From the tiny jumps at the Mount Washington Nordic Center, Ben Loomis has taken his skis and flown to success around the world.
Now, the big one.
The United States Ski Association announced Wednesday that the 19-year-old Flying Eagle has been selected as a member of the Nordic combined team that will represent the United States in next month’s Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“I am very honored,” said Loomis by phone Wednesday from his current training site at Oberstdorf, Germany. “I’ve been watching the results of my teammates, and I knew I had a good chance. But it’s setting in slowly.”
Loomis becomes only the fifth Eau Claire skier to take part in the Olympics that began in 1924. His predecessors took part in seven games.
Loomis qualified with his performances in the U.S. trials in late December in Park City, Utah, and earlier this month in international competition in Europe.
He placed third in the Park City tryouts and has ranked among the top Americans in World Cup and Continental Cup competitions in Europe.
He currently ranks 15th in the world with 175 Continental Cup points after scoring three fifths in early December in Park City and tallying more in recent action at Klingenthal, Germany, by placing 14th, 19th and 21st.
He nailed down his spot by placing 37th as the top American in last week’s Olympic caliber World Cup action at Chaux-Neuve, France.
“This has been a goal and something I’ve worked hard to achieve,” he said. “I didn’t realize it would happen this young.”
He is joined on the team by veterans Bryan and Taylor Fletcher of Steamboat Springs, Colo. Both have jumped at Silver Mine Hill in previous years. Bryan Fletcher heads the Olympic contingent as the No. 1 man and currently ranks 23rd in World Cup points.
Just missing selection was Adam Loomis, Ben’s older brother and a six-year veteran of the team who has skied in two World Championships.
Nordic combined is a combination of jumping and cross-country racing. The athletes take one large-hill jump, and that determines the starting position for the 10K race later in the day.
Ben Loomis is no stranger to international competition. He will be participating for the fifth time in the World Junior Championships that will begin later this month in Switzerland. He also took the silver medal in the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway.
In South Korea, Loomis will be one of the youngest athletes in a strong field of veteran performers that includes current World Cup leaders Jan Schmid of Norway, Akito Watabe of Japan and Johannes Rydzek of Germany, and he knows he has a huge challenge ahead of him.
“This time it will not really be about numbers (placing),” he said. “It will be getting as much experience as I can and carry that knowledge going into the future.”
First, he is gearing up for a strong showing in the Junior Worlds after finishing as high as ninth last year at Park City.
“I’m skiing better than ever — a lot better racing,” he said. “I’m getting where I need to be.”
And that makes him optimistic going into the Junior Worlds.
“I definitely know I can have a good day, and if I do, I can step onto the podium,” he said.
He will be joined in Switzerland by fellow Flying Eagle Andrew Urlaub, 16, who will be taking part in special ski jumping.
Loomis is a four-time national junior champion who skied in last year’s World Championships in Finland. He has a person record jump of 136 meters (446 feet) and first jumped 90-meter Silver Mine Hill as a 10-year-old. Later he set the long-standing jump record of 99½ meters (327 feet). He was named the USSA’s Nordic Combined Skier of the Year in 2016.
He spent his first two years of high school at Memorial and graduated two years later at Park City in a ski program. He lives in Park City with his brother Adam.
The Eau Claire Ski Club’s previous Olympic skiers were LeMoine Batson (1924 and 1932), Jimmy Hendrickson (1936), Billy Olson (1952 and 1956) and Reed Zuehlke (1980 and 1984). In addition, Lloyd “Snowball” Severud served as head coach of the U.S. team in 1960 and of the Canadian team in 1968.