Sunday, December 29, 2013

U.S. Olympic Trials - Nordic Combined

One of the cool things about living here in Park City is that you get to see some pretty serious athletic competitions and they are often free.  This weekend it was the US Olympic trials for the men's Nordic Combined and then the men's and women's ski jumping.

The Nordic Combined is a mix of ski jumping and cross country skiing.  You jump first.  Your score on the jump (distance and style) sets your departure time for the 10k cross country ski race.  Because we were going to watch the ski jumping the next day, we only went for the cross country portion.

The leader from the jumping got to leave first, and they take off and fly.  We couldn't figure out how they can accelerate that quickly with those tiny sticks for skis.
 The other 9 skiers left at times set by their jump scores.  Sometimes there was a 20 or 30 second break between competitors.  Other times several went off at once.
Compared to the 2002 Olympic ski course over at Soldier Hollow in Heber, this course was pretty flat.  There was one long downhill that went right into a tight curve.  I was certain that one of them would have to wreck there, but I guess that was why they were competing for Olympic spots. They all cruised through.
The uphill sections were fun to watch.  You could tell they were working a lot harder, but they certainly didn't seem to slow down a bit.
There is apparently some advantage to drafting, just like in cycling.  Most of the passing seemed to happen on the uphill sections.
The bibs were assigned by your start order, so it was easy to tell when one person had passed another: the numbers were suddenly wrong.  Todd Lodwick started first and never gave up much distance, finishing 17 seconds ahead of second.  This will be the 6th winter Olympics for him in this event.  Other 6 time U.S. Olympians are in less athletically demanding sports, like rifle, equestrian or fencing. Pretty impressive!
The one competitor that really made up ground started in 8th, but finished in 4th.  He looked like he might catch third, but then he lost a little speed at the end.
These guys were impressive to watch.  At the same time they made it look so easy and graceful, you could tell that they were going full out for over 25 minutes. The course was 4 laps around a 2.5 kilometer course.  I think they would have lapped me three times.
The winner was the only one who earned a guaranteed spot on the Olympic team.  The rest of the five person team will be named in a few weeks.  Those members will be determined by the numerous competitions held this winter.  The common assumption is that the next three finishers, the Fletcher brothers and Park City local Billy Demong will all be on the team.  Billy won gold in this event at the last Olympics.

Tomorrow I'll cover the ski jumping.  So cool to live in Park City!
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