Steamboat Springs Nordic combined women to compete in historic Continental Cup
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Annika Malacinski, 17, remembers vividly what it was like to take that first flight off a ski jump.
This weekend, Malacinski is competing in the first international women’s Nordic combined competition on American soil at the FIS Continental Cup in Steamboat Springs.
Location: Howelsen Hill
Friday, Dec. 14
12:15 p.m. Competitive jump round
6 p.m. Women’s 5K cross country
6:30 p.m. Men’s 10K cross country
Saturday, Dec. 15
11:00 a.m. Competitive jump round
6 p.m. Women’s 5K cross country
6:30 Men’s 10K cross country
“It was such a brief moment when I decided to start jumping. I didn’t know how to put the front or back binding on my ski at first,” Malacinski said. “There was a mini-bump jump on the 40 that I jumped off twice. It was small, not even 10 meters, and I was not ready for the coach to be like, ‘Yeah, do you want to hike on up?’ I was freaking out, but I wanted this sport to be my sport.”
Malacinski said she tried to put on a brave face for what was the scariest moment of her life. Once she was standing against the bar with her skis fitted into the grooves of the ski jump track, there was no turning back.
“I just pushed off the bar, and I was flying in the air,” Malacinski said. “It was one of the best feelings I’ve ever had in my life, even though I came off trembling and shaking.”
Malacinski is one of two Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club women competing in the Continental Cup this weekend. Her only other international competition was this summer at the International Ski Federation’s Youth Cup in Oberstdorf, Germany.
The other local competitor, Tess Arnone, 15, is a more seasoned competitor, taking her first leap off the kids jump at age 3. She’s been participating in Nordic combined events for seven years, competing at the Youth Cup in Oberstdorf and at her first women’s event in Kandersteg, Sweden.
Nordic combined remains the only sport in both the summer and winter Olympics without a women’s division. The International Olympic Committee announced this year that it won’t be added to the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, either.
But the budding stems of the sport come from its youth.
In January 2019, women will compete for the first time in a FIS Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Lahti, Finland. The International Ski Federation — or FIS — has approved the inclusion of a women’s World Championship in Oberstdorf, Germany, in 2021. But for now, the Continental Cup is the highest level international competition in which women can compete.
And despite women’s ski jumping making its Olympic debut in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games, Arnone is holding out for Nordic combined. She likes that it’s two sports — ski jumping and cross country skiing — combined into one, allowing versatility rather than specialization.
“It’s kind of hard to let go of Nordic combined,” Arnone said. “Especially at the age I’m at, as a Nordic combined athlete you have two events, so you’re not as good at one of them on their own. I feel like it would be really difficult to switch.”
Arnone thinks the best part of the Continental Cup will be meeting other female pioneers in the sport.
“It’s my first season really being in the international loop,” Arnone said.
Arnone and Malacinski have Olympic dreams and are among a group of 15 international women who hope to see those dreams come to fruition. Strength comes in numbers, and the more Nordic combined women there are, the more they can make a case for both World Cup and Olympic stages.
“There’s always been this feeling that I need to and want to go to the Olympics,” Malacinski said. “And I tried to do that through gymnastics, but it’s so high level and one of the hardest for women to get into Olympics. I couldn’t keep up with it, and it’s a big reason I wanted to switch sports. Nordic combined has a really, really bright future.”
Malacinski said the sprained ankles and dislocated shoulders piled up during her gymnastic career. Already a cross country ski athlete, the ski jump has been her biggest transition into Nordic combined.
Malacinski has quickly climbed the ladder in the sport, establishing herself as one of the top female Nordic combined athletes in the Winter Sports Club. Gymnastics not only gave her balance and coordination but also the work ethic to train tirelessly at a new skill until it’s perfect.
In addition to still learning the fine details of ski jumping, Malacinski is also battling a torn labrum in her right shoulder from a bad crash. But she’s put off surgery until after this winter season to compete in the Continental Cup and, hopefully, the Junior World Championships in Finland.
As someone who lives and trains part-time in Finland and America, this season is a storybook springboard into her international career.
“Annika is coming up on two years in the sport,” SSWSC Nordic combined U16 and U18 coach Karl Denney said. “Her brother Niklas has been a Nordic combined athlete for his whole life. She’s accelerated through the progression really quickly. She’s generally a really brave girl and doesn’t take no for an answer.”
Neither Arnone or Malacinski are expected to top the podium at the Continental Cup, but the competition will serve as a measuring stick of how well they can compete with women around the world. They’ll be competing in a field that includes athletes like American Tara Geraghty-Moats, 25, the first U.S. woman to win the inaugural Summer Grand Prix in Oberwiesenthal, Germany, this summer.
Just being a Steamboat Springs locals competing in a historic international competition makes the case for a bright future.
“This is such an amazing opportunity to know it’s the highest level to go right now,” Malacinski said. “I strongly believe that this sport, a year from now or three, will have a huge kickoff where women will be all about it.”
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