Road to Sochi: Michael Ward
Trains for Spot on Nordic Combined Olympic Team
By Marci Krivonen
Aspen athlete Michael Ward competes
in Nordic Combined. It's an event that combines
ski jumping with nordic skiing. / Credit Facebook/Michael
Today, we look at one of three Aspen-area athletes
who competes in cross country skiing. Michael Ward
is one of the youngest on the US Nordic team. He’s
just 20-years-old. Still, he’s hoping to beat the
older competition so he can land a spot on the U.S.
Olympic team. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen
Nordic athlete Michael Ward was in Lake Placid,
New York recently, where he was in the middle of
competing in the U.S. Nordic Combined Nationals.
"It’s definitely one of the biggest competitions
of the year besides the Olympics. It helps rank
the team and the result will help you get to Sochi,"
Nationals were held in mid-October and we’ll tell
you how he did later. First, Michael took to skis
at the tender age of two helped by his Olympian
father, Craig Ward. By age six, he was training
with the local ski club and by nine, he was not
just Nordic skiing, but ski jumping.
He was influenced by friends and mentors from Aspen
like fellow Nordic skiers Simi Hamilton and Noah
"When you’re young, everyone wants to be a
superstar athlete and when I started cross-country
skiing, I was able to look up to Noah and Simi and
they helped me realize I can actually have a career
out of it."
Now, he says he’s totally focused, training twice
a day, every day of the year and working hard to
improve part of his specialty: ski jumping.
"It all happens within a split-second where
we have to go from a tucked position into our flight
and if you don’t execute that correctly, it’s the
difference between a 120 meter jump and a 60 meter
jump," he says.
Michael’s event is called Nordic Combined. In it,
athletes first jump and then race. For the ski jump
portion, judges look for style and distance. Jumpers
can fly up to 125 meters, or 410 feet. The jump
determines where the athlete starts in the following
10k Nordic race. For example, if a jumper is 15
points ahead in jumping, they get a 1-minute head
start in the race.
In a video from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver,
ski jumpers are launching down a snow course on
long, wide skis. They hit the jump and fly with
their bodies stretched forward, over the skis. It
was this competition where the U.S. Nordic combined
team made history.
The four-man team took silver. And, it was the first
medal ever for the United States in a Nordic combined
Now, Michael Ward and his teammates hope to duplicate
their predecessors’ success. The United States Ski
and Snowboard Association says Ward is part of a
rising contingent of athletes who represent the
future of Nordic combined in America.
"The U.S. is very competitive in the international
nordic combined," says Craig Ward.
Michael’s dad has watched the sport evolve over
the years from when he competed in the Olympics
in the 1980’s.
"Our U.S. team is very strong, it’s probably
one of the top four teams in the world. So, for
Michael to be doing well and getting close to those
guys is a very good sign."
He thinks his son’s got a good shot at making one
of five spots on the Nordic combined Olympic team.
Craig Ward coached his son when he was younger and
now he and his wife attend many of his competitions.
"I get just as excited for him as I did when
I was racing. I’ve been out on the cross country
courses, yelling and screaming my head off. I’m
just so thrilled that he’s there and that he’s doing
well," he says.
Back at Lake Placid, Michael placed 9th overall
in the Nationals competition. There’s still room
for improvement though before the Olympic committee
makes its selection early in the year. Michael says
"Currently, I’m the fifth ranked athlete on
the team, so, fingers crossed, but I still have
some work ahead of me."