Long before ‘virtual’ was a buzz word, the country was buzzing about USA Nordic’s Virtual Nationals

Park City, Utah. — Being a sportswriter in Utah is pretty simple, spoiler alert, athletes are either in Utah or they’re from Utah. That’s it. Well, that’s usually it. This isn’t either of those. Aptly named at its genesis five years ago, USA Nordic put on its Virtual Nationals competition this week where it wonderfully didn’t matter where anyone was or was from.

Venues are few and far between, literally. Only 11 states can lay claim to nordic ski jumping hills and only roughly half of those have added the familiar-looking green plastic atop said hills to allow for year-round training. Therefore, those clubs in Connecticut, Wisconsin, Colorado, New York, Illinois, Alaska, Utah, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont needed a way to connect.

Enter the annual spring competition, Virtual Nationals. Athletes do what they do in their local towns, on any given Wednesday, all winter. They chose one local, nondescript, low-fanfare ski jumping competition at which mom or dad or coach or volunteer-du-jour shoots a nine-second, amateur video of them doing their thing. Those videos are then collected by the creatives at USA Nordic, the national leadership organization of the sport which is based in Park City. Qualified contestants’ videos are then compilated and then, it’s on. Celebrity judges take over. Past, present, and future titans of the team, the national team, judge the jumps including Taylor Fletcher, Abby Ringquist, and Niklas Malacinski. An incongruous group of jumps get submitted (some on a 40-meter hill, some on a 50, and some on a 60) and the judge’s keen eye narrows it all down to an apples-to-apples, skills-based level playing field. How was the athletes’ inrun position, how was their flight position, and how ’bout their landing position, relative to their competitors?

Monday was the U10 girls on YouTube and Facebook, Tue U10 boys, Wed U12 girls, Thurs U12 boys, Fri U 14 girls, and Sat U14 boys.

Lest you think that that’s all this high production-value viewing extravaganza has to offer, think again, as the commentary is the piece-de-resistance. The likes of long-time ski media mogul Tom Kelly himself has lent his famous voice in years past and this year Olympic and Paralympic ski announcer Peter Graves and Jeff Hastings a U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Famer had the honors. Lay some funky beats and the most modern edits under the action and voila, movie magic and the entire nation is in one big event together.

Yes, Park City athletes competed again this year, and yes, Park City athletes did well again this year. However, for purposes of this article and knowing that this sport in America draws heavily from the philosophy of the Norwegian coaching philosophy, podiums aren’t necessarily the end-all-be-all in this age range. Suffice to say that the nordic names Parkites know and love are having children and those children are growing and thriving in this sport of ski jumping and are producing results in Virtual Nationals and in-person.

This concept would be easy to template for countless numbers of different sports as a bit of a tutorial, watch and learn with the U12 Girls Virtual Nationals whereby club sponsors are given the opportunity to advertise to a national, captive audience. It’s not a small task to produce and promote creative competitions like this, that said, developing athletes from any sport can reap the benefits of the fun and excitement connecting virtually with counterpart competitors, not to mention the bragging rights of recognition on a national scale at a young age. It can be well worth the effort for governing entities to invest in putting together this style of win, win videos.

So, while no one wants a repeat performance of the pandemic next year, either way, USA Nordic’s successful Virtual Nationals will be ready with its repeat performance.

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