Nordic combined World Cup set to start |

Nordic combined World Cup set to start

Two top-level Nordic skiing events come to Soldier Hollow and Bear Hollow this week with World Cup-B (i.e., the Triple A level, just below the World Cup) Nordic combined events Friday and Saturday and the $130,000 USSA Cross Country SuperTour Saturday and Sunday at Soldier Hollow.

"It’s going to be some pretty good competition," U.S. Nordic chief Luke Bodensteiner said. "We’ll have U.S. Ski Team athletes competing in both sports, and we’ll see some Olympians and some international athletes."

With the snow drought in Europe still causing a long parade of headaches for event organizers in all corners of skiing, the coaches and athletes alike are pleased they’ll be able to hold these competitions.

Nordic combined blends ski jumping and cross-country skiing. The lineup for this weekend mixes the old with the new in terms of competition format.

Friday, it’ll be the traditional two rounds of jumping on the big hill (134-meter) at Utah Olympic Park followed by a 15-kilometer race over the Olympic trails at Soldier Hollow, with starts staggered according to a standard time-back formula based on points behind the top jumper. The best jumper goes first and, with the handicap start times, the first person to the finish wins, or places second, etc.

Saturday, it’s a "hurricane sprint" for the combiners in which the skiers jump, then – according to some new-but-arcane formula which somebody may have devised under a full moon and out behind a garage in downtown Bavaria or suburban Oslo – athletes are docked distances, not time, according to one round of jumping results at UOP, and when the gun goes off, everyone starts at once at SoHo. Again, the handicap start formula means the first athlete to the finish of the 7.5K race wins.

The new format came in a couple of years ago as the International Ski Federation (FIS) continues tweaking combined to make it more simple for spectators and more appealing to TV; first guy home wins is as basic as things get.

In the old days, combined used a bizarre formula compute ski jumping and cross-country results, and many times athletes and teams would leave a site not knowing who won or what the order of finish was. In the early Eighties, though, Gunder Gundersen, a Norwegian who was a combined silver medalist at the 1954 World Championships in Falun, Sweden, concocted a handicap-start formula based on jumping results; an athlete X-points back would start Y-seconds behind the top jumper. It was an epiphany, the Eureka! moment for combined and simplified the entire process because it established the system when the first athlete to the finish was the winner. No more confusion, no more questions. Even journalists could understand it.

Park City’s talented twins, Olympians Eric and Brett Camerota, lead the Yanks. Brett was second last weekend in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in the opening World Cup-B event with Eric 10th; Sunday, Brett was eighth and Eric ninth in the European-packed field. Strong results in December can mean promotion to the World Cup tour for the so-called Second Period, which usually means January. With World Championships in Sapporo, Japan, in late February, there’s extra intensity for everyone.

Cross-country’s SuperTour will bring a strong field to Soldier Hollow because the U.S. Ski Team, caught between good skiing in the West or waiting in Europe for a couple of weeks in hopes of snowfall at World Cup venues, came home. Most of the national team will be racing. Saturday, it’s a 15K freestyle (skating) technique for men, 10K for women and Sunday will mean classic technique sprints. Soldier Hollow opened last Saturday to a record crowd and new snow this week has further polished conditions for four races (two nordic combined, two X-C) this week.

Two-time Olympian Kris Freeman, who has produced some of his best skiing at SoHo – including two more U.S. championships last January – and Parkite Andrew Johnson, who’s won three national titles on the Olympic tracks in the last two seasons, will be favorites Saturday in the 15K skate race. Freeman won both the 15K classic technique race Saturday in Sun Valley, Idaho, and the 30K FR Sunday.

The women’s 10K skate will be more open with SuperTour women’s leader Caitlin Compton, who won a 15K freestyle Sunday in Sun Valley – and is gunning for a spot on the World Championships Team, and U.S. B Team racers Morgan Arritola and Taz Mannix figuring to be up front, too.

"The athletes are fired-up" Bodensteiner said. "We’ve got good snow conditions with some new snow, UOP and soldier Hollow are ready…and it should be a fun weekend."

Friday, the World Cup-B jumping starts at UOP at 9 a.m. with the 15K race at Soldier Hollow at 3 p.m. Saturday, jumping again starts at 9 a.m. at UOP with the 7.5K race at 2 p.m. For cross-country, it’s a 9:30 a.m. start Saturday and Sunday’s sprints will have the qualifying in the morning and the finals heats get underway at noon.

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