USA Nordic team members give back to next generation in Park City
Young athletes nationwide receive coaching, guidance from nation’s best
On a sunny, hot Tuesday morning at the Utah Olympic Park, members of USA Nordic’s national teams gather together at the top of the K10, K20 and K40 ski jumping hills, the three smallest jumps of the six at the park.
It wasn’t to jump or train. They had long since progressed past the point of jumping off these hills. These three jumps are like an anthill compared to the towering K90 and K120 jumps used for the 2002 Winter Olympics that can be seen from miles away.
Instead, athletes like 2022 Olympians Jared Shumate and Stephen Schumann, who compete in Nordic combined, have new, temporary jobs. They’re watching kids take off and land, flagging jumps and offering pointers. Park City ski jumper and national team member Sam Macuga pulls out her phone and records an attempt to show one of her jumpers later.
It’s a beloved tradition at the Springer Tournee for national team athletes to sacrifice a day of training and preparing for their own competition later in the week to coach and mentor the next generation of Nordic athletes. After all, it wasn’t long ago that they were kids receiving some coaching from national team athletes.
“I remember looking up to the national team athletes when I was some of these kids’ ages,” Schumann said. “And getting to jump hills and get some of their insights and definitely a little bit nostalgic to come back and get reminded why we love this sport.”
“I hope all these kids look up to us national team athletes,” Shumate added. “When I was little, I used to watch all the national team athletes compete and jump. And (I) always looked up to them, and then to spend a day coaching with them and getting their perspective on ski jumping and Nordic combined was super fun. So, hopefully these kids have fun with us as their coaches.”
The Springer Tournee welcomes athletes across the country to Park City for a week of training and competition. For sports like ski jumping and Nordic combined, Shumate noted the sense of community is important and even more so with kids.
“Because we are such a small sport, it’s important to keep kids excited about the sport,” he said. “And I think having all us national team athletes come and coach them for a day is hopefully fun for them.”
Schumann and Shumate both recalled how they once had ski jumper Anders Johnson, who competed in the Winter Olympics thrice, as their coach at the Springer Tournee when they were growing up.
“Half the kids had never jumped the large hill, and we went up there and he sent us off the big hill, and it was awesome,” Schumann said. “He was not supposed to send us up to the big hill, and it was pretty sweet. So yeah, fun memories like that.”
The second part of the day is when the national team athletes lead the younger athletes through some exercises. The kids will go through some physical tests, and the national team athletes will keep track of their performance for historical data collecting.
“It’s really interesting to see,” said Blake Hughes, interim chief operating officer of USA Nordic. “You can make the correlation why this athlete who’s now 23 years old, what his testing data was when he was 13. And you can compare to athletes we have now and see where they’re trending, as far as what we’re looking for as we’re trying to get them to be the best athlete we can get them to be.”
This is the fourth year that Schumann and Shumate have coached and mentored youth athletes at the Springer Tournee. There’s only so much they can do to help in just one day, but it’s rewarding for both sides.
“I think they take everything we say, and they just absorb it,” Schumann said. “Kids are like little sponges, so they’ll take everything you say and try to make changes based on what the people they look up to say.”
Macuga had fellow Parkite and former world champion ski jumper Sarah Hendrickson as a coach when Macuga was younger, and the two were later teammates. She doesn’t remember these days because of what adjustments she was told to make, but what the experience was like.
“It was cool to get some, not one-on-one coaching, but just, like, coach-athlete role instead of being on the hill together and maybe getting a snippet of advice,” Macuga said. “It was fun having her attention. And now, I talk to her regularly.”
Macuga has also seen ski jumpers she previously coached start jumping with her.
“I remember mentoring them on this day, now they’re up on the 90 with me,” she said. “Some of them are junior national team. So, I see them around now.”
When Macuga is in the coaching role now, she just wants her group of ski jumpers to love the sport as much as she does. Sure, the adjustments she suggests will help, but most importantly, she wants them to have fun.
“My goal for the day is just have all the girls come out of it having a really fun time,” Macuga said. “Especially, during this week, it’s kind of a lot, and sometimes it can be really draining, especially with how hot it is. So, I just want to be like, ‘Hey, let’s have fun. Ski jumping is supposed to be fun, we’re going to enjoy this.’”
Donovan Toly was in Shumate’s group on Tuesday. Shumate told him to keep his butt lower, and Toly liked his time with his coach.
“I can jump with (and) get coached by an Olympian and get better,” he said.
In what’s traditionally been a male dominated sport, Coach Stoughton has been able to retain these riders due to the welcoming, fun-loving environment of the team. He touched upon the value of these riders, especially the women who he said “are actually going to carry the team, which has always been the case.”
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