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News brings joy to jumpers

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff

After years of flying through the air, Park City’s women ski jumpers may have found their highest high while standing on the ground.

The rush has come in the last few weeks after the International Ski Federation (FIS) made the monumental decision to add women’s ski jumping to the 2009 World Championships. Then, earlier this week, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced that they will name female jumpers to the U.S. Ski Jumping Team for the 2007 season in anticipation of the international championships as well as the likely acceptance of the sport into the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games.

"We were so excited," said Alissa Johnson, a top American jumper recently nominated to the U.S. Ski Team. "There are no words to describe the feeling. It was a big day."

As it turns out, it was the big day that almost wasn’t. At the biennial FIS convention in Vilamoura, Portugal, a preliminary informal vote was taken to see how various delegates felt about adding the sport to the 2009 World Championships. There was talk about delaying the inclusion until 2011, forcing the possible Olympic incorporation all the way back to 2014. The U.S. contingent, led by Women’s Ski Jumping, USA (WSJ), a non-profit formed specifically to get women into the Olympic Games, immediately stepped in. WSJ president and former Salt Lake City mayor, Deedee Corradini, drew upon her political prowess to create a new proposal that would satisfy FIS and still keep the vote for the 2009 world event. It worked. Every country represented, except Switzerland, voted in favor of the proposal.

"This is obviously a proud and exciting time for us," U.S. Nordic director Luke Bodensteiner said.

The decision was a long time coming. Women ski jumpers have been toiling in relative anonymity for decades, but recently, as the talent pool became bigger and more skillful, the need to get the sport into the Games became more intense.

"People over the last couple of years have stepped it up and showed we are capable of skiing at a high enough level," said Jessica Jerome, another jumper nominated to the U.S. Ski Team.

The five jumpers that were named, Lindsey Van, Jerome, Johnson, Brenna Ellis, and Abby Hughes are local products and have spent most of their careers training with the Park City-based National Sports Foundation Nordic skiing club at the Utah Olympic Park. All of them are ranked among the top 15 female jumpers in the world.

The U.S. Ski Team will be partnering with the NSF to provide head coaches for both the men’s and women’s teams as well as helping support one another. Casey Colby will serve as head coach for the women and Mike Keuler will lead the men. Both are former Olympic ski jumpers and bring a wealth of knowledge and training to the team.

"It was a real easy and smooth decision to keep working with Casey," Bodensteiner said.

The official naming of the teams will not occur for a few more weeks. According to a new process that the USSA has implemented, all athletes must go through an official educational training to learn the core values, rules and expectations of every U.S. Ski Team member. Once the athletes have completed the course and agreed to the terms, official naming takes place. Bodensteiner expects to have the team named sometime around the Continental Cup event that will be held in Park City July 20-21. The Continental Cup is the highest level event on the women’s circuit currently, and one step below World Cup for the men.

Now that the women are headed to the 2009 Worlds in Liberec, the Czech Republic and are a couple of classes and a signature away from being full-fledged members of the U.S. Ski Team, the only goal that lies ahead of them is inclusion in the Vancouver Games. The vote will come before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the fall and Vancouver has already said that they would be willing to hold the event.

"It’s been a long and satisfying journey and we still have a long way to go," Bodensteiner said.

In the two years of meantime before the 2009 Worlds, the bulk of the women’s squad will also have the opportunity to compete at the elite level. In a surprising move by FIS, the age of competitors in the Junior World Championships was extended to 20, allowing all of the women, except Van, who will be 22 this season, to compete against the best female jumpers in the world.

"We think we have a good chance at Junior Worlds and the Continental Cup," Bodensteiner said.

Inclusion with the U.S. Ski Team will mean big changes for the former NSF women. According to Colby, the biggest difference will be access to such luxuries as sports scientists, nutritionists and greater financial backing from the locally based national USSA organization all things a club sport cannot provide.

"As an individual, you can’t afford these things, but as a huge organization, you can have these things," Colby said.

It also means an even more intense attitude from the women’s team.

"The level is just going to change for us," Jerome said. "People are going to step up and become more serious."

Johnson agreed.

"There’s more of a drive," Johnson said. "There’s something behind us pushing us."

Commitment and passion should not be a problem for any of the female jumping squads worldwide. According to Colby, one of the ideal parts of the women’s sport and the strides it’s making is the camaraderie and common goals. All of the female jumpers are friends. Nations often train together and secrets are shared.

"The goal is to have the sport advance," Colby said.

Training for the U.S. team will take place at the UOP alongside the NSF athletes.

"We view this as the best training facility and USSA is headquartered here," Bodensteiner said.

Also, basing the team in Park City is beneficial because the five female jumpers already live in Park City. The men nominated, Alan Alborn and Clint Jones, are not from Park City, but they were the only two selected.

The NSF will now concentrate more heavily on building on the grassroots level, recruiting more young jumpers and soliciting financial support. Keeping the girls at the UOP will also help the club to stay healthy and thriving.


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