5 Steamboat Springs athletes make USA proud at Youth Olympic Games
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs Nordic combined skiers Tess Arnone and Alexa Brabec competed in the Olympic debut of women’s Nordic combined at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“It means we’re taking steps to being in the actual Olympics, and that’s a pretty big deal to me,” said Arnone. “Since I was little, I always wanted to go to the Olympics. It’s just making steps towards that to be a possibility.”
In the jumping portion of the event, Brabec earned 14th, while Arnone followed in 15th. After the cross country race, Arnone finished 14th and Brabec took 15th.
“I think I could have had a slightly better race, but I think I put down an OK competition,” Brabec said. “I think my jumps were pretty good.”
Arnone finished seven seconds behind Brabec in the cross country race but made up the time and ended up finishing 0.4 seconds ahead of her teammate.
“At the end, (Alexa) was talking to her parents, and she goes, ‘Apparently, if you live in the same town and train together all the time, you compete at the same level,’” Arnone said. “During the race, I was thinking about things my teammates have said to me during races. One that really kept me going and pushing was, ‘Who wants it more?’ Of course, we’re really close friends, but as soon as we get on that race course, we’re competitors. As soon as we’re off it, we’re friends again.”
Also competing at the games was Steamboat Nordic combined athlete Niklas Malacinski, who had the third-best jump, earning 116.9 points, a result that he said surprised him. He always knew he was better at jumping than racing, but his performance in Switzerland made him even more confident of that.
“Mentally, I’ve been preparing for that kind of competition jump for over a year,” he said. “I just hit it right.”
He started the cross country portion of the event just 15 seconds out of first place. Over the course of the 5-kilometer course, two people passed him, putting him in fifth place.
“It means a lot to be at the top of my age group in the world right now just because I’ve been training so hard to get there,” he said.
Steamboat special jumpers Annika Belshaw and Erik Belshaw respectively finished 21st and 22nd in the women’s and men’s ski jumping events. Annika’s best jump was 68.5 meters, while Erik’s best jump was 82 meters.
Annika said competing was the highlight of the whole trip, along with spending time with her brother Erik.
“It was really cool to go through that experience with my brother and also teammates that I’ve grown up with my entire life,” said Annika, who was able to cheer on his brother during his jumps.
“Erik did really well,” she said. “His first jump was better than any one of his training and his trial round. It was really cool that Erik did that well.”
The pair also competed in the team event together, which featured the best male ski jumper, female ski jumper, male Nordic combined athlete and female Nordic combined athlete from each country.
Outside of competition, the athletes got to meet new people from different countries, explore the city and cheer on their teammates.
“It was really cool how you were in a hotel with every single country and every single sport that was at the Youth Olympics,” Annika Belshaw said.
Arnone said she got to enjoy a hockey game between the U.S. and Canada, visit the Olympic Museum and exchange gear with people from other countries. She traded her boots for a Slovakian hat, her USA hat for a Swiss hat and she swapped a T-shirt for New Zealand snow pants, which she says are her favorite.
“I did not expect to make so many friends. I met so many people that I think I’m going to know for the rest of my life,” Arnone said. “Being there, I really was wrapped up in wanting to do well and get results, but in the end, having fun and making memories that I’m going to have for the rest of my life was definitely the best part for me.”
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