Will Rhoads soars off the HS134 meter jump at the Utah Olympic Park to win a fourth career U.S. title. (U.S. Ski & Snowboard-Tom Kelly)
PARK CITY, UTAH (July 28, 2017) - Will Rhoads (Park City, Utah/Park City Nordic) and Nita Englund (Florence, Wis./Kiwanis Ski Club) came away with gold at the 2018 U.S. Ski Jumping Championships Saturday on the HS134 meter hill at the Utah Olympic Park in one of the most hotly contested Championships in recent history. It was the fourth career title for Rhoads—including his third straight large hill title—and the second title for Englund.
Junior Casey Larson (Barrington, Ill./Norge Ski Club) took silver and Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, Ill./Norge Ski Club) bronze for the men in U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s first national championship of the Olympic season. In the women's competition, Abby Ringquist (Park City, Utah/Women’s Ski Jumping USA) claimed silver with Nina Lussi (Lake Placid, N.Y./New York Ski Education Foundation) taking bronze. The Championship wrapped up the weeklong Springer Tournee which attracted 200 young ski jumpers from across America.
Englund took the U.S. Championship lead on her first jump, soaring 111.5 meters to take a slim six-tenths of a point lead over Ringquist, Tara Geraghty-Moats (W. Fairlee, Vt./Women’s Ski Jumping USA) and Lussi, who won the opening non-Championship event on Friday. Olympian Sarah Hendrickson (Park City, Utah/Women’s Ski Jumping USA) was fifth, leaving four women within just two points going into the final round.
Nita Englund soars to a second career gold in the U.S. Ski Jumping Championships. (Tom Kelly)
“It was super fun,” said Englund. “I didn’t know how close everyone was. I knew it was going to be close so on the second jump I had to be extra focused.”
On the second jump, it all came down to style as Geraghty-Moats went 115.0 meters with Hendrickson, Lussi and Ringquist each putting it down to 115.5 meters. It all came down to Englund, who blasted into the wind, hanging on to every meter, as she pushed down to the 123.5 meter mark for the longest ride of the day and the gold medal.
Canadian Taylor Enrich won the overall completion but was not eligible for a U.S. Championships medal.
The men’s competition was similar with Rhoads having to hold off a hard-charging Larson on the final jump as late morning winds wreaked havoc in the second half of the men’s final round.
In the opening round, American record holder Bickner set the pace with an impressive 130.5 meter ride. Rhoads matched that, pushing it a meter further for 131.5 and a narrow two point lead. Larson was third on a strong 125.0 meter jump.
In the final round, winds came up and forced delay after delay. The final seven jumpers were significantly challenged as officials sought in vain to hold for clean air. Mike Glasder (Cary, Ill./Norge Ski Club) took advantage of good air to move into contention with the long ride of the day at 135.5 meters. He would hang on to finish fourth in the U.S. Championships. Larson, who was eighth in the Junior World Championships on the neighboring normal hill jump, flew an impressive 131.5 meters to move into the lead. Bickner struggled a bit on his jump, going 118.0 meters, dropping just behind Larson.
With the title on the line and winds swirling, Rhoads kept his focus and soared 123.5 to take gold with 258.0 points—a 4.8 margin over Larson.
“It was a dicey comp with the wind and it took a while to get that final round in,” said Rhoads. “The results were a little funky. It happens in an outdoor sport when the winds change and you just adjust. You have to be ready all the time.”
While the summer atmosphere tends to be fun and relaxing, there was a tension in the air as the U.S. Championships kicked off the Olympic season. Both the men’s and women’s field included every Olympic contender with all of them focused on sizing up the competition and looking ahead to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to be held at the Utah Olympic Park Dec. 30-31.
“Anyone who was on the team in 2014 has retired, so we’ll have an entirely new team of guys who have not competed in the Olympics,” said Rhoads. “Everyone is excited to put their best foot forward. We’re especially excited for the Olympic Trials right here at the Utah Olympic Park which will be shown on NBC. It will be high stakes, high energy—everyone will be on their game!”
Englund, and most of the top women, came back from her training base in Slovenia to start off the Olympic season.
“It was important for me to just be relaxed and get ready for the coming Olympic season,” she said. “I wanted to have fun this summer, enjoy it and be relaxed. This summer I’ll just hone in on my competitiveness and get that solid base. Going into the winter, I’ll just see where it takes me.”
In the Olympic test event at Alpensia, South Korea last winter, Englund was the top American in both events on the HS109 meter hill with a pair of top 10s.
“The hill in PyeongChang is cool for me,” she said, smiling. “Wind will be a really big factor but the wind nets will help. The hill jumps a lot like the 90 meter in Planica where we train a lot.”
Both the men and women will now head to Continental Cup and Grand Prix summer competitions in Europe in August and September, returning to Lake Placid, N.Y. in early October for the normal hill U.S. Championship. The World Cup season opens in November for men and December for women, with the Olympic Team Trials set for the Utah Olympic Park Dec. 30-31.
Gold medalist Will Rhoads slaps a high five on the flower presenter flanked by silver medalist Casey Larson (left) and bronze Kevin Bickner (right). (Sarah Brunson)
Women's medalists including silver Abby Ringquist, gold Nita Englund and bronze Nina Lussi. (Sarah Brunson)
2018 U.S. SKI JUMPING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Men Gold - Will Rhoads (Park City, Utah/Park City Nordic) Silver - Casey Larson (Cary, Ill./Norge Ski Club) Bronze - Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, Ill./Norge Ski Club)
Women Gold - Nita Englund (Florence, Wis./Women’s Ski Jumping USA) Silver - Abby Ringquist (Park City, Utah/Women’s Ski Jumping USA) Bronze - Nina Lussi (Lake Placid, N.Y./New York Ski Education Foundation)