Park City women sweep U.S. Ski Jumping roster | ParkRecord.com

Park City women sweep U.S. Ski Jumping roster

by Tracie Fails, of the Record staff

The U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping Team didn’t have to search far to find the best athletes for its 2008 roster. All six members named to the squad list Park City as their hometown. Five of the elite jumpers return from last year, led by three-time Continental Cup Champion Lindsay Van, currently ranked third in the world. Park City High School junior Avery Ardovino joined the team this year after taking ninth at the World Junior Championships this year and consistently placing in the top-20 at Continental Cup events.

Notably absent from the roster, however, were male jumpers. After the retirement of Alan Alborn and Clint Jones, the only USA jumpers on the world circuit, no men in the development ranks had reached the world level.

Parkite Alan Johnson, former head coach of the U.S. Ski Jumping Team, has been predicting the void in elite male jumpers since the 2002 Olympics. After the Winter Games in Salt Lake, Johnson watched as funding for the sport shifted to events with greater medal potential while interest in jumping waned, until only Alborn and Jones represented America abroad. But the process didn’t happen overnight, Johnson says.

"The reality is we didn’t wake up this morning to see no more men at the World Cup," he said. Still, "this dark day has arrived."

U.S. Nordic Director Luke Bodensteiner said in a USSA press release that the association hopes to revive men’s ski jumping through club teams, relying on the development of youth and teenage athletes. The U.S. team will also compete in some development-level events to "monitor the progress [of male jumpers] before naming anyone new to the team," Bodensteiner said in the release.

But Johnson sees a slow recovery.

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"It’s going to take years to get back to the World Cup," he said.

Park City’s ski jumping club, the National Sports Foundation (NSF), has played a key role in developing elite male jumpers, including Anders Johnson, who at 16 became the youngest ski jumper in Olympic history to compete at the Winter Games when he jumped in Turino. The NSF also trained all six women now in the U.S. Ski Jumping Team.

Now the NSF’s role has become even more important, as the future of men’s jumping and continued progress of women relies increasingly on quality club teams. The NSF has responded by strengthening its training staff and attempting to raise more funds to better prepare athletes. Alborn and Jones, who have become activists for the revival of ski jumping since their retirement, have joined the NSF this year as the elite and development coaches, respectively. Jones says he is excited about his role in rejuvenating the program and thinks the lull in developing world-level jumpers may actually promote long-term progress in the sport.

"We were forced to rethink the situation," he said. "It’s too bad that kids don’t have more mentors to look up to at the world level, but I think long-term it’s a good thing. The whole goal right now is to get club kids to get decent results."

Jones predicts that with consistent training, the U.S. could field five or six men at the World Cup level within four years.

To help bridge the gap, Alan Johnson has created a nonprofit, elite men’s program to sponsor jumpers close to reaching the international level. He named six athletes to the newly formed Ski Jumping Development USA, Inc. to help offset costs for international travel and to provide a single, consistent coach at world events. The athletes currently live and train throughout the country, but Johnson hopes his organization can provide some consistency by providing some uniformity.

"When the responsibility fell on clubs to develop teams, all of a sudden coaches had to travel all over the place and kids would have six different coaches at six different events. It’s hard to get consistent training when you’re bouncing all over like a ping-pong ball," he said.

Anders Johnson was the Parkite named to Development USA. Others include Mike Glasder (Cary, Ill.); Johnny Lyons (Minneapolis, Minn.); Nick Farell (Andover, New Hampshire); and Kyle Lockhart (Andover, New Hampshire). But all six will have to improve before appearing at World Cup events.

He stressed that the difference between the World Cup and development levels is huge, given the popularity of ski jumping in Europe and relatively limited resources for American jumpers.

"Only about 50 jumpers compete at World Cups," he noted.

But through careful planning on shoestring budgets, Johnson believes the future of ski jumping is salvageable. Johnson says the support of sponsors, particularly former jumper Jim Holland who now runs backcountry.com, have helped keep his nonprofit afloat. A steady stream of athletes into his program is also essential, and the National Sports Foundation will likely be the main source, Johnson says.

"We have to keep developing jumpers at all levels, particularly kids and teenagers," he said.

But keeping the program funded is difficult, says NSF director Greg Poirier.

"We struggle. It’s always a balancing act," Poirier said. "I get gray hairs over figuring it all out."

The foundation currently operates on a budget of nearly $500,000, about $150,000 short of what it needs to run comfortably, Poirier says. Participants pay about half the operating costs with program fees, while the rest comes from grants, sponsors and fundraisers. Poirier says the Art for Athletes event raises between $30,000 and $40,000.

"It’s quite significant," Poirier said. Last year 225 people attended the fundraiser, with a predicted attendance of 300 this year.

This year’s Art for Athlete event will begin at 6 p.m. on July 20 at St. Mary’s Church. The $50 entry fee includes hor d’oeuvres and cocktails, live and silent auctions, and a chance to win pieces contributed by community artists. Fourty-four artists will contribute their work, including U.S. Ski Jumping member Jessica Jerome and Alpine skier Erik Schlopy. For more information, call 435-645-7660 ext. 104.

The U.S. Ski Jumping Team

Avery Ardovino (2/13/92; Park City, UT; National Sports Foundation)

Brenna Ellis (3/13/88; Park City, UT; National Sports Foundation)

Abby Hughes (6/21/89; Park City, UT; National Sports Foundation)

Jessica Jerome (2/8/87; Park City, UT; National Sports Foundation)

Alissa Johnson (5/26/87; Park City, UT; National Sports Foundation)

Lindsey Van (11/27/84; Park City, UT; National Sports Foundation)

The Ski Jumping Development Team USA, Inc.

Mike Glasder (Cary, Illinois)

Johnny Lyons, (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

Chris Lamb (Andover, New Hampshire)

Nick Farrell (Andover, New Hampshire)

Kyle Lockhart (Cary, Illinois)

Anders Johnson (Park City, Utah)

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