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Winter athletes compete for spots on 2014 Olympic team in Utah this weekend

This weekend, winter athletes will be vying for spots on the U.S. Olympic team in a series of qualifying events.

First will be the long track speedskating trials. Races begin Friday with the men’s 5,000-meter and women’s 3,000-meter races. Up to 20 athletes can be named to the long track team — 10 men and 10 women.

Contenders for the U.S. team are world sprint champion Heather Richardson and former inline skating champion Brittany Bowe, who set a world record at the Utah Olympic Oval last month. On the men’s side, skaters are led by three-time Olympian Shani Davis, who holds two world records and multiple Olympic medals.

In addition to the competitions, there are a number of activities associated with the races and the athletes who will represent the United States in the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia this February.

Saturday the long track races continue at the Utah Olympic Oval in Kearns, and the Nordic combined team will also be racing that day in Park City.

The Nordic combined team will be decided Saturday in a two-part competition. Athletes will participate in ski jump first. The second half of the competition is a 10-kilometer cross-country ski race. The best ski jumper starts first, and subsequent skiers begin the cross-country race in order of their jump finish — with highest finishers leaving closer to the top jumper.

Olympic gold medalist Billy DeMong leads a talented group of hopefuls. In 2010 the U.S. Nordic combined team, led by DeMong, earned four medals, the first Olympic medals in the discipline in U.S. history.

DeMong said he decided to continue skiing the World Cup circuit even after achieving his goal of winning gold (and silver) in the 2010 Vancouver Games because he wanted to ensure the sport continued to have success. Also vying for spots on the 2014 team are Colorado natives and Westminster students Taylor Fletcher and Bryan Fletcher.

“Honestly, now with the Fletcher brothers, and seeing that we can successfully pass this baton on, having them both on the World Cup podium … I feel completely satisfied,” DeMong said. “Four years ago, I spent more time worrying about whether we could continue to build the program than I did about my own success, but that’s changed now. We’ve shown we can pass that torch. These are the perfect gentlemen to do that. They’re both engaged with younger athletes, and they’re capable athletes.”

On Sunday, the long track athletes will continue with men’s and women’s 1,000-meter races, while both men and women will ski jump for a shot at the U.S. ski jump teams. This will be the first Olympic Games to include women in ski jumping competitions, an effort that was spearheaded by American jumpers.

With reigning world and national champion Sarah Hendrickson still recovering from a knee injury, the U.S. hopefuls are led by Lindsey Van, who won the first-ever women’s ski jump world championship in 2009, and Jessica Jerome, who recently had two top 10 finishes in World Cup competition.

Hendrickson still hopes to return in time to compete in Sochi.

Long track Olympic trials

  • Fri, Dec 27 3:30 to 8 pm (doors at 2:30 pm) — men's 5,000m and women's 3000m
  • Sat, Dec 28 9:30 am to 2 pm (doors at 8:30 am) — men's and women's 500m
  • Sun, Dec 29 11:30 am to 2 pm (doors at 10:30 am) — men's and women's 1000m
  • Tues, Dec 31 3 to 5 pm (doors at 2 pm) — men's and women's 1500m
  • Wed, Jan 1 1:30 to 5 pm (doors at 12:30 pm) — men's 10,000m and women's 5,000m
  • Nordic combine, Saturday, Dec. 289:30 am to Noon — Road to Sochi interactive zone
  • 9:30 am - men's Nordic combined ski jumping — trial jump (UOP Nordic jumps)
  • 10:15 am - men's Nordic combined ski jumping — competition jump (UOP Nordic jumps)
  • 1:30 to 5 pm — Nordic festival (Across from Kimball Junction Visitor Center/Basin Rec Loop)
  • 2 pm - Men's Nordic combined cross-country 10K race (Across from Kimball Junction Visitor Center/Basin Rec Loop)
  • Ski jumping, Sunday, Dec. 2910 am to Noon — Road to Sochi interactive zone
  • 11 am — Men's and women's ski jumping competition start

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