The 2012 Nordic Combined Continental Cup season kicked off in Utah over the last two weeks. Kerry Lynch, a coach with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club submitted this report.
The opening Nordic Combined Continental Cups are in the books for the 2011 – 2012 Season. After much training and anticipation of getting ready for the events, it was game time.
Day 1 – The competitions opened on Friday Dec 6th under clear sunny skis and calm winds. The ski jumping competitions were at the Utah Olympic Park on the Hill Size 100 meter ski jump. The clear winner was Marjan Jelenko from Slovenia soaring an amazing 99.5 meters. Marjan is a very good jumper, but is improving his cross country. He usually can jump near the top in world cup competitions but falls back in the cross country (he won a gold medal in the World Juniors last year though so he is no slouch). The next longest jump was 94.5 meters which converts to a start time gap of 34 seconds. The US athletes didn’t jump as well as we hoped, so they were looking for a big day on the cross country.
The cross country races were held at Soldier Hollow, 20 miles away. There was no natural snow, so the cross country course consisted of 100% man made snow. The ski tech crew managed to find great wax. The course was a bit short, 2.14 km times 4 laps = 8.56 km. A shorter cross country course favors the weaker skiers as there is less real estate to make up ground. Officials decided to let the course distance stand for Friday with a plan to correct the distance for the next 10 km race on Sunday.
Taylor Fletcher was our top finisher in 2nd place, finishing just 10 seconds behind Jelenko who held on for the win. Taylor had the 2nd fastest race time. If the race length had been a legit 10km, no question Taylor would have been the victor and Jelenko would have had a hard time staying in the top 5. The other US guys did well with Nick Hendrickson in 7th, 24 seconds back, Brett Denny 10th, 37 seconds back, Adam Loomis in 13th, 1:01 back (a personal record) and 19th Erik Lynch (also a PR), 1:24 back. Michael Ward would have been 19th but unfortunately he was disqualified when he had to take a route to the finish that was slightly off course to avoid a collision with another athlete. Cliff Field, still recovering from a severely sprained ankle, placed 44th and Tyler Smith had a crash in the 2nd lap and finished 49th.
Day 2 was a very exciting 2-man relay team event. The ski jumping competition was again on the HS 100. USA team 1 was Taylor Fletcher & Nick Hendrickson, USA Team 2 was Brett Denny & Adam Loomis, and USA Team 3 was Michael Ward & Erik Lynch. The Slovenia’s put down the two longest jumps of 93 & 96 meters to take the lead. Austria Team 2 was 2nd with jumps of 89 & 93 starting 34 seconds back. 3rd was Germany Team 2 with jumps of 91 & 91.5, 35 seconds back. USA Team 3 (Michael & Erik), placed 6th, 59 seconds back, USA Team 1 (Taylor & Nick) placed 14th, 1:27 back and Team USA 3 (Brett & Adam) placed 16th, 1:34 back. Many teams were packed close together which made for an exciting race.
The cross country course was a 1.8km loop with each athlete skiing 4 laps and tagging off to their teammate after each loop. In the first two laps, team USA 1 made up the 1:27 gap and took the lead. Wax techs are allowed to make adjustments to race skis after each lap. Hind sight is always 20/20 and we decided to leave the skis as is while a few other teams decided to use some spray on enhancers to try to improve speeds. That worked for them. The USA stayed with the leaders on lap 3 but on the final lap, Germany Team 1 was able to pull away and come away with the win, France 1 was 2nd, 10 seconds back, Team USA 1 (Fletcher & Hendrickson) nailed down the bronze 24 back, 4th Germany 2, 47 seconds back, 5th was Austria 2, 1:04 back and 6th was Team USA 3, (Lynch & Ward) 1:06 back, 7th was Team USA II, (Loomis & Denny) 1:08 back. It was another fantastic day for Team USA.
Day 3, the third competition in 3 days, was a day for the tough to show up as there is no doubt everyone was fighting fatigue. Once again Jelenko put down the longest jump of 97.5. He is a phenom on the jump hill. The next longest jump was 94.5. Erik Lynch lead the USA placing 17th with a jump of 89.5 meters with many jumpers close behind. Taylor jumped 85.5 meters good for a 3 way tie for 28th with teammate Nick Hendrickson & Sepp Schneider of Austria, to start 1:50 back. Those three are fast so they were expected to move up. Adam Loomis placed 38th & started 2:00 minutes back, Cliff Field was 39th, 2:02 back, Michael Ward, 43rd, 2:08 back, and Aleck Gantick 45th, 2:32 back.
The cross country course was 2km, times 5 laps. This time, Jelenko would be hard pressed to hold the lead. The US wax crew nailed the wax and the US guys had great skis. Taylor Fletcher had a fantastic day starting in 28th place after jumping 1:50 back, made up all of the time gap and took the lead on the 4th lap, then pulled away from the field to win by 17 seconds over Mark Schlott of Germany. Taylor had the fastest time of the day! 3rd was another German, Michael Duenkel, 22 seconds back and 4th place was Geoffrey Lafarge of France, 28 seconds back. Jelenko held on for 5th, 42 seconds back, 6th was Brandner of Austria 51 seconds back and in 7th, another personal record was Erik Lynch, 58 seconds back, just barely getting a toe nail in front of teammate Nick Hendrickson (8th) in a photo finish. Michael Ward was 14th, 1:13 back, a PR for him as well. Adam Loomis finished 17th, 1:24 back and Brett Denny 18th, 1:28. Five Americans in the top 18 was a huge day! Cliff Field finished 41st and Aleck Gantick was 43rd.
At the conclusion of Sunday’s events, we received word that the Lake Placid COC’s were cancelled due to lack of snow. After much consternation and discussion, it was decided to stay in Park City and have two more competitions on Tues & Weds with just one day break. So with the athletes barely able to catch their breath, it was onto the next set of competitions.
Day 4 began with a weather change and 2 inches of new snow which continued through the ski jumping competition. It was hard to keep the in-run track clear and the speeds were slower. The diminished velocity curbed the jump distances. No athlete could dethrone Jelenko and he was the victory on the jump hill once again, but this time he went 92.5 meters. Taylor Fletcher was the top American after jumping placing 23rd at 81.5 meters, with a start time of 1:32. Adam Loomis placed 26th, starting 1:38 back, Erik Lynch placed 32nd, 1:56 back, Tyler Smith placed 34th, 2:02 back, Michael Ward placed 38th, 2:10 back, Cliff Field 39th, 2:12 back, and Brett Denny placed 43rd, 2:28 back.
The cross country started at 3:15 with temperatures dropping and snow conditions changing. Taylor Fletcher moved all the way to the front and took the lead with 1K to go. He battled to the finish and placed 2nd under 1 second behind Mark Schlott of Germany. Geoffery Lafarge of France was 3rd, 39 seconds back. Adam Loomis had the 4th fastest time and finished 6th, 50 seconds back, Nick Hendrickson 8th, 1:04 back, Brett Denny 13th, 1:29 back, Michael Ward, 19th, 1:53 back, Erik Lynch, 22nd, 2:05 back, Tyler Smith 45th, 4:43 back and Cliff Field 46th 4:44 back.
Day 5 began with the athletes trying to summon the energy to finish the final competition. The sun returned, the skies were calm and temperatures were in the low 20’s. Jelenko was at it again and made it a clean sweep on the jump hill knocking down the longest jump of 96 meters for the win. Adam Loomis had a great jump of 91 meters to place 8th to lead the Americans and started just 48 seconds back. Nick Hendrickson placed 25th, 1:46 back, Tyler Smith, 29th, 1:56 back, Brett Denny 31, 2:02 back, Erik Lynch 23nd, 2:04 back, Taylor Fletcher 36th 2:20 back, Michael Ward, 2:42 back, and Aleck Gantick 42nd, 2:48 back. With the final jump comp over, athletes headed to Soldier Hollow for the final cross country race, and a lot of work to do.
US Nordic Combined coaches reminded the US boys to “leave it all out on the course as there was no reason to save anything for the van ride home”. The race started with tired legs and bodies going hard. In the third lap, Adam Loomis was able to take the lead that lasted into lap 4. It was a valiant effort and worth trying, but Mark Schlott of Germany was able to get the lead coming from 15th & 1:12 down to ski away with the win, his second win in consecutive days. His teammate Michael Duenkel was 2nd, 2 seconds back, 3rd went to Geoffery Lafarge of France, 4 seconds back. Adam Loomis held on for 5th, 30 seconds back, Taylor Fletcher placed 7th, once again with the fastest race time, and finished 39 seconds back, Brett Denny was 8th, 40 seconds back, Nick Hendrickson was 10th, 47 seconds back, Erik Lynch 23rd, 1:55 back, Michael Ward, 32nd 2:33 back, Tyler Smith, 38th, 3:18 back, and Aleck Gantick 46th, 6:02 back.
It was an epic week in many ways. It was the first time in the history of international racing that there were 5 competitions in 6 days. It was a reminder of why the athletes train so hard, so they are prepared for the unexpected.
We would like to extend a special thanks to the staff of the cross country venue at Soldier Hollow and to the Utah Olympic Park for hosting the events which are critical to the continued development of our US athletes. Thanks to everyone for your support and interest in Nordic Combined. (For full results, go to the FIS website http://www.fis-ski.com .)