Landon Lee competes at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 on Jan. 19, 2020 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Four American athletes teamed up today at the Youth Olympic Games, with Nordic combined athletes Alexa Brabec and Niklas Malacinski joining forces with ski jumpers Paige Jones and Landon Lee for the mixed team event. While this specific event – where all four athletes jump twice and combine the points for a total score for Team USA – is relatively unique to the Youth Olympic Games, this was far from the first time the athletes had jumped together.
“It’s an incredible community. It’s a family, they say. It’s incredible and really tight-knit. Everybody knows everybody, and everybody includes everybody,” said Lee.
While it’s a small community, the sport of ski jumping is actually spread across the nation, as ski jumping hills are in 13 states across the U.S. The U.S. has the fourth-largest participation numbers globally, behind only Russia, Norway and Germany based on its number of athletes and coaches.
While he’s originally from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Lee trains part-time in Park City, Utah, at the Utah Olympic Park with Jones, so they have been teammates since they were young. Brabec and Malacinski, meanwhile, are both from Steamboat, Colorado, and train on the same hill, alongside fellow U.S. Youth Olympians Annika Belshaw, Erik Belshaw and Tess Arnone.
“Annika, she’s my teammate and we’ve been competing against each other since we were nine. Plus, Erik and Landon are both on the junior national team, and the Nordic combined girls are also from Steamboat, so I’ve been competing against them since I was young,” explained Jones. “So it’s really a tight-knit community, and we all knew each other before we got here.”
Even if they are not training together or are from different clubs, the athletes see each other at competitions throughout the United States. While usually an individual sport, the feeling of ski jumping – or “flying,” as the athletes refer to it – is a unique sensation that connects them together. After all, not many people know the feeling of launching off of a 90-meter long hill and gliding through the air.
“Flying is incredible. It’s almost indescribable. You can’t, really – you just have to go out and try it,” explains Malacinski.
Once athletes have tried it and become involved in the community, it is easy to bond over the sport.
The Youth Olympic Games, however, is a whole new experience. Competing against other countries is a relatively new opportunity for many of the American athletes and one that has made them even closer.
“The energy has been incredible. I’ve never really experienced such a team attitude before,” said Lee. “Being Team USA has really brought us together… After all, representing Team USA means everything. I have never felt a sense of pride like this before in my entire life.”
Members of the team have the chance to compete together again in Lausanne on Jan. 22 in the Nordic mixed team competition, where they will team up with cross-country athletes to represent the red, white and blue.