Leaders of the pack

Doug Crowl

— I’ve always thought that packing for a long trip was a major pain.

Normally, I put off packing until the last minute, throw a few things in a bag and end up at my destination minus a few critical items.

For U.S. Nordic Combined coach Tom Steitz, the luxury of waiting until the last minute to pack isn’t an option. If he forgets something, chances are he will be out of luck until he returns home weeks later.

Last week, Steitz and the other members of the team were busy packing to leave on a trip to Europe. Packing is business as usual for the members of the team. Something the coaches and athletes do several times each year.

The list of items they can’t forget includes some 200 pairs of skis (a mix of cross country and ski jumping), another 25 pairs of boots and ski poles, video equipment and uniforms. They also have to pack those little details like clothing, food and other personal items. It’s a huge job that has been refined over the years.

It’s a wonder that Steitz arrives at Denver International Airport with his shaving cream, let alone the plans to help the Americans capture a gold medal at the upcoming Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

There is no doubt that packing up an entire team of skiers and traveling to Europe to compete in the World Cup is a major undertaking.

“It’s like a three-ringed circus,” Steitz said. “It’s amazing, and sometimes I’m surprised that it all comes together.”

This February, the team will have to pack their bags once again, but instead of traveling thousands of miles, the team can jump in a car to make the six-hour drive to Salt Lake City for the biggest three-ringed circus in all of amateur sports.

So what does the home advantage mean to the members of the U.S. Nordic team?

Well, on paper it means that the skiers on the U.S. Team will still need to pack, but they can pack a little lighter. This time they can afford to leave a few of those items that make going on the road feel a little more like home, at home.

It will be the European teams who will be hoping that all of their equipment has made it to the event on time; it will be Europeans battling the time change and the long hours of travel. It will be those other teams who wake up from a restful nap halfway over the Atlantic wondering if they packed enough clean underwear.

The Americans will feel the power of the hometown crowd something almost as rare as Bill Demong sleeping in his own bed during the second period of the World Cup.

So, Steitz and his skiers head out for the first round of the World Cup period with a renewed sense of excitement.

And who could blame them?

For the first time in most of these young skiers lives they will be the home team at the Olympics and will be able to enjoy the advantages that the home team gets.

Will it be enough to boost Todd Lodwick and his teammates to an Olympic trophy?

Only time will tell, but I’m hoping the American skiers can leave a little room in their bags to bring some of the hardware from the 2002 games back home to Steamboat.

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