Nordic athletes take aim at Sochi
It’ll be winner-take-all at the Utah Olympic Park this weekend when the country’s best Nordic combined and ski jumping athletes take to the hill and the track on Saturday and Sunday.
The Nordic combined event and the ski jumping competitions are Olympic qualifiers, with the winner of each event punching his or her ticket to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, scheduled to begin Feb. 7.
Though Nordic combined athlete Bryan Fletcher and ski jumper Alissa Johnson would both like to prove they belong on the Olympic team with wins in front of hometown fans, both acknowledge that this weekend’s competitions aren’t exactly do-or-die.
"I certainly won’t be disappointed if I don’t come away with the win," Fletcher said. "There will be plenty of other opportunities the World Cup has been going really well for me, so hopefully I can keep building off the success I’ve had already this season."
"It would be nice to have a guaranteed spot," Johnson acknowledged. "But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t make it this weekend. It’ll be exciting, it’ll be fun, and if you don’t do well, then oh well."
That said, Fletcher and Johnson are both giving it everything they’ve got leading up to the competition.
"I was pretty happy with the jumps [Thursday] and it gives me some optimism going into the weekend," Fletcher said. "Racing has been going really well. Hopefully I can keep that up for one more weekend and come away with an Olympic spot."
"I’m just treating it like any normal day of competition," Johnson added. "I’m not getting too nervous, not over-thinking it. Getting over jet lag is a big part of it. We just got off a long three weeks of travel and competition [in Europe]."
The peace of mind coming with a victory and a secured Olympic spot would be nice, though.
"It would be awesome to get it off my chest this weekend," Fletcher said. "And the cash prize, too, is a little more incentive. I think it would be a little bit of a weight off if it goes well."
But, both athletes are feeling rested and recuperated now, following two days off at home.
"It was much-needed," Johnson said. "I really didn’t do much. It was the first time my brother [men’s ski jumper Anders Johnson] has been home for Christmas in like five years. It was nice to have everyone home and relax in front of the fireplace and really not do much."
Fletcher spent some time with his family for Christmas as well before hitting the Basin Recreation 5K trail that will host the cross-country portion of the Nordic combined event.
"It’s been really relaxing," he said. "It’s nice to be home and it’ll be cool to have a big competition in front of the hometown fans."
As for the trail, Fletcher expects a challenging race on Saturday afternoon.
"It’s going to be really tough," he said. "I skied it [on Christmas] for the first time this year and the snow conditions are good. It’s going to be fast and it’s going to be really hard there’s not a lot of rest on it so it’ll be an exciting race."
As for the hill, both athletes expect that familiarity will breed good results.
"It’s my home hill," Johnson said. "I have more jumps here than anywhere else. I know it inside and out and I don’t have to worry about all that small stuff you sometimes worry about when you go to other hills."
"It’s a tough hill," Fletcher added. "It’s high elevation, so it makes for some tough jumping. But we all know it well, so there’s no disadvantage for anybody out here. That’s what makes it exciting and fun everyone knows it and everybody’s capable of coming out with the victory."
The Nordic combined competition will take place on Saturday, Dec. 28. The jumping portion will begin at 9:15 a.m. at the HS-100 hill, with the 10K cross-country race beginning at 2 p.m. On Sunday, Dec. 29, the men’s and women’s ski jumping events will take place, beginning at 11:10 a.m. Award presentations will follow immediately after the conclusion of the events.
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