Armstrong stays focused on nordic combined
LAKE PLACID — The University of Michigan isn’t exactly what people think of when ski jumping comes up, but one recent Lake Placid High School graduate has brought an international presence in the sport to Ann Arbor.
Gabby Armstrong, who graduated from LPHS last year, is now attending Michigan. But she didn’t leave behind her nordic skiing or ski jumping roots when she moved to the Midwest.
Nordic combined is an Olympic and World Cup sport for men, but there is a growing movement for a women’s category to be added. Essentially, an athlete skis off a large jump (like the ones in Lake Placid), and their place in the jumping competition translates to their starting position for a cross-country skiing race. The results of those two events are combined to determine an overall winner.
Armstrong became the first American woman to compete at the international level in the sport when she went to Trondheim, Norway for an International Ski Federation (FIS) Youth Cup last month. Armstrong walked away with a rock-solid second-place finish after placing second in the jump and first in the ski.
“It was the first women’s Continental Cup ever,” she said of the event in Norway. “So I went out there and met up with some of the boys that are competing over there. I was the only girl from the U.S. to go.
“It was a really great experience. The level of competition is just getting higher and higher, and I think there will be even more girls next year since it won’t be an Olympic year. I know some of the girls that went to the Olympics and were focusing on ski jumping will probably do nordic combined.”
Armstrong said Michigan has a club team for cross-country skiing that has helped keep her in shape. She also said that women’s nordic combined is being talked about as a possible future Olympic sport. The winter Olympics have men’s nordic combined.
“I’m hoping it is,” she said. “There’s been talk about it at some of the past events that I’ve gone to. I think their goal was to get Continental Cups this year (and) continue Continental Cups next year, maybe get a World Cup and hopefully have World Championships in 2021 and have it in the Olympics in 2022.
“Nothing’s decided though, but I’m hoping it works out. There’s plenty of girls, not at the competition I went to, but that’s just because it was an Olympic year.”
Armstrong is no stranger to podium finishes in nordic combined, having earned a second-place spot last year at the national championships during the Flaming Leaves Festival in Lake Placid. Armstrong was beat only by another Lake Placid native, Nina Lussi, a member of the U.S. women’s ski jumping team.
There are only a handful of ski jumping facilities in the U.S., with Lake Placid and Park City, Utah — both former Olympic host cities — being the best known. And while there are two facilities in Michigan, Armstrong said she’s been focusing mainly on off-hill training while at school. Armstrong said her new school — where she hopes to study astrophysics — has been supportive of her efforts.
“I have traveled to compete a little bit,” she said. “The school has been great at working with my training schedule. I also get to use some of the varsity gyms for my off-hill training, so that’s what I’ve been mostly doing. It translates really well.”
Armstrong said she doesn’t feel like her jumping suffered at all being away from her home jumps, saying she was happy with how she jumped this season. She is planning to return to Lake Placid for the summer, and ski jumping is one of the few winter disciplines where lack of snow isn’t a huge hindrance.
“I have four months of summer vacation,” she said. “So I’ll have a lot of training time then, especially for jumping. I’m looking forward to jumping a lot this summer.”
With the first women’s Continental Cup in the books, Armstrong said she feels a little like she’s on the forefront of a movement.
“I’ve been (in) nordic combined since I was a little kid,” she said. “I just never thought to be just a ski jumper, even when I was on the women’s ski jumping team. I feel like competing in the first COC (Continental Cup) all of us ladies are on the forefront. But there are a lot of other ladies who are doing it and we’re kind of a big group. There’s no one person that sticks out.
“We’re all in this together and we’re all really supportive.”