night, 7am-7pm non-stop media interviews and photo shoots, then back on the plane at 8:30pm to fly overnight and get back for training on Tuesday afternoon in Lake Placid!” Bailey wrote in an email. “It was a whirlwind tour but hopefully worthwhile for the media outlets that attended. There is a lot going on as we head toward the season and I think it’s important that the media gets a good idea of what athletes are up to for training, and what’s on our minds (e.g. the Sochi doping cases) as we approach the Olympics.”

 

— Speaking of PyeongChang, Norway’s Marit Bjørgen is hoping to break the record for career Winter Olympic gold medals there this winter. This is expected to be the 37-year-old Bjørgen’s last Olympics and over the years (in four Olympics), she has accumulated 10 medals — six of which are gold — making her the most decorated woman in Winter Olympic history. She is three medals shy of breaking the all-time record held by 43-year-old Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjørndalen, according to NBC Sports, who will be competing in his seventh winter Olympics. At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Bjørndalen broke the record of retired Norwegian cross-country skier Bjørn Dæhlie, edging Dæhlie by one medal and tying his record for eight gold medals.

Bjørgen reportedly told Norwegian newspaper VG that it’s a dream of hers — but not a goal — and certainly motivation to try and surpass Bjørndalen in PyeongChang.

 

— According to International Ski Federation (FIS) President Gian-Franco Kasper, he has not heard any concerns from skiers regarding their safety at the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. He visited PyeongChang shortly after North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, including a missile that flew over Japan, on Sept. 3.

“I was in Pyeongchang only a few days ago and it is not an issue for the athletes at the moment,” Kasper told Reuters in mid-September. “In Pyeongchang for the Koreans it is also not an issue.

“I have not specifically heard any concerns, not from any skiers,” he added. “If it stays like that then people should not be worried. We are convinced that Pyeongchang will be the safest place in the world during the Games.”

Kasper acknowledged that the growing tensions could affect ticket sales.

“It could certainly impact foreign visitors,” he said. “That I can imagine, that people think ‘we won’t go there now,’ but they [Pyeongchang] would not have too many foreign visitors anyway.”

According to a Sept. 27 New York Times article, France has stated it will not send its Olympic team to South Korea if its safety cannot be guaranteed. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach has said there is “so far not even a hint” of security concerns, and officials have also insisted it is too late to move the Olympics.

“There is no Plan B,” said Anita DeFrantz, a vice president of the IOC from the United States.

 

— That same New York Times article told the story of two North Korean figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, hoping to qualify for PyeongChang. The IOC and South Korea are very much in favor of having North Korea participate in what is being promoted as the Games of Peace.

If the skaters fail to qualify, Olympic officials have said they will consider wild-card entries to encourage North Korean athletes to compete.

North Koreans will also try to qualify in nordic skiing and short-track speedskating, according to North Korea’s IOC delegate Chang Ung. The nation has formally complained that international sanctions imposed by the United Nations have made it difficult to purchase skiing equipment, Reuters reported.

“Tensions are high now, but because of that, peace is all the more needed,” said South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. “If the two Koreas come together at this point in time, it will become a great opportunity to send a message of reconciliation and peace to the world.”

“It’s kind of an insurance policy to have them there,” U.S. alpine skier Ted Ligety told the Times.

 

— Wondering how badly your sleep schedule is going to be disrupted by the 2018 PyeongChang Games? The 2018 Winter Olympic competition schedule has been released and can be found here: https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/schedule. The Opening Ceremony kicks off Friday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. Korea time (which is 13 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time and a whopping 17 hours ahead of Alaska time), so eastern North Americans should be able to tune in live at 7 a.m. while Alaskans will need to get up at — or stay up until — 3 a.m.

The next day, Feb. 10, cross-country skiing opens with the women’s skiathlon at 4:15 p.m. and biathlon starts with the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint at 8:15 p.m. Korea time. Most of the biathlon events start around 8 p.m. or later while the cross-country races range from 2 p.m. (start of the men’s 50 k classic mass start on Feb. 24) to 8 p.m. (start of the classic sprint heats on Feb. 13).

As noted by Inside The Games, all of the biathlon and short-track speed skating events will be held in the evening, as will most of the speed skating, ski jumping and luge competitions. There are six new medal events this year, including men’s and women’s snowboard big air and speedskating mass starts. PyeongChang organizers have been criticized for low ticket sales thus far, which could partly be due to the schedule not being released until mid-September.

 

— On Sept. 17, Poland’s Justyna Kowalczyk and Russia’s Ilya Chernousov won the women’s and men’s 50-kilometer Fiemme Rollerski Cup marathon, respectively, which featured the grueling climb up Alpe Cermis — the famed final stage of the Tour de Ski — in Italy’s Trentino region. The marathon marked the last leg of the summer World Classic Tour rollerski series for elite skiers, according to Radio Poland. Chernousov took the overall win in 2:10:11 while Kowalczyk was the fastest woman in 2:28:35.

Kowalczyk, 34, is a four-time Tour de Ski winner with five Olympic medals (two golds) and eight World Championship medals (including two more golds) to her name. Since being diagnosed with depression in 2014, she has been working to return to top form. Both Kowalczyk and Chernousov, 31, medaled at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

 

Reijo Puiras, a Canadian Olympic cross-country skier who founded the Lappe Nordic Ski Centre passed away at the age of 65 on Aug. 4. The father of Timo Puiras, the current head coach of Thunder Bay’s National Team Development Centre (NTDC), Reijo was perhaps best known for building ski trails, which he started doing in 1975 on his own property in Lappe, a hamlet just outside Thunder Bay, Ontario. He eventually bought more land to expand his trail system to 14 kilometers over 80 acres and founded the Lappe Nordic Centre in an effort to encourage more Canadians to ski.

“The more racers we have, the more Wayne Gretzkys we’re likely to find,” he once said, according to The Globe and Mail.

In 1993, Puiras was inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. As an athlete, he competed at the 1974 World Championships in Sweden and 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria. The Lappe Nordic Centre has since hosted Canada’s Ski Nationals in 2015 and 2013 Junior World Championships trials, and it will again host nationals this coming spring in 2018.

Puiras frequently served as chief of course for these competitions.

“It gives me great pride to see all the young skiers in Canada racing on these trails,” he said.

 

— Alex Kochon, Peter Minde and Ian Tovell contributed reporting

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