Jumpers, Nordic skiers compete for titles

— The national spotlight will fall on Steamboat Springs next week when the top American jumpers and Nordic combined skiers come here to battle for titles.

"This should be a great competition," local jumping coach Gary Crawford said. "The intensity should be higher than in the past because these guys are still competing on the World Cup."

In fact, most of the top athletes will head to the Nordic World Championships, which will be held Feb. 20-March 3 in Val di Fiemme, Italy, following their week in Steamboat.

But before guys like defending normal- and large-hill champion Alan Alborn head to Europe, they will compete for top honors in their own country -- and the prize money that goes with the honor.

Crawford expects the special jumping titles to come down to a race between Alborn and Steamboat Springs resident Clint Jones. Those two jumpers have led the Americans on the World Cup tour this winter.

However, Nordic combined athletes like Johnny Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Carl Van Loan would love to add the special jumping title to their resume during the events.

The only thing that is certain about next week is that the Americans will crown a new Nordic combined National Champion since back-to-back winner Bill Demong (2001-2002) has been sidelined for the season.

Crawford said that Spillane looks like the early favorite this year, but a veteran skier like Lodwick can never be ignored.

"This will be one of the biggest competitions of the season at Howelsen," Crawford said.

It will also be one of the few times that the members of the U.S. Ski Team, at least those on the World Cup's A Tour, will visit Steamboat this year.

In the past, the U.S. Championships have been held in the spring. But a small break in the World Cup schedule offered the U.S. Ski Team a chance to move the events up, something Crawford and other coaches at the club think will make the events more competitive.

Teams will arrive on Monday and training will begin on Tuesday.

The first event will take place Wednesday with the K-114. The trial round will begin at 9 a.m.

The results will also be used to determine the start list for the Nordic Combined race, which will take place at 3 p.m. Thursday.

The event will wrap up Friday when the athletes will move to the K-90 hill for a two-jump competition to determine the normal hill champion.

The competitions will determine both the men's and women's champions.

Camerota leads U.S. Junior Olympians

Utah jumper Brett Camerota led the U.S. team at the Junior World Championships Wednesday in Solleftea, Sweden.

Camerota placed 21st in the race after crossing the finish line 3 minutes, and 50 seconds behind the event's winner, Bjoern Kircheisen of Germany.

France's Sebastien LaCroix was second, 13.3 seconds off the pace and Norway's Pelter Tande was third.

"I'm sure they were disappointed," coach Gary Crawford said of the Americans' finish. "They earned a medal last year, so I'm sure they had high expectations."

Steamboat skier Nathan Gerhart had a disappointing jump showing (44th), but turned in the 10th fastest cross country time to move up to 25th overall.

Crawford said it was an impressive cross country showing for the local, but it had to be a letdown after his third-place finish in last year's team event. He won the medal with another Steamboat athlete, Alex Glueck, in that two-man event.

This year's team event is slated to take place today. Crawford expects Gerhart and Camerota to be teamed together.

Other top American finishes in Wednesday's event included Morgan Goodwin in 32nd, and Eric Camerota in 41st.

Steamboat's Bryan Fletcher is the fifth man on the World Championships roster, and was an alternate in Wednesday's event. Crawford said there is a good chance that he will compete in the team event today.

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