Paige Jones, already youngest member of U.S. ski jumping team, has eyes on 2020 Youth Winter Games
When Paige Jones competes in the upcoming 2019-20 ski jumping World Cup season, not only will she be representing Team USA, she will be flying through the air as its youngest member.
“There a few of us on the team that are younger, but being the youngest of them all is pretty cool and really humbling,” Jones said. “I’ve worked extremely hard to get where I’m at today, but even still its really cool knowing this is where I am.”
At 17, Jones is in her second year representing the U.S. She first made the Junior National team following her second place finish at the Junior Nationals competition in early 2018. From there her rise to the national team was quick, having competed one full season as a member of the junior national team before being named to the national team.
“I qualified for the national team in December of 2018 following a competition but the thing is that I wasn’t named to the team until after the winter season,” Jones said. “I wasn’t too happy with my jumps that day, but ski jumpers are never are happy with how we perform.
“Anyways, my coach walked in and said you qualified for the national team, and that was pretty cool.”
Jones first got her start skiing downhill with her parents when she was three years old. She went to Utah Olympic Park at the age of 8 to take part in a half and half program that featured freestyle for half of the week and Nordic training for the other half.
Enjoying the Nordic portion more, and with a background in gymnastics, Jones returned the following year and solely focused on ski jumping. Yet to go off any jumps, Jones instead was going off bumps in the “in-run” position before gradually being introduced to the jumps.
“When I was at UOP, I really enjoyed the Nordic part because it was a lot more exciting and got to go a whole lot faster,” Jones said. “I just felt that I liked the ski jumping aspect so much more than others. Although I was in gymnastics at the time, the gymnastics coach was sort of pressuring me a little bit to go further in the sport but I wasn’t sure I was ready. … So I left and decided to focus solely on ski jumping.”
Jones saw early success as part of what was then called Park City Nordic Sports, traveling to Salisbury, Connecticut to compete in her first junior nationals competition in 2016 and then to Anchorage, Alaska in 2017 for her second junior nationals, with neither of them going well according to her.
Things changed for Jones in early 2018 when she went on the Five Hills Tournament, a series of ski-jumping competitions in the Midwest that take place over a two-week period.
She competed in two of the events, with neither giving her the results she was searching for, but it all changed when she won the third event, her first U.S. cup victory. Jones then followed that up with a second place at the Junior Nationals that year, earning her a spot on the U.S. Junior National team.
“This first two events really didn’t go well and I was struggling but then, I don’t know why or how it happened, something just clicked and everything changed for me,” Jones said.
As a member of the junior national team, Jones really found her footing and was opened up to whole other world of international competition. Traveling internationally for the first time, she took 8th place at a FIS Cup competition on Romania and 13th at her first Continental Cup in Norway, paving the way for her jump to the national team.
Athletically, Jones’ immediate goal coming up is qualifying for the 2020 Youth Winter Games in Lausanne, Switzerland. Tryouts are at the end of November in Steamboat Springs, where Team USA will take two competitors in ski jumping.
“I’m not nervous for it, more confident than anything,” Jones said of qualifying. “There’s definitely that chance that I won’t make it but I can’t think that way because I want to be confident going into it. … I’ll compete at my bets if I’m confident going into it.”
She then has her sights on the 2022 winter Olympics, a goal she believes to be attainable based on her quick progression thus far and how much practice she puts into the sport.
But unlike most young athletes, Jones isn’t thinking about ski jumping beyond that. She has her focus set on school, in particular going to college to become an orthopedic surgeon. Currently a senior at Park City High School, Jones has a 4.07 GPA and is in the process of applying to colleges, knowing she’s more focused on a life after ski jumping.
“I know I can’t ski jump for the rest of my life so I want to get that good education early on,” Jones said. “I’ve always been really interested in medical stuff. Being a ski jumper, you see a lot of blown out knees and stuff so being able to work with those kinds of athletes would be really cool.”
I originally wanted to go into biomedical engineering, but I want to actually do stuff with people instead of deciding things behind the scenes so I thought that would be a good career.
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Park City lost 7-0, but coach Tom Merchant says his team played better than the score indicates.