KUUSAMO, Finland (Nov. 26) - One year after they each landed on the podium at Kuusamo, Billy Demong (Vermontville, NY) and Johnny Spillane (Steamboat Springs, CO) have returned, along with the rest of the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team, to kick off the World Cup season Saturday.
The U.S. Cross Country Team also will be in Kuusamo for distance and sprint events during the second World Cup of its season.
"What a great way to kick off the nordic World Cup season. Both our cross country and nordic combined teams will be in Kuusamo ready to test themselves against the rest of the World Cup field," Nordic Director John Farra said. "After all the training, testing and off-snow preparation, this weekend will offer the athletes, coaches and fans a great opportunity to gauge our progress at this point in the season."
Following a start last year that had Spillane in second for a Gundersen event and Demong in third for a sprint, Nordic Combined Head Coach Dave Jarrett says this year the team is feeling good about the work they've put in to get ready for the season.
"We're ready to go. I feel good about the preparation we've done and we're ready to start," Jarrett said. "It's the first World Cup of the year, so it's hard to say where everyone is compared to the field, so we'll have to do the competition and see from there. But our expectations for the season are high."
According to Jarrett, this is the first time the team has been on snow for training.
"Their first jumps on snow were here in Kuusamo on Sunday. So, compared to the rest of the world we're a little bit behind the eight ball as far as getting jumps on snow, but we're here and we're ready to go," Jarrett said.
Adding to the excitement in Kuusamo will be the cross country events, which bring U.S. top dogs Kikkan Randall (Anchorage), Andy Newell (Shaftsbury, VT) and Kris Freeman (Andover, NH) the opportunity to excel in both a classic sprint and distance events.
"We should be hitting our stride now, so we're definitely aiming for the podium and that's the goal," Cross Country Head Coach Pete Vordenberg said. "Sprint has been our strongest event, so that's great. We have a chance in the distance and the sprint, so it's going to be a really exciting weekend for us."
The action kicks off on Saturday with a men's and women's cross country sprint and the nordic combined HS142/10K. On Sunday, the nordic combined format remains the same, while cross country holds a men's 15K and women's 10K.
"It's pretty fun when the cross country skiers and the combiners are together. It's only a few competitions every season that have us all together and it's fun to see those guys," Jarrett said. "Hopefully we'll help each other stay motivated."
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