The State of the Sport: Nordic skiing
● By Alesha Damerville
Image courtesy of U.S. Nordic/Ben Pieper
By Ben Berend
The towering ski jumps of Howelsen Hill have been home to Olympic ski jumpers for more than a century. That legacy is thriving as young Steamboat Springs athletes continue to soar in their sport around the globe.
When the U.S. Ski Team announced its decision to stop funding the Nordic combined team in 2014, athletes and coaches were left reeling. But not for long. They soon teamed up with the ski jumping team, which had faced a similar edict previously. The two sports have now come together under USA Nordic Sports, allowing for an exciting culture to build.
This Nordic Combined team is young and hungry. In the last two seasons, many of the athletes competed in their first Olympic Games or World Championships. The upcoming season will be a vital stepping stone for athletes who aim to catapult themselves from outsiders to medal contenders at the Olympic Games in just two years’ time.
Steamboat Springs has always been a valuable pipeline, producing 14 of the 38 athletes on national teams, including Steamboat’s Jasper Good, Annika Malacinski, Decker Dean and Annika Belshaw.
Good competed in his first Olympics in 2018 at age 21. Last season was busy for him, as he scored his first World Cup points and competed in his first World Championships.
Good has had an unusual off-season. In April, he entered the U.S. Army. He graduated from basic training in July, then moving into advanced individual training through August. He is a member of the Army World Class Athlete Program, allowing him to compete and chase his aspirations in sport, which include becoming a consistent threat on the World Cup circuit.
Malacinski started the sport of Nordic combined only two years ago at the age of 16. Her background in Alpine skiing and gymnastics, as well as her focused demeanor, have allowed her to pick up the sport at a rapid pace. She became the U.S. champion this year, a huge accolade for an athlete so new to the sport. She now has her sights set on becoming a standout athlete, as the sport of women’s Nordic combined skiing heads toward its first World Championships and World Cup season in 2020-21.
Dean’s talent became evident at a very young age, jumping from childhood in Steamboat. He has now made the transition, moving to Park City to train with the national team. Over the summer, he made it to the podium at the U.S. Championships and finished in sixth place at an FIS Cup in Slovenia, which boasted 104 competitors. This season, Dean looks to fight for a top spot at the Junior World Championships in Oberwiesenthal, Germany.
Belshaw continues to prove that she will be a name to follow for years to come. Last season, she jumped into the top five in back-to-back days at an FIS Cup in Park City, Utah. Over the summer, she made the podium at the U.S. Championships, an impressive feat for a 17-year-old. Considering her age and talent level, Belshaw could be a major contender at this year’s Junior World Championships and will certainly be a force on the FIS Cup and Continental Cup level.
It’s no secret that Steamboat is Ski Town USA ® – nearly 40% of the USA Nordic Sports national team hails from Steamboat. Last season, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club had over 100 kids under the age of 10 competing in ski jumping and Nordic combined. This growth aligns with what is being seen at clubs across the country, showing that continued focus on development is paying off.
That youthful vibrancy will be on display in March 2020, when the Junior National Championships come to town. What a great way to wrap up the season, right here at Howelsen Hill.
Ben Berend is a member of the U.S. Nordic Combined Team and a 2018 Pyeongchang Olympian, as well as marketing manager with USA Nordic Sport.
Steamboat's U.S. Nordic Team