Few winter sports mix agility and endurance like Nordic combined, which merges ski jumping with cross-country skiing in a contest whose roots extend back to the 19th century.
Both of the attributes needed to excel in the sport will be on full display at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Nordic Combined & Ski Jumping Dec. 30-31 at the Utah Olympic Park in Park City, Utah.
Only men compete in Olympic Nordic combined, while the top male and female ski jumpers will be making their case for inclusion on the team headed to PyeongChang this winter. The Nordic combined competition is Saturday, followed by ski jumping on Sunday.
Here are six things to know heading into the trials:
Three 2018 Olympic Team Members Will Be Named This Weekend
Up to four men and four women will make up Team USA’s Olympic ski jumping delegation, and four Americans can qualify for the 2018 Olympics in Nordic combined. But only the best overall competitors in each discipline from the trials are guaranteed plane tickets to PyeongChang. Who else suits up for Team USA in South Korea primarily depends on their results at the trials as well as world cup competitions extending into the new year. Full teams will be announced Jan. 22.
Sibling Rivalry Takes Center Stage In Nordic Combined
In the thick of things are brothers and Olympic veterans Bryan and Taylor Fletcher. Bryan knows what it’s like to have it rough: The 2014 Olympian was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was about 3 and didn’t go into remission until seven years later. A healthy adult — he is also dad to daughter Ellery, 16 months — he strengthened his case for inclusion by ranking seventh at the FIS World Cup in Ramsau, Austria, earlier this month, his best individual finish in almost two years. Taylor, the younger of the two, holds his own as one of the sport’s fastest cross-country skiers, which helped him earn berths to the 2010 and 2014 Games.
Next Generation Aiming To Take Hold In Nordic Combined
The leader of the rising generation for Nordic combined is Ben Loomis, the six-time junior national champion who took home a silver medal at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer in 2016. Then there’s Ben Berend, the bronze medalist from the 2016 U.S. championships, who like the Fletcher brothers hails from Steamboat Springs, Colorado. A win in Utah would be huge for either. Not to be counted out is Loomis’ older brother Adam, a member of the 2017 world championships team.
American “Fly Girls” Are Shooting For The Stars
The field is deep in women’s ski jumping, where an impressive group of “fly girls” are in contention for two or three U.S. spots in PyeongChang. Women’s ski jumping made its Olympic debut four years ago in Sochi, where Sarah Hendrickson, Jessica Jerome and Lindsey Van competed for Team USA. The competition is expected to be tight among four talented Olympic hopefuls in standout Nita Englund, former U.S. champions Tara Geraghty-Moats and Nina Lussi and Park City promise Abby Ringquist. Lussi made her case with the best American result at the world cup in Hinterzarten, Germany, just before Christmas, followed by Englund. Of the four, only Ringquist has home court advantage in Utah, however.
An Olympic Legacy Is Taking Flight
Among the men’s ski jumpers looking to sport the U.S. colors in PyeongChang, Will Rhoads has proven himself king of the hill on which the Olympic trials will be held. It was in Park City that Rhoads, a 2012 Youth Olympian, won three national titles during the past three seasons. The 22-year-old has a unique Olympic heritage: He landed in Park City as a child when his father took a job with the 2002 Olympic organizing committee. He also recorded the best American result at the world cup in 14 years two weeks ago in Engelberg, Switzerland. Kevin Bickner soared to a U.S. distance record hold this past March in Vikersund, Norway, and up-and-comers Michael Glasder and Casey Larson, who finished sixth at the 2016 Youth Olympics in Norway, are among the others also aiming to be included.
Can Sarah Hendrickson Get Her Groove Back?
Hampered by two ACL tears in less than four years, the 2013 world champion has struggled heading into the Olympic trials in her hometown. Cleanup surgery has stabilized her knee, though she’s the first to admit it’s not what it once was. “Although my knee is not and never will be pain-free, the confidence and strength I have built physically and mentally is something I am really proud of,” the 23-year-old wrote in a TeamUSA.org blog post in October. A good showing in Utah would bolster her chances of making her second Olympic team.