Emotional weekend for old and new Olympians
There was visible emotion last weekend as nearly 10,000 people packed venues at the Utah Olympic Park for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. It was just a competition amongst teammates, but for veterans like Todd Lodwick and Jessica Jerome who have powered through hundreds of competitions in their careers – this one had them shaking.
Steamboat Springs native Todd Lodwick was just 17 when he made his first Olympic Team at Lillehammer in 1994. With his Trials win, Lodwick is headed to a sixth Winter Olympics a feat unmatched by any American.
Park City’s Jessica Jerome had just turned seven on the eve of the 1994 Games. Ski jumping for women wasn’t much of an option then. But young Jessica cajoled her parents into letting her try the sport on the new jumps at what was then called Bear Hollow. Eight years later she would be forejumping at the Olympics, hoping that someday she would have her chance. Two years later, she won her first international event in Germany. But the Olympics were still a dream.
Sunday, Jerome carried the weight of her sport on her shoulders, winging her way towards a ticket to Sochi. It was more than just a personal victory it was one for every girl who had pushed off the start bar over the last two decades.
A lot has transpired in the Nordic sports in two decades. Who would have thought that thousands would gather in Park City to cheer on their Nordic heroes, or could have imagined a live national television audience glued to NBC to watch Lodwick, Jerome and Nick Fairall make history?
"Our coach came into the locker room this morning and gave us this little motivational speech," said Jerome. "He said: ‘Girls, all these people are out here for you. You may not realize it, but this is historic. This has never happened before, so just embrace it and enjoy it.’ That was pretty cool."
A lot has changed for Lodwick in 20 years. Parents Dennis and Jeannie are still standing on the fence cheering. But also running around the podium chasing the 37-year-old Olympic medalist and World Champion were his kids Charley and Finn. It was quite the family affair.
"I haven’t been this nervous for a competition for a really long time," said Lodwick, who was competing for the final time ever in America. "It meant a lot to be in front of friends, family and supportive people who have traveled so far to cheer us on as Nordic combined skiers. I thank the people from volunteers to coaches to athletes and teammates that have pushed me to the brink of wanting to be a better athlete."
Since 1994, Lodwick has been a part of the creation of American Nordic combined history. He remembers vividly the December day in 1995 when he carried the American flag across the finish line in Steamboat to win his first World Cup. He recalls the bitter disappointment in 2002 when the USA finished fourth in the Olympic team event seconds from making history at Soldier Hollow. He took pride in hoisting teammate Johnny Spillane on his shoulders a year later to celebrate his friend’s World Championship. And he beamed with joy sweeping to a pair of world titles himself in 2009. Then came the magic of Vancouver with the team’s four medals, including his own Olympic silver in the team event.
Just 26, Jerome is a veteran. She is among the trailblazers who saw her sport grow rapidly in the 2000s. She endured the disappointment of not competing in Vancouver, but continued to push ahead athletically as one of the leaders of a best in the world team.
She watched as teammates Lindsey Van and Sarah Hendrickson won world titles. And on the day it really counted for her sport’s Olympic debut, it was her turn to shine as the winner of the inaugural U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
"Honestly, I don’t know if I’ve wrapped my head around it yet," said Jerome. "It sounds cliché, but it is a dream come true.
"I can’t wait to go and represent my country in Sochi."
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The 22-year-old won the X Games’ inaugural ski knuckle huck competition and followed it up by taking gold in ski slopestyle.