It’s different than USA usual. USA usual is super fun and exciting, but this is just a whole different type of fun and exciting. Outside of the Ski Jumping/Nordic Combined locker room there are hundreds of people millin’ about. All ages, all shapes, all sizes, all genders, most of whom have a bib number pinned on. It’s not easy to finesse those little safety pins onto all four corners when your hand are shaking with nerves of the unknown. USA usual is, just outside of the locker room, at the base of a HS 134 any competitors aren’t millin’ about, they’re zoned into their warm-up regimens and there is no unknown. At the 2018, 4th annual Red Bull 400 at the Utah Olympic Park, just inside the locker room, there’s more chillin’ than millin’. That chill vibe proved a good space in which to be.
Inside is a veritable who’s who of USA Nordic’s Women’s and Men’s Nation Teams and Junior National Teams for both Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined. You name it, they were involved in this exciting event in one way or another. The star studded roster this day included Grant Andrews, Ben Loomis, Kevin Bickner, Sarah Hendrickson, Jasper Good, Adam Loomis and Beckett Ledger.
USA usual is promotion of the athletes leading up to competition, but this was different, the hundreds of competitors knew that back in 2002, National Team athletes competed down this venue, but at the Red Bull 400, little did they know that the county’s most elite Nordic athletes would be right next to them racing up that hill.
USA usual is an apples to apples athleticism endeavor. This was different in that the USA Nordic athletes were peppered throughout elite athletes from sports like ultra-marathon, rock climbing, hockey, cycling, skimo and on and on. Apples to oranges, would a quick footed, short burst of energy sport like hockey be better suited to kick booty up this foreign to a hockey player venue? Would the training of a rock climber with hands used to grabbing the next hold at lightning speeds fair faster? How about the lung capacity of an ultra marathoner on this intense course that may lasts mere minutes? Turns out that the USA Nordic training, skills, passion, drive and athleticism are of little match overall in a multi-sport field as there were five USA Nordic athletes in the top ten results.
USA Nordic athletes know this slope intimately. Will that be the extra oomph often needed to crank through a speedy sport like the Red Bull 400, the secret sauce? As the teammates filter out of the locker room, a locker room that the hundreds of other competitors had no idea even existed but wished they had to find a shady, quiet, space to prepare for their race. Knowing the only locker room in the only brick and mortar building amongst the sea of food trucks and event tents so well is definitely an asset. It gives a whole new meaning to the concept of home field advantage when not only have your competitors never played on this field before but on any field even remotely like this before. USA Nordic was able to capitalize on that fact.
It’s time to line up for the heats. Staring up at that monster of a hill the starting line is, for most folks there, gnarly beyond anything they’ve ever experienced. USA Nordic athletes though – Meh. As Anders Johnson maintains the course, Chuck Heckert marshals the field of play, Abby Ringquist manages the participants, Carl Roepke counts the start seconds down in the microphone, Dan Englund shoots the live stream video and Alan Alborn pulls the trigger on the starting gun, they’re off!
Pace yourself of full on? It’s all you since there isn’t a coach’s voice in your head reminding you for the umpteenth time to execute what you’ve trained together for. No, it’s all you since this is just for fun. At 100 meters up, your sprint is actually still fun. At 200 meters up, do you actively topple over into your crawl position engaging all fours yet? Not everyone around you is. USA usual has casual spectators barely able to discern the minute differences between skiing styles out there, but this is different. This is, whatever works. 300 meters up and approx. 3 minutes gone off the clock you’re sprint climbing up onto the inrun decking and as a USA Nordic athlete, no big deal, this ain’t your first rodeo hanging out around them parts, whereas most racers around you have never seen such a cockamamie contraption in their life. Or, if you’re Jared Shumate, not only have you jumped that HS 134, you work there at the Utah Olympic Park and you were the guinea pig four years ago when the question from Red Bull was, Hmm, I wonder if this bad boy is run-up-able? Jared not only proved that, indeed, if one were so inclined (all pun intended) it sure was, but he has stood atop the podium in this event in a previous attempt.
In final 100 meters, apples to apples almost seemed to be the name of the game as Taylor Fletcher had a couple feet of daylight between him and Jared Shumate. Look out, here comes the orange rollin’ up from behind Taylor. USA usual doesn’t have an athlete whom USA Nordic athletes haven’t practically grown up with on an international basis stealthly speeding in to steal the win but this was different. With an impressive last second push for the ages, Taylor was narrowly bested by Miles Fink-Debray across the finish line (good on ya, Miles) at a blistering 3 minutes, 45.6 seconds into second by six tenths of a second with Jared close behind to round out the podium.
Fletcher was quoted as saying, “This was the first time that I had done the red Bull 400 so I was a little unsure how things would go. I wanted to take it easy in the qualification but anyone that knows me knows I always try to go hard when I can. In the final I was just trying to match the leaders pace until the top of the landing. I was happy with how I was doing but I never saw the winner on my left side until he sprinted past me. But in all it was a good day and I was stoked to see Jared on the podium as well!!”
Shumate added, “ I had a lot of fun yesterday at the Red Bull 400, and it was even better to have the rest of my teammates there to share in the fun. In 2017, I lined up for the men’s final as the only USA Nordic athlete, and yesterday we had 8 National Team/JNT athletes in the men’s final and Sarah in the women’s final, which was awesome. I was super happy with how the race went. After doing a roller ski time trial on Friday morning, I was pretty tired, so I was happy that I had enough left in me to push it all the way to the top in the final heat! I am a big fan of the Red Bull 400 for the variety of people that it brings into the world of ski jumping, and hope that we can continue to host it in Park City in the years to come.”
The night before, all the local kids who, in past years, could only cheer on all the fun of the wildly successful Red Bull 400, got their chance to partake of it all. The first annual Park City 200 was born and judging by the smiles, giggles, high five’s and camaraderie in the air, the 2019 Park City 200 will be a thing.
All the two days of fun and games are a means to an end to benefit the Park City Ski and Snowboard Team – Nordic, but don’t try to explain that to anyone there this year because they were all having too good a time to notice.