Turns out there are a lot of things going on in August for our American athletes. USA Nordic was leading or involved in five different junior camps in both the US and Europe and every National Team had Grand Prix competitions. At one point, USA Nordic had eight different teams in Europe at camps and/or competitions, and was co-hosting a Junior Flyer Camp with NYSEF in Lake Placid, New York. This is pretty awesome!
Originally, I was going to be at the Junior Flyer Camp in Lake Placid, working with Colin Delaney, Jay Rand, and Gabby Armstrong, however, I ended up heading over to Europe, which I will speak about later. Clint Jones, Team Director for USA Nordic, stepped in to fill my vacancy and big thanks to him. The camp had 15 athletes from all over the East in attendance, many of whom were either brand new to jumping or had only started this past winter. The Courage, Confidence, and Character bibs were are big hit, with one athlete reportedly sighted wearing their bib walking down main street well after training had ended. Definitely a big shout-out to Gabby for continuing to remain involved as an athlete and giving back to future generations by helping coach at this camp.
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While athletes were hard at work here in the States, I traveled to Slovenia and Austria for a number of reasons. I was fortunate enough to join a group of seven athletes who spent two weeks training in Slovenia, Austria, and Germany. The trip culminated in a FIS Youth Cup competition in Oberstdorf, Germany where they competed against youth from all over Europe. This group included two athletes from our Women’s Junior National Nordic Combined Team, Alexa Brabec and Tess Arnone, who both skied well. Alexa had two top 10 finished with some of the fastest rollerski and running times. Tess finished in the top twenty both days as did Annika Malacinski. On the boy’s side, 13 year olds Tate Frantz and Skyler Amy competed in the Youth I class. They were both on their first trips to Europe and scored their first ever Youth Cup points with top 30 finishes. A big thank you to Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club coach, Garrett Fisk, who was the leader of the trip.
My trip also included meetings with Slovenian junior coaches, the Director of the Slovenian Ski Federation, and the former Director of the Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Sports School in Slovenia. I also observed a training session at the strongest Slovenian Junior Club, and attended a regional Austrian Junior Competition. Below are my major takeaways.
- Junior clubs in these two Ski Jumping powerhouses are very similar to our junior clubs and they have the same challenges. The facilities in Kranj, which is their largest and strongest club in Slovenia, are so similar to many of our clubs. The jumps are maintained by a man in his 60s who does pretty much everything, and I am not sure what they would do without him. In another club I visited in Austria, the club stopped operating in the early 2000s, and a man in his 80s has been able to revive it and complete a number of facility improvements. Sound familiar?
- Both Slovenia and Austria have about 30 clubs, which is what we have here in the US. The number of Jumpers in Slovenia is almost identical to the number of Jumpers in the US and Austria actually has far fewer jumpers than we have.
- Both Countries struggle with recruiting athletes and keeping them involved. When Peter Prevc was winning the World Cup athlete participation shot up, but now that he is not as dominant, numbers have gone down again.
- Junior Competitions in Austria look very similar to ours. I watched coaches running to the top of the hill to correct athlete entries with the starter as the trial round was beginning. There were about 70 athletes competing in the competition (60 meter and below). I watched kids skiing out of order, I watched a kid fall on the inrun, and I watched lots of crashes in the grass.
But they are doing some things differently, and I would argue better.
- The majority of clubs in Slovenia have a full-time paid coach, and many have more than one paid coach. Towns often contribute to paying a coach, which is something we could possible explore here in the States.
- Kranj (strongest club) requires all athletes to be Nordic Combined skiers until the age of 15.
- Slovenia has a National Sports School, which athletes are required to attend if they want to make the Junior National or National Team. Athletes are selected based off of Junior National competitions and begin attending at age 16. They cover the cost of their housing and everything else is covered by the school.
- Many of their facilities have a wider range of hill sizes. These typically start with a five or 10 meter and go up to a 60 meter or larger all with plastic. The progression is such that athletes do not have to make a huge leap in hill size in order to continue to jump so they progress at a consistent pace.
There are also cultural and other differences of course, which contribute to their success in Ski Jumping.
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Overall I was left encouraged that we are close and things are more similar than different, but the differences mentioned above I think are key if we are going to make progress in our sports. We need more paid coaching positions, we need better school/sport options, and we need facilities with a wider range of hills. I think we are slowly creeping towards this, and it will take time, but I do believe we can get there and as we do I think the results will follow.
By: Jed Hinkley