The Utah Olympic Park was buzzing with excitement as athletes from across the nation flew for national titles in ski jumping and nordic combined.
Before getting into Saturday's jumping competition, the nordic combined skiers went head to head in a mass start race up the Utah Olympic Park road on roller skis. The mass start format, which is slowly being introduced to the World Cup circuit, flips the order of nordic combined. Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) crossed the finish line first followed by Jared Shumate (Park City, Utah) and Stephen Schumann (Park City, Utah). This meant that Fletcher went into today’s ski jumping competition with a sizeable lead on Jared Shumate and his other teammates.
On the women’s side, Annika Malacinski (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) won Friday night’s race ahead of Tess Arnone (Steamboat Springs, Colo.). Though she would head into Saturday’s jump with an advantage, she still needed to fend off Tess Arnone on the jump hill for the title.
On the jump hill, Grant Andrews and Annika Malacinski proved to be the best jumpers in the nordic combined event. Andrews flew 92.5 meters while Malacinski flew 70 meters. Malacinski started the sport of nordic combined just under two years ago. Saturday she won her first national championship.
However, Malacinski is already looking forward. “First I want to better my technique, work on flying, and get faster at skiing,” she says. All of this is with one specific goal in mind. “The end goal is the Olympics,” she says. In five days Malacinski will head to Europe for a training camp, eager to keep improving at the torrid rate she has since starting the sport just two years ago.
While Malacinski’s long jump was enough to cement her title, Grant Andrew’s impressive jump couldn’t quite catapult him into the lead over Fletcher- though it was an exciting effort. Fletcher now has four national titles and continues to set the standard for the nordic combined team. “I’m getting older so it’s nice to show that I can still beat up on the younger guys a bit,” says Fletcher laughing. When asked if he was worried about any of his younger teammates he says, “I was definitely a little worried about Jared, he’s been progressing really well and Grant has been putting in good jumps.”
In the end, Fletcher’s speed on the course still keeps him unrivaled. Now Fletcher and the rest of the nordic combined team will take some time to recover before the Norwegian team arrives in Park City for a joint training camp. This will give the American athletes some exposure to the top competitors in the sport including World Champion Jarl Magnus Riiber.
In the ski jumping event, we saw some very close competition. After the first round, Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, Ill) and Nina Lussi (Lake Placid, N.Y.) were the leaders with 99 and 88.5 meter jumps respectively. Lussi went into the second round with a comfortable 10-point lead over Anna Hoffman (Madison, WI). Hoffman has had somewhat of a breakthrough summer posting career-best results so far. She continued that trend Saturday improving her second jump to 85.5 meters, not enough to oust Lussi but enough to land on her first-ever national championship podium.
This was Lussi’s third national title in ski jumping but, Saturday was extra special for her. The last time Lussi competed on this hill in Park City was during the 2018 Olympic Trials when she blew her knee out “I figured since I’ve been training on this hill the last few weeks, that I had put that behind me. Though the other day, I tweaked my knee a bit.” This definitely turned national championships into a mental battle for Lussi. “In the end, I had to have a little self-talk and I said to myself that I was going to jump.” Lussi’s then had two very solid jumps in today’s competition. She raised her skis above her head in the outrun and pumped her arms in celebration- smiling to the crowd. “I took it and went with it,” says Lussi.
Bickner headed into the second round with Casey Larson (Barrington, Ill.) and Decker Dean (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) seven and nine points behind. Consistency is key so Bickner by no means had things locked up. That is until he stomped down a 100-meter jump in the second round. When asked what it feels like to land at 100-meters Bickner says, “It’s not the most comfortable thing but it’s definitely a ton of fun.”
Bickner now has three national titles next to his name. This one was special though after a year where he claims there were some struggles. “I’ve had to fix a lot of things this summer, it’s been a lot of work,” says Bickner. The season is incredibly long and we are only in the middle of summer, however, progress is always celebrated. “Coming out and winning this title shows that I’m headed in the right direction,” says Bickner. He hopes to keep things moving in that direction as he flies off to Europe next week to compete in a few Summer Grand Prix events.
Men’s Nordic Combined
Taylor Fletcher (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Grant Andrews (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Stephen Schumann (Park City, Ut)
Women’s Nordic Combined
Annika Malacinski (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Tess Arnone (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Men’s Ski Jumping
Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, Ill.)
Casey Larson (Barrington, Ill.
Decker Dean (Steamboat Springs, Colo.)
Women’s Ski Jumping
Nina Lussi (Lake Placid, N.Y.)
Anna Hoffman (Madison, Wis.)
Annika Belshaw (Steamboat Springs, Colo)