Americans seek consistency at Cup event |

Americans seek consistency at Cup event

Steamboat Springs Skyler Keate takes one of his first jumps of the season off of Howelsen Hill's K-90 jump Tuesday.

— Chris Gilbertson would like nothing more than to see Americans climb to the top of the podium at this weekend’s Mountain Resorts World Cup B Nordic Combined events in Steamboat Springs.

But what Gilbertson, who took the job of coaching the World Cup B team last spring, would prefer is a consistent American showing.

The World Cup B, which is like the minor league for the sport of Nordic combined, will hold its first two events of the season this weekend at Howelsen Hill. The tour will make stops in Park City, Utah, on Dec. 15 and 16 for a pair of competitions and then in Lake Placid just before Christmas.

But Saturday will be Steamboat’s turn, and athletes from 10 countries are expected to converge on Howelsen Hill for a two-jump, 15-kilometer individual event. On Sunday, the same athletes will compete in a one-jump, 7.5-kilometer sprint event.

The goal among the 63 athletes in the field is to score enough points to move up to the higher level World Cup A, which opened last month with an event Kuusamo, Finland.

The top American skiers, Johnny Spillane and Bill Demong, missed the first cut for that competition. However, the team got a boost of confidence last Sunday when the veteran Demong, 30th after the jumping, posted the fourth fastest cross-country time to finish 14th overall at a World Cup Sprint in Lillehammer, Norway. Spillane finished 26th after a strong cross-country race.

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“It was a boost to everyone on the team,” Gilbertson said. “I think everyone was impressed with how fast those guys skied, and they know they can do the same thing here.”

Gilbertson said he would be surprised if Spillane or Demong competed this weekend; however, he did say the “A” team athletes would be in town for the event.

The Nordic Combined World Cup is divided into two tours. The World Cup “A” features the top 45 athletes in the world based on points. The World Cup B is a place where Nordic combined athletes can earn the points needed to move to A, and in the process knock one of the top skiers back down. The season is divided into three periods, and skiers are moved up and down at the end of each period based on points. Gilbertson’s goal is to have several of the top skiers from the “B” team earn World Cup starts for the second period.

“Getting a first-place on the World Cup B tour is kind of like placing in the top 20 on World Cup A in terms of points,” Gilbertson. “What we need is for a couple of guys to place consistently in the top 10.”

That will not be an easy task. Gilbertson said rule changes, which limit the number of skiers a country can have on the World Cup A, means that athletes from the stronger Austrian, German and Norwegian teams often drop down to the World Cup B to keep their skills sharp. They have enough points to compete on the A tour, but can’t get a start because their teammates have filled all the available spots.

“I’m pretty sure that the Germans will have a couple of A skiers here in Steamboat,” Gilbertson said.

Gilbertson said this shouldn’t matter to the U.S. skiers, because those are the athletes the Americans will need to beat when they get to World Cup A.