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VISA Women's Ski Jumping Festival draws world's top athletes to Park City

VISA Women’s Ski Jumping Festival draws world’s top athletes to Park CityPARK CITY, Utah — Women ski jumpers are temporarily shelving their excitement about gaining International Ski Federation approval to be included in the 2009 World Championships in favor of the opening of the Continental Cup season Friday and Saturday night.

The VISA Women’s Ski Jumping Festival at Utah Olympic Park has drawn nearly 30 of the best women in the world, representing eight nations and including the top 11 from the 2006 points list. Doors open each day at 4:30 p.m. with live music at 5 p.m. and jumping set to begin at 6 p.m.; admission is free. The summertime competition will take place on the normal hill (HS100), which has plastic matting that when sprayed with water helps simulate snow conditions on the landing hill and out-run.

For the first time, five women jumpers have been nominated to the U.S. Ski Team, which will be announced later this summer. The five, all coming out of the National Sports Foundation program at UOP, are among the top 15 last season. The five jumpers are No. 2-ranked Lindsey Van, No. 3 Jessica Jerome, No. 9 Abby Hughes, No. 11 Alissa Johnson and No. 15 Brenna Ellis.

Norwegian jumpers, including top-ranked Annette Sagen and No. 4 Line Jahr, arrived Tuesday night, completing the field. Other nations competing include Canada, Japan, Germany, the Czech Republic and Italy.

“The top girls are here, which is the most important thing,” Van said.

The tour moves from UOP to Calgary for two jumping meets next week and then the U.S. women will head to Europe for a training camp and four more events in Germany and Austria.

For the U.S. athletes, there are a few more distractions, including a greater media glare because of the sport’s Olympic potential. Asked what his goals for the women this week were, coach Casey Colby laughed as he said, “To survive the media blitz.”

“This is the first international competition after they decided to add us to the World Championships,” said Van, the sport’s second-ranked jumper in recent seasons, not just ‘06. “I think everybody’s still focused on jumping as best as they can, but in the future it’s going to change a little bit because the field’s going to get a lot deeper and the competition will get even harder.”

Competing at home, she said, can be a two-sided sword. “It’s definitely nice to be home and have home-field advantage, although there’s a little bit more pressure at home because the home crowd, the media, everyone wants us to do well and win. But, there’s also the advantage because we’re home, you can go to your own house, sleep in your own bed, and you don’t have to rely on anyone else to do anything for you …

“You just have to block out the pressures.”

Jerome added, “Now, there’s definitely a little extra push for the U.S. girls. It doesn’t change the way we train or our mind-set showing up to train — we always do these things 100 percent.”

Still, Jerome said, there’s a little strangeness to the upcoming competitions. “Summer’s usually a time to train, so it’s going to be a little weird going into competition and then coming home from Europe and having a month and a half, two months of training … but it’s part of the game.”

Johnson said the joy of learning about World Championships approval, although just seven weeks ago, “seems like decades ago now. But I think that’s because every day is so full of training. We’ve been training six days a week since then. It’s been a lot of work. It’ll be good, although a little different because it’s midsummer and now we’re starting to compete.”

The FIS biennial Congress — responding to leadership from Norway, Canada and the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association — voted in late May to include women’s jumping in the 2009 championships in Liberec, Czech Republic, a vital step toward gaining International Olympic Committee approval for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Deedee Corradini, president of Women’s Ski Jumping USA, said the four-member WSJUSA delegation to the FIS congress in Vilamoura, Portugal, became known as “The Mighty Lobby” for its low-key but persistent discussions with FIS member nations as it built support for women’s jumping. It had met with USSA officials before heading to Europe to go over strategy and, she said, “USSA was wonderful and fully supportive in Portugal. We teamed up to make this happen. It was a good partnership.

“What’s really exciting for the athletes is they used to train [dryland exercises] in Park City High School’s gym; now they’re in a world-class facility with the ski team. That raises the bar. If they’ve gotten as far as they have, well, just imagine what they can do with U.S. Ski Team help. And now they’ve got a full-time coach, which they’ve never had, on top of the sports science benefits,” Corradini said.


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