The Junior National Qualifier for Nordic combined and ski jumping return to Park City this weekend
The U.S. junior national championships in Nordic combined skiing and ski jumping are less than two months away. But before the athletes can think about the championships, which will be held from March 17-21 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, they must still conquer the junior national qualifiers on Friday and Saturday at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City.
“This is where we collectively watch the athletes in the event that they will qualify for the junior championships, or even the junior national team,” said Alan Alborn, high performance director for USA Nordic. “It’s always exciting to see the young talent come out and compete at a place like Utah Olympic Park. … We begin to find out who’s ready to step up to the next level, and the athletes who do well are usually the ones we see competing for us later on.”
This is the second and final junior national qualifier of the season after the first event in Steamboat took place on Jan. 11. The qualifiers are split into two events with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club hosting the first event and Park City Ski and Snowboard serving as host this weekend.
The upcoming event in Park City will take on the 68-meter hill, the smaller of the hills on the Olympic jump side.
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Some local athletes to watch this weekend are Macey Olden and Rachel Haerter of Park City Ski and Snowboard, who both finished in the top of the senior division at the first qualifier.
Haerter, who is already a member of the U.S. Junior National ski jumping team, finished in fifth place at the event by picking up 121.0 points. Olden, who is looking to join Haerter on the team, finished in fourth with 164 points, just 3.5 points out of third place.
Tess Arnone finished in first place at the event in Steamboat Springs, with Annika Malacinski and Alexa Brabec taking home second and third, respectively.
All three members are already representing the United States at the national level; Arnone and Malacinski are on the U.S. Women’s national team for ski jumping, while Brabec is on the junior national team for Nordic combined.
On the senior men’s side, PCSS has two athletes who are in the running for top spots in Zack Selzman and Sam Arquit, who finished eighth and ninth respectively.
“FIS recognizes juniors as anyone who is 20 years old or younger so regardless of whether they’re on a national team or not, the athletes are free to compete at events like this, which we encourage,” Alborn said. “These are some of the best junior athletes that we have competing at this event, so the level of competition is really high. It’s great to have the athletes already on the national teams competing because it gives us a sense of who’s ready to make that jump up or not.”
For Olden, Haerter and Selzman, their futures look extremely bright due to their age.
In the U16 women’s division finish in Steamboat, Haerter and Olden finished in second and third respectively behind Brabec. Haerter finished with 190.0 points while Olden was just behind her 189.9 points.
Likewise, Selzman took second place in the U16 male division by finishing with 208.9 points, behind winner and U.S. Junior National team member Erik Belshaw.
According to Alborn, the qualifiers are just a small part of who youth athletes climb the ranks to hopefully become members of the U.S. national teams. Athletes begin by competing in the qualifiers and in the US Cup, a series of events located in the Midwest where they can level up and qualify for junior championships, if they don’t compete at the junior national qualifiers.
“If the athletes have leveled up to the junior national team, they’ve pretty much already qualified for the junior world championships,” Alborn said. “But for those who haven’t qualified for the world championships yet, the athletes must go through all the other competitions. … And that’s what makes this competition so important if athletes want to move forward.”
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.