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USA Nordic ready to fly ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics

USA Nordic junior national team members, from left, Beckett Ledger, Niklas Malacinski, Evan Nichols and national team member Jared Shumate pose for a phot in their Team USA gear prior to a training session earlier this year.
Romina Eggert/USA Nordic

With the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing just over two years away, qualifier preparation has already begun for USA Nordic.

This upcoming winter season is expected to serve as a launching pad for next year’s Olympic qualifying, which, according to USA Nordic women’s national team director Blake Hughes, is an 18-month process.

“Olympic qualifying begins in June of 2020, so it makes the goals of this winter season very clear,” Hughes said. “This season will provide a lot of opportunities for the younger athletes to try out a full season and see how it goes, while the older athletes are prepping their minds and bodies for the qualifying run.”

This season is a rarity in the Nordic world of skiing, as there are no Olympics or World Championships, just the typical World Cup circuit with the addition of the Youth Olympics and Junior World Championships. Because of this, a major focus of this new season is going to go to the development of the youth athletes.

“This is huge development year for us, because we put a lot of effort into the whole team in trying to get them to the top level and have that experience,” Hughes said. “We do this so when the stakes are raised next year for the younger athletes, there’s no shock or pressure when they get to those moments. This season is about getting to the point to where they’re ready to compete on the world’s biggest stage.”

Where Hughes and his coaches feel comfortable is that the development pipeline they created a few seasons ago is finally paying off, saying, “I’m excited to finally unleash these 18 and 19-year olds on the World Cup circuit and see what they can do.”

While there is plenty of experience at the top level, most notably athletes like Parkite Sarah Hendrickson, Nita Englund, Nina Lussi and Tara Geraghty-Moats, to help carry on the torch for the upcoming season, this season is still expected to be a big one in terms logistics and the overall development of women’s ski jumping.

There is a full schedule this season on the world cup circuit, with more large hill events than ever before. The prize money is also growing significantly, giving some purpose to the top competitions around the world despite it being another year to keep working.

As for the younger girls, Hughes is excited about ski-jumping national team members Paige Jones, Anna Hoffman, Annika Belshaw and Samantha Macuga, as well as junior national team member Cara Larson.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing the younger athletes get that valuable experience at World Cup level,” Hughes said. “A lot of the girls are still juniors, and with the Junior World Championships in March, I’m excited to see what we can do once there.”

While Hughes has the women’s team focusing on the future, USA Nordic’s men’s national team director Bine Norcic is doing something similar for the men’s team.

“We are one of the youngest teams on the World Cup circuit so improving each competition is going to be big for us.” Norcic said. “We are talented individually but I really want to see us start to progress as a team and get the results we want. But it’s all about working up towards our potential for when (Olympic) qualifying come around.”

The men’s team already kicked off its 2019-20 season with a competition at the Viessmann FIS Ski Jumping World Cup in Wisla, Poland. Kevin Bickner finished 56th while newcomer Decker Dean overcame a crash landing to finish 67th.

“We think Decker is going to be just fine, just waiting on his MRI results over the next few days,” Norcic said. “He’s a little banged up, but we hope he’s going to be okay and if so, he can proceed with physical therapy and hopefully get back out there competing.”

For Norcic, he’s looking for his group of boys to continue to develop their skills on the World Cup circuit in time to qualify as a team for the Sky Flying World Championships at the end of March. The Sky Flying World Championships, which is not to be mistaken as the bi-annual world championships, serves as the concluding event of the season.

“It’s an important goal of ours to compete there as a team, which is not going to be easy to qualify for,” Norcic said. “We are really young, so we need World Cup points because it’s important that those athletes get those throughout the season. We want to have a team at the end of the year where we represent the USA with a good showing.”

Despite having such a young team, Bickner is the veteran of the group at age 23, Norcic sees it as a blessing to have such a young team that is also raw on talent.

He believes that having this young team, they’re not only eager to prove themselves on the world’s biggest stage, they’re more receptive to listening and learning. It’s easier to push the youngsters to the limit to where they can see their full potential, which in return will make them want to reach that goal faster.

“It’s always good to have a young team to be able to streamline into the bright future,” Norcic said. “But it’s important on us to educate and maintain this young team and bring them up to be competitive in the Olympic games. It’s important to have them gain their confidence so they stay hungry in a competitive way.”


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