Top girls off to a flying start |

Top girls off to a flying start

Did we watch a palace coup last weekend at Utah Olympic Park?

German teenager Juliane Seyfahrt – who turned 16 during the Olympics in February – showed up late for training last week because the team didn’t arrive until late Wednesday night. They trained Thursday on Bear Hollow’s 100-meter jump, a.k.a., the normal hill, and then stepped into Showtime at sunset Friday for the VISA Women’s Ski Jumping Festival.

And Seyfahrt, ice cool despite the 90s-plus temps, laid down the longest jump of each round to win. And then she did it again – not quite as dominating but still victorious – Saturday sunset, too.

For the Yanks, Parkite Jessica Jerome led in each competition, finishing fourth each time; Lindsey Van was fifth Friday and 10th Saturday while Alissa Johnson was ninth Friday and fifth Saturday. High schooler Abby Hughes wowed folks with a seventh-place result Saturday and U.S. Coach Casey Colby wanted to make certain no one missed the two top-20s (18th Friday, 15th Saturday) for 14-year-old Avery Ardovino in the second meet.

"We had some good jumping, but Abby and Avery were particularly impressive," he said. "They really showed us something. It should give them plenty of confidence."

Blockbuster crowds attended each evening’s festivities, which started with music at 5 p.m. and in between the rounds of jumping. It was a festive picnic for all as they saw some world-class competition and got to beat the heat on the grassy grounds below the Olympic jumps.

Softball uniforms speckled the crowds as the young women from around the country who were in Park City for their softball tournaments came up to watch their colleagues, who hope to keep marching forward to the 2010 Olympics. The 2009 World Championships are assured, and the Olympics are next on the horizon, including Vancouver organizers’ approval and then the International Olympic Committee okay by the end of the year, if things fall into place. If…

Meanwhile, the focus for women jumpers was on UOP and their sport, and the start of their third season with a Continental Cup schedule. Seyfahrt’s performance overshadowed Norwegian great Anette Sagen, who won the gold medal in 2004 when women’s jumping was added as an exhibition event for the World Junior Championships (Van took the bronze), and who has won both Continental Cup titles – seven wins in 2005 and nine wins last season.

Not that Sagen had a total dogfood weekend – seventh Friday night and then second, just a point back of Seyfahrt in the finale. But Seyfahrt, who won the World Juniors crown last season, was pretty solid. And U.S. Coach Casey Colby and American athletes nodded their acknowledgement.

"I think Juliane’s going to be tough to beat this season; she’s a really good jumper and this was another good victory for her," Jerome said after the second comp.

Colby echoed her, marveling at Seyfahrt’s almost robo-like precision. It reminds him a bit of Poland’s Adam Malysz, who returned to World Cup jumping with the 2001 season after a couple of seasons away. He had put together a team of biomechanics and assorted coaches, and Malysz went on to win three straight World Cup titles, 2002 Olympic silver and bronze behind Harry Potter look-alike Simon Ammann of Switzerland, and a small handful of World Championships medals.

"She’s a rock. She is so calm and collected," the U.S. coach said. "She does the same thing on every hill. Even when you see her in-run position change a little bit, she still pushes down against the ground [in-run track] and goes up and away from the hill.

"And she’s small and she’s light and she knows what position she wants to be in, so it’s a piece of cake for her. Yeah, just like Malysz. The best guys can do that they’re in the groove and they adjust, and they do the important things well and it works on every jump…and Juliane brings that to her jumping."

"That’s why she beat everybody by so many points [30-plus] at World Juniors. She’s small and light and she does it well."

U.S. women were upbeat about handling the pressures of the week, and also were smiling about finally shifting from the training phase to competition.

"I didn’t do terrible, I didn’t do great. But it’s nice to get this weekend out of the way," Jerome said. "I’m jumping, technically, way better…I’m getting it, slowly…"

The women moved on Sunday to Calgary, the 1988 Winter Olympic host for midweek competitions (Tuesday, after The Park Record’s press deadline, and today) before the schedule lurches back to Europe for August jump meets, three in Germany and a fourth in Austria.

"Not shabby at all to get things started,’ Colby said. "Two top-fives each night, top-10s…a good start…"

"Technically, Jess was probably the top skier on the hill [Saturday]. She just got a little too aggressive, pushed a little too hard at the bottom, but it’s July – we can fix that."

U.S. Nordic chief Luke Bodensteiner agreed.

"We had girls up top and close to the podium, and we had a lot of girls in the top 15. They’re coming along nicely. It’s a good start."

Johnson’s final jump – a 93-meter pearl that lifted her to fifth – brought a smile.

"The first couple of competitions of the year there’s always a lot of stress and tension because nobody knows how she’s going to do. So, it’s definitely nice to get these out of the way and finally be competing," she said.

Van, conceding the second night "wasn’t what I was hoping for," said she doesn’t think she applies more internal pressure when she jumps at home – after all, she won one of the 2005 Continental Cups at Bear Hollow "but I seem to jump better everywhere else in the world, so maybe."

But, like almost everyone else, knowing there are still 20 events on the women’s calendar – all of them elsewhere, she smiled and said, "I feel better about the next 20."

A quick recap of the VISA weekend:

Friday – Seyfahrt, looking weary, ignored obvious jet lag and the heat to out-muscle the field. She had the longest jump in each round but shaky style cost her points on her first jump, even though she was three meters farther (96-93) than Austrian Daniela Iraschko – who swept both meets two years ago at UOP. On the final round, though, Seyfahrt was longest again at 92.5 meters and when Iraschko could squeeze only 88.5 out of her jump, Seyfahrt won. Iraschko was second with Norway’s Line Jahr completing the podium.

For the locals, Jerome was fourth and Van fifth, Johnson ninth, Hughes 11th, Brenna Ellis 12th and Ardovino 18th.

Saturday – Sagen jumped 97.5 meters and Seyfahrt went 96.5, just a point between ’em. But Seyfahrt croaked Sagen on the final jumps – she went 94.5 and Sagen couldn’t match, coming up two meters and one point short. Seyfahrt: 245.0 points with 244.0 for the Norwegian champion.

From four in the top 12 Friday to four in the top 10 Saturday – Jerome fourth, Johnson fifth, Hughes seventh and Van 10th.

Colby noted, "Okay, we’re underway. We’ll get better from here…but this was a hectic week, lots of distractions, and the girls handled it well. I’m smiling."

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