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Hang Time

U.S. Nordic combined team in town this week for pre-Olympic training at Howelsen

— Jan-Erik Aalbu had a relaxed smile on his face as he made his way down the steep-pitched face of Howelsen Hill late Friday morning.

The native Norwegian’s smile was the result of the sunny skies overhead, the unusually warm January weather and the fact that the American team he is coaching had just completed a strong training session.

“We are thinking about quality and not so much quantity,” Aalbu said. ” I think that will be more and more important that we don’t have too many jumps and get tired. We want to look forward to jumping every day I want them to look forward to going out there and have some fun.”

Friday marked the first day of the Americans’ pre-Olympic training camp in Steamboat Springs. Aalbu said it is a time for the team to concentrate on fine-tuning and resting.

Aalbu wants the team to maintain but said it is too close to the Olympics to start making major changes in what the team is doing.

The U.S. team will be joined by nine other teams (the Russian team is already here) that will be training prior to the start of the Olympic Games starting next week.

“Right now, I’m just trying to do the same things that we’ve been doing all along,” said Bill Demong, who is coming off the first World Cup win of the season. “When I go to the jump hill, I concentrate on the same keys and try to have the same good jumps. When I go cross country skiing, I try to focus on the right things.”

The fact that the Americans can train here in Steamboat is also a big plus, Aalbu said.

“This week will give our guys a good chance to get rested up and ready for the games,” Aalbu said. “After it’s over, it’s just a six-hour drive to the Olympics.”

The last jumper off the hill Friday was hometown favorite Todd Lodwick, who came home early from the second period to regroup.

“I was disappointed in not getting to compete, but I think it was the right choice to come home and rest,” Lodwick said. “I feel 100 percent better and I think it showed today on the jump hill.”

For Lodwick, this camp is a chance to get back to having fun on the jump hill and to get mentally prepared for the Olympics.

Fellow Steamboat Springs native Johnny Spillane also thinks training in Steamboat will help him find a groove that could carry through to the games.

While the Americans have named seven members to the Olympic team, chances are that only five will make the trip to Utah and only four will actually compete at the games.

“I think it’s pretty important I want to get comfortable jumping again and bring it to a little higher level before we leave,” Spillane said.

Spillane knows the next two weeks could play a key role in determining which skiers will get the nod.

At this point, Lodwick and Demong, who have both won World Cup events, look to have a lock on Olympic starts. Matt Dayton has also been consistently in the top 5 and should also have a start.

The fourth position is still open but will most likely be filled by Spillane. Head coach Tom Steitz, however, hasn’t made a final decision. But earning the fourth spot didn’t seem to be a top priority for the skiers.

“The hard work is done and we just have to maintain, focus and relax,” Dayton said.

The American and Russian teams opened practice last week. Most of the other teams, including Norway, Finland and Germany, are scheduled to arrive early next week.

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