The ski jumping spotlight of the nation focuses on Silver Mine Hill once again this weekend.
Another heralded group of Europeans join the best available American jumpers — including two Eau Claire stars — in a doubleheader showdown Friday for jumping starting with the trial run at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 5 p.m. Action launches the Central Divison’s 5-Hill series and continues the battle for U.S. Cup honors.
“We’ve got the athletes, the weather looks like it will cooperate and we should be in for a good show,” tournament director Dan Mattoon said. “It could be one of our best tournaments.”
In all, there should be around 50 athletes challenging the Olympic-sized K90-meter hill as the Eau Claire Ski Club celebrates its 129th anniversary with its 46th event at Silver Mine.
The hill was snowed during the past week and was expected to be ready for training runs today.
The Slovenians, stars of last year’s production, committed early this week and join a group from Finland to lend an international flavor to the competition.
Although hill record-setter Mikael Kveder will not be back, the Slovenians are represented by Matic Benedik, David Krapez and Gasper Vodan. Last year, Kveder broke the hill record with a jump of 952 meters (314 feet) Friday and bettered that Saturday with 96 meters (315 feet).
If someone is to follow in his footsteps, it would appear to be Benedik. The 21-year-old has strong credentials. He took two seconds and a third in Continental Cup action at Iron Mountain, Mich., last year in a season of numerous podium finishes.
Krapez returns after finishing a strong fourth and fifth in last year’s tournaments at Silver Mine. He wound up fourth overall in the 5-Hill series.
Finland is represented by coach Jere Kykkanen along with Antti Matta, Juuso Heikkinen and Anselmi IIola.
Kykkanen is making his fifth straight appearance here and was a winner in 2012. Prior to last year’s Slovenian sweep by Kveder, Finns had won five of the previous six Silver Mine tournaments.
Canadian entries include four girls and two boys, all juniors.
Local jumpers Nick Mattoon and Ben Loomis head a group of U.S. Ski Team members that also includes St. Paul’s Brian Wallace, who won the North American championship here last year, Casey Larson of Chicago and Trevor Edlund of St. Paul.
Mattoon, 19, is the defending champion in the nine-event U.S. Cup series, skied in Europe earlier this season and swept two New Year’s tournaments at Lake Placid, N.Y. He appears to be ready.
Loomis, 16, is a member of the U.S. Nordic Combined team who has been jumping the hill since he was 10 and in 2012 won the Long Standing event with a jump of 992 meters (327 feet). Both will leave next week for Europe to take part in the World Junior Nordic Championships at Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Other local jumpers are Nate Mattoon, 16, who took two seconds at Lake Placid, and Adam Hamler, 17. Also, promising Flying Eagles youngsters Ben Dowling, 15, and Andrew Urlaub, 14, will be back. Both have been impressive in junior action.
“Things are looking real positive,” chief of competition Paul Jastrow said. “The weather seems to be playing in our favor, we’ve got the jumpers and I’m excited. The crew has done a heck of a job on the hill.”
Jastrow said the first training session will be from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. today.
Missing will be Emilee Anderson, the 19-year-old member of the U.S. women’s team who has left for Europe and the World Junior Games.
Also in the competition will be top athletes from the Rocky Mountain, Intermountain and East divisions. Many will be taking part in Nordic Combined — including Ben Loomis. The cross country run of the combined will be Saturday morning at Tower Ridge under the direction of Paul Loomis.
Returning jumping champions are Chicago’s Patrick Gasienica in the Junior Class and St. Paul’s David Edlund in the Masters. Both swept the two events last year.
Each skier will take two competition jumps and be scored on distance and form.
The popular Long Standing event will follow Saturday’s official competition. Slovenian Rozie Zagar won last year with a jump of 96 meters (315 feet).
The 5-Hills series moves on to Minneapolis on Wednesday and continues next weekend at Chicago, Jan. 27 at Ishpeming, Mich., and closes Jan. 30 at Westby.