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Skiers hope to prove Canada wrong

Melinda Mawdsley

For most teams competing in this week’s World Cup B opener, a victory in Steamboat Springs would be a reason to celebrate.

But for the Canadians, it would be a reason for thought.

That’s because the team’s six members and head coach John Heilig still are trying to recover from the devastating news that the country’s ski jumping and Nordic combined program will be cut by $300,000 a year and that the country’s only operational ski jumps will be shut down at the end of this season — basically spelling the end of two national sports in that country.

“We might be able to hold on for a couple of years, but with no jumps for development, both sports will eventually die,” Heilig said.

The coach said the athletes on the Canadian Nordic combined team are in good spirits and using the news of the cuts, which came Nov. 24 just before they left for Steamboat, as fuel to produce top finishes.

“I think the news may have motivated some of our athletes to compete a little harder. I think they want to prove that the Canadian Nordic combined team has promise and there is a good reason to support it,” Heilig said.

But as Canada moves toward the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, it seems the Canadians are more consumed with winning medals than the survival of ski jumping or Nordic combined.

John Mills, president of the Calgary Olympic Development Association, said in a Canadian newspaper article that the decision was painful. But he believes strongly that Canadians want to see the maple leaf flag above the podium and they want to hear “O, Canada” when the games are held on their home turf five years from now.

CODA, which manages a multi-million dollar endowment fund from the 1988 Calgary Olympics that supports most of Canada’s national teams and oversees the country’s top winter sports facilities, is withdrawing funding, saying it no longer can afford to support the two sports after this season.

Most would agree that the Canadian Nordic combined are special jumping teams are moving in the right direction, but the outlook for winning medals in the near future is not good.

Heilig said results of a recent survey of Canadian winter sports put ski jumping and Nordic combined in a group just below a category labeled as “long shots.”

This despite the fact that CODA has spent more than $10 million developing the two sports since 1988. It has been more than a decade since either got federal support.

Results, like funding, have been limited. Canadian special jumpers have missed the last three Winter Olympics Games, and the country finished dead last at Albertville in 1992.

However, a crop of promising teenagers has moved into the international scene recently and was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Canada’s best-known jumper, Horst Bulau. The four-time Olympian had more than 13 World Cup victories in the 1980s but never won an Olympic medal.

Heilig was hopeful that the two Nordic sports would find support in their hometown of Calgary and would somehow come up with the money to keep the jumps open and continue development.

The team’s top skier, 27-year-old Jason Myslicki, has competed on the World Cup A level in the past, but is currently on the World Cup B circuit.

This week, he will join a group of young skiers including Wesley Harris, Max Thompson, Spencer Harris, Dennis Lynch and Andy Osadetz hoping to find the podium at the World Cup B events here.

The Mountain Resorts Showdown at Steamboat World Cup B will begin with official training from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Friday at Howelsen Hill.

The first competition begins at 9 a.m. Saturday with the trial jump. The competitive rounds are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., with a second round at 11 a.m. The 15-kilometer cross-country race is scheduled for 2 p.m. at the rodeo grounds.

The sprint event is slated for Sunday with jumping set to begin with a trial round at 9 a.m. and a competitive round at 10 a.m. The 7.5-kilometer cross-country race is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. that afternoon.


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