When Ben Loomis heads to South Korea and the Olympic Games next week, he’ll be bringing along a bronze medal.
The 19-year-old Flying Eagle placed third in Tuesday’s normal hill individual Gundersen 10K Nordic combined event at the Nordic World Junior Ski Championships in Kanderstag, Switzerland.
“I’m very excited, this has been a goal of mine for three years,” Loomis said by phone from Kanderstag on Tuesday. “I’m very happy and relieved.”
Loomis’ podium achievement was the first ever by an Eau Claire skier in world championship competition and among the first by U.S. skiers.
“This is really big for my career,” he said. “I want to carry it through the rest of the season and into World Cup competition next year.”
Loomis finished only 8.3 seconds behind winner Andrej Pazout, a Czech Republic skier who Loomis finished ahead of in the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway.
Pazout was the leader after the ski jump portion of the event with a leap of 103 meters (333 feet) and had a good enough cross country time of 22 minutes, 58 seconds to hold off the field.
Loomis ranked seventh after a 99½-meter (327 feet) jump but was able to move up with a third-best cross country time of 22:28.
“I was satisfied with my jump, but a little frustrated, I was hoping to do better,” Loomis said. “But my goal was to be on the podium and it gave me a good start for the race.”
The cross country run was one of the best for Loomis, whose strength has usually been the ski jump.
Pazout took his starting time lead and held it throughout the race with a pack of about five athletes battling behind him.
As they jockeyed back and forth, Loomis said he moved into second at one point but was edged in a good battle for second by Norway’s Einar Oftebro, who was the runner-up just 2.3 seconds behind Pazout.
“Coming into the finish, I knew I had a podium spot and just kind of cruised in,” he said.
Stephen Schumann of Park City, Utah, came in 13th for the United States with a strong cross country run, while Jared Shumate and Tucker Hoefler, both of Steamboat Springs, Colo., finished well down the list in the 53-skier field.
This was Loomis’ fifth participation in the World Junior Games, taking part previously in Italy, Kazakhstan, Romania and last year at Park City, when he finished ninth.
He will compete in a team event and a 5K individual later in the week and then will head directly to South Korea for the Olympics.