Ben Loomis has been cross-country skiing since the age of 2 and ski jumping since 4, when he first followed his big brother off the jump near their home in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Now 17, Loomis is making a name for himself in the world of Nordic combined and will compete next month in the Winter Youth Olympic Games, alongside more than 1,100 other top athletes ages 15 to 18, in Lillehammer, Norway.
“I’m very excited to be going; it’s going to be so different,” Loomis said. “I know that the world junior championship is a really big deal, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be pretty great to interact with other athletes from different sports and different countries.”
The Loomis name is already a familiar one in Nordic combined.
Brother Adam Loomis, 23, has been competing at the world cup level since 2013 and last February competed in the world championships for the first time. It was he who first developed an interest in Nordic combined after watching the event on television during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. Both brothers were already cross-country skiing thanks to their father’s participation in the sport, but seeing that sport coupled with ski jumping inspired Adam.
As he continued to progress in Nordic combined and travel to competitions throughout the Midwest, Ben followed.
“I started at 10 and he was barely learning to ski, but he was always kind of around those first few years,” Adam Loomis said on the phone from Slovenia, where he is training. “Then when he got a little older he started showing some serious talent on the jump hill from a pretty young age, actually.”
Jumping was always a thrill for Ben, he said, but he continued to love cross-country. When he was around 10 or 12 years old he went on a training trip with other ski jumpers, and being away from cross-country for a couple weeks made him realize how much he wanted to do both.
“Jumping is just really fun to me,” said the four-time U.S. national junior jumping champion. “The thrill of it is just exciting, and then I really like to cross-country ski. The competitiveness of racing keeps you in good shape.”
Loomis realized that he was good enough at Nordic combined to pursue it seriously when he qualified for the 2014 world junior championships, for athletes under 20 years of age, at just 15. Although he could have gone in Nordic combined, he said, he would have been an alternate and probably wouldn’t have gotten to compete, so he went as a ski jumper.
“I believe I was the second-youngest (competitor),” he said. “Then last year I went back for Nordic combined, and I was still one of the younger guys.”
After the 2014 trip to the world junior championships he decided to move to Park City, Utah, where he would live with his brother and pursue his training more seriously.
This past December, Loomis had a breakthrough at the FIS Nordic Combined Continental Cup in Utah. He finished 16th on Friday, fourth on Saturday and 21st on Sunday. It was the top-five finish that cemented his spot on the team heading to the Winter Youth Olympic Games.
“The first day I really surprised myself by how well I was jumping,” he said. “I was never really top 30 after jumping, so I was really happy with my first day. The next day with my confidence from that, I jumped to third place, so I was really satisfied and was able to have probably the best race of my life after that. It was my first time scoring Continental Cup points, which is finishing in the top 30 all three days. It was pretty amazing.”
Living with his brother, Loomis said, and seeing his experiences traveling the world has taught him just how far the sport can take him. His brother is also one of his biggest supporters, Loomis said.
“He’s like another coach to me, giving me strategy and advice and talking about technique,” Loomis said. “He’s really helped me.”
Adam Loomis said that Ben has always been ahead of where he was at the same age in jumping, and in the last year his cross-country skiing has improved dramatically.
“To be almost on the podium in the Continental Cup at 17, that’s definitely impressive results for that age because usually the guys up there are anywhere from 19 to their mid-20s,” he said.
Adam dreams of a day when the Loomis brothers might share the same podium such as Bryan and Taylor Fletcher have in Nordic combined. Being on the same Olympic team would be even better.
Ben Loomis hopes that Olympic dream will be a reality in 2022.
“I think you can’t rule out 2018, but 2022 is definitely more realistic,” he said.