It will have been since Dec. 20, over one long month, since the last Nordic Combined World Cup event. That lack of high-end competition can take its toll on athletes and on the national organizations and regional clubs constituting the sport’s backbone of support. The U.S. Nordic Combined team is no stranger to the vagaries of where their funds are coming from and when the next high-level competition will take place.
Unlike its cross-country cousin, nordic combined is not simply snow-dependent — it’s also dependent on calmer atmospheric conditions. In other words, if it’s too windy, or the winds are too swirly, too unpredictable, the jumping can be cancelled. The first scheduled World Cup in Kuusamo, Finland, Nov. 28-29 was canceled due to dicey wind conditions. The next weekend’s races, in Lillehammer, Norway, had a modified schedule on the first day of competition because of winds: judges canceled the jumping, using the provisional jumping results from the day before, to set the cross-country ski portion’s start order.
The Ramsau World Cup in Austria got off the ground Dec. 19-20, but the cancellation trend continued after holiday break. A lack of snow led organizers to cancel the Jan. 2-3 World Cup races in Klingenthal, Germany. The following weekend’s races Jan. 16-17 in Chaux-Neuve, France, were postponed a week also due to low snow. (Currently, those races are scheduled to be held this weekend, Jan. 23-24.)
So far this season, three out of five World Cup weekends have been canceled or postponed.
Lack of snow and periodic cancellations are something U.S. Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett must stomach. “It’s a real tough thing because it’s not anything we can control, mother nature which is difficult,” Jarrett said in a phone interview from Park City, Utah.
The U.S. team has taken what they can control and made the best of it. Back in December, the U.S. men entered several skiers in what amounted to a local series of Continental Cup races with jumping at Utah Olympic Park in Park City and skiing at Soldier Hollow in Midway. Their objective: earn enough points to advance more skiers to the World Cup stage.
Jarrett and the team met that goal. But it remains bittersweet.
“It also adds a little bit of a sting, we earned a wildcard in the first period, with the results at Soldier Hollow. Every race that we have had the ability to start five guys on the World Cup has been canceled so far, and we are not going to get those chances back. Even if they reschedule them later in the year, they’ll occur in a different period,” Jarrett said. “You now that was the the hard thing, because we really needed to get some new names on the points scoring list that we haven’t had before. We have two more chances though.”
If the World Cup schedule proceeds as planned, the U.S. can bring five skiers to both the Chaux-Neuve races and to the following week’s races in Seefeld, Austria.
— Taylor Fletcher (@TFletchernordic) January 20, 2016
But getting new names on the list is something Jarret mentioned several times. And with the current period ending after the Seefeld rounds, the pressure is mounting for results; the number of U.S. start positions depends on it.
“If Adam Loomis, for example, doesn’t get some World Cup points to maintain his spot, then his points will expire, and so we will lose his spot. Bill Demong [who retired this past spring] had points from last year that are set to expire at the end of this period, and we know that he is not going to earn those points back. So we know that that spot is going to expire,” Jarrett explained.
“So right now, we need to have more different names on that list: the Adam Loomis’, the Ben Berends, the Michael Wards. They need to step up because Bill [Demong] is not around anymore, and Todd [Lodwick] is not around anymore, and Johnny [Spillane] is not around anymore. Adam did it last year, but Adam has not gotten any points this year, so he needs to do that as well. There’s a realistic chance that after Seefeld, if nobody gets enough World Cup points, we will only have the ability to start two guys on World Cup for the next weekend at Oslo.”
The Oslo race on Feb. 2 begins the new period.
Training and Maintaining
After the first post-holiday competition was canceled, Bryan and Taylor Fletcher decided to remain stateside, basing themselves in Park City. Maintaining race fitness hasn’t been as difficult, as both are cross-country racing locally.
“But there’s definitely that mental edge, that competion edge that you have once the season starts and you are going weekend into weekend, it’s competition time,” remarked Jarrett. “And it’s hard to replace. The good thing is that it’s been the same for everyone. It’s not like somebody’s injured and they are trying to come back, and there’s been competitions going on. Their hasn’t been competition. We’ve been maintaining fitness as best we can. “
At least for the Fletchers, Park City remains a locale with an upside.
“We are at an advantage at altitude to be here and living here,” Jarrett said. “And we can assimilate sea level. So I feel pretty good about the way that they are, but it’s more that competition mindset.”
The remaining four U.S. Nordic Combined skiers, Adam Loomis, Ben Berend, Jasper Good, and Michael Ward, have remained in Europe to train.
Although race cancellations may impact quota spots, it also impacts the bottom line for his skiers.
“If we are not there, we are not paying to be there,” Jarrett said of expenditures. “We have had to pay some airline ticket changes, and things like that, but you know if we are not there we are not collecting travel money [from FIS], at the same time we are not spending money on accommodations and things like that.”
Beyond impacting institutional finances, race cancellations also impact small wallets. “It’s also they are losing the opportunity to make prize money, which also, when you look at the big picture, they have bills to pay and things like that. Certainly, having no event and no opportunity to earn money is another big big piece of the puzzle.”
With earning potentials compromised, the team must rework how it allocates funds. That puzzle problem is compounded by the team’s insecure quota spots.
“We project revenue based on quota spots, and collecting travel money based on those quota spots. So when there is cancellation you don’t collect that money and if they. If you have a stable quota then it doesn’t matter, they make it up in the next period, but our quota is going to start fluctuating,” Jarrett said.
So quota spots, funding and potential sponsorship dollars go hand in hand. Better results corresponds to better publicity, and hopefully in the long term, a more secure financial situation for athletes. This in turn comes back to the season’s races and subsequent cancellations. Jarrett says the lack of races, the lack of opportunities, ripple throughout the U.S Nordic Combined community.
“We have a bunch of young guys that need to get established on the World Cup list. We are going to lose some spots probably before we get more again. And so, we needed to have as many opportunities to get those extra spots for the next period, and the next period, and the next year. And so when they are cancelled, it has a ripple effect throughout the system. Because if you are starting four or five on World Cup, and then all of a sudden we can only start two, then that knocks two guys down to Continental Cup, and then that knocks two younger skiers out of Continental Cup.”
Now more than ever, in addition to quota spots, the nordic-combined community must think about money. “What we are faced with now is that all the athletes, all the staff, are full-time fundraisers, and tongue and cheek, part-time athletes. Everybody knows, athlete’s included, that if there’s no funds, it doesn’t matter how much you train, if you can’t get there, you can’t get there. So those guys, the athletes, I know the staff, wake up in the morning and they think about two things: how are we going to raise more money and what are we doing for training today?”
For the next two weekends Jarrett has his fingers crossed — quota spots and more are on the line.
Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.