Youngsters get first taste of jumps
LAKE PLACID — They’re jumping again in Lake Placid.
On Thursday, four elite junior Nordic athletes were the first jumpers to soar off the newly rebuilt 90- and 120-meter towers at the Olympic Ski Jumping Complex since the two big jumps were updated to bring them to a world class level.
Tate Frantz, Evan Nichols, Henry Johnstone and Jack Lawrence got the honors on a crisp, sunny day with barely a hint of wind. They christened the jumps on a perfect day to fly.
In the late afternoon session, Frantz, Nichols and Johnstone took jumps off the 120-meter tower, which hasn’t been used in recent years, while Lawrence trained on the 90-meter hill.
The four were training under the watchful eyes of NYSEF nordic coach Colin Delaney. Another dozen or so spectators — including crew members at the venue — also gathered in the stands at the base of the towers to witness the return of ski jumping on Lake Placid’s two tallest structures.
Prior to last year, the only major improvements on the jumps built for Lake Placid’s 1980 Winter Olympics took place in 1994. The upgrade on the jumps as well as the entire facility are part of the Olympic Regional Development Authority’s 100-plus million dollar project to put its venues more on par with other sites around the world that regularly host major international winter sporting events.
One of the major new features of both jumps is full refrigeration of the ski tracks from top to bottom. Another big new plus is the jumps can be covered mechanically for protection from the weather, and they also feature new motorized groomers that cover the runs from top to bottom. New lighting has also been installed, which should provided quite a spectacle at night-time competitions.
After this winter season, a planned regrading of both landing hills will continue the upgrades at the venue.
Before the refrigeration and the ability to cover the tracks was added, jumpers were at the mercy of weather conditions regarding whether or not they could train.
“With the modernizing, we have basically the same type of venue as most sites in Europe,” Delaney said. “We’ll be able to train through warm weather, we’ll be able to survive with the hill in tact a lot more regularly than we could before. It’s took a lot of man hours and a lot of man-made snow to fill it back in, and then cut a track, and even then it could all wash away one afternoon.
“This is a huge game-changer for the hill crew at ORDA,” Delaney continued. “They’ve always been good getting the hill ready for us, but there’s only so much you can do with the weather these days.”
Frantz, Nichols and Johnstone are all Nordic combined skiers who excel at the junior level and they’re preparing to compete at events in the Midwest later this month. Nichols, from Lyme, New Hampshire, and Johnstone, of Concord, Massachusetts, have been on the United States Junior National Team, and Nichols has additionally competed in nordic skiing’s junior World Championships.
Frantz, of Lake Placid, is the reigning U.S. junior jumping champion. At age 14, it’s the first year he is eligible to earn a spot on the junior national team. The young athlete, however, is not yet old enough to compete in the world championships, but Delaney sees the potential for that to happy on the horizon.
Delaney will be taking those athletes to Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Illinois for the four competitions on a trip that will stretch from Jan. 14 to 27. He said that Nichols and Johnstone both have an opportunity to make the junior world championship team this winter for Nordic combined, and added that the competitions in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Ishpeming, Michigan are qualifiers for the junior worlds.
“I started working with those three four years ago, basically when I first started coaching,” Delaney said. “They are definitely dedicated and hard workers for sure, they make my job easy. Evan and Henry have both been on the junior national team, which is kind of the stepping stone for where they at at their age. Tate, this is the first year he is eligible with is age to qualify for the junior national team so that’s his focus for the winter.”
Although Frantz wasn’t old enough earn a spot on the U.S. junior national team a season ago, he would have qualified to be on the jumping squad based on the points he amassed during competitions. This season, four events are being used to chose the squad, and after competing in two earlier this winter and with two more to go, Frantz is hopeful this will be his year.
On Thursday, Frantz took his first jumps ever off Lake Placid’s 120-meter tower, although he has launched off similar-sized hills in the U.S. and Europe. By the time the day had ended, Frantz, Nichols and Johnstone had soared off the 120-meter hill seven times each.
“I’m not too scared of heights. It was really fun being on top of a huge tower,” Frantz said. “I wasn’t really nervous. I was just kind of focused on staying safe on my jumps. You’re up there so high on the take off. It’s a great feeling. You’re going 60 miles an hour flying off an aluminum tower and then you’re in flight, 25 feet off the ground. It kind of clears your mind of everything. There’s nothing like it.”
Frantz said he started ski jumping at age 9, and hasn’t looked back since. Eventually, the young phenom hopes to land a spot on future U.S. Olympic teams as a nordic combined skier.
“Tate’s the ski jumping junior national champion,” Delaney said. “He’s definitely ahead of the curve on the jumping side, and on the cross country, he’s not a slouch, but he is pretty superlative for the jumping side of things.”
Delaney said that his NYSEF athletes have gotten in some “critical” training time in Lake Placid prior to their trip. He added that it’s especially nice to see the big 120-hill returning to use.
“There’s something about this tower that’s pretty unique to any other venue I’ve been to in the world, where the take-off is elevated on top of a building,” Delaney said. “When you come off the take-off, it’s like there’s nothing there. You’re just floating through space. It’s a pretty special jump for sure. Everybody from USA Nordic and every other coach that I’ve talked to is super-stoked that we have it up and running again. Just for the country and for the sport I think.”