Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove scored a huge one this year.
In six weeks, it will host the U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships, an event that will put the private, mostly volunteer-based ski club squarely in the national spotlight.
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Among the 70 or so athletes expected to compete are Olympic Nordic combined medalists Billy Demong and Johnny Spillane, plus other male and female members of Team USA and top athletes from Canada, who are permitted to participate in the U.S. Championships, said Norge Ski Club past president and current board member Gene Brown.
The championship takes place Oct. 1, while the annual Norge special jumping tournament, usually held in September, is slated for Oct. 2, Brown said. Official practice will take place Sept. 30.
"You're going to have the best of the best, certainly in this country and in the world," Brown said. "This is the biggest national event we've had for more than 40 years."
Two national ski jumping and Nordic combined championships are held each year -- one on "normal hill," usually 90-meter hills, and one on "large hill," or 120 meters and up, Brown said. The Fox River Grove event will count as this year's normal hill event, even though its hill is 70 meters, he said.
About 25 athletes will race the Nordic combined, which in winter consists of ski jumping and cross-country skiing, Brown said. In the absence of snow, cross country is substituted by a road race on roller skis.
The U.S. Nordic combined team had its best season in 2010, when it earned four Olympic medals in Vancouver -- the first in the specialty for the U.S., said Greg Poirier, a Nordic combined coach for Team USA.
National championships are usually held in Lake Placid, N.Y., Steamboat Springs, Colo., or Park City, Utah., and Poirier said he looks forward to having one in a metropolitan area. "I'm really excited to change up the venue. It's going to be good for us," he said.
Poirier also said he is hopeful that Fox River Grove will attract more spectators than usual. "Ski jumping in the U.S. is not too popular, but at Norge Ski Club they do a fantastic job to bring in a crowd," he said. "That's another reason we're excited to go there, so we can showcase our sport a little bit."
Norge Ski Club President Scott Smith said he's been pushing to bring the national championship to Fox River Grove for the past couple of years. The last time Norge hosted one was in the early 1960s, said Smith, who was a U.S. ski jumper in the 1980s, and a U.S. ski jumping coach in the 1990s.
Fox River Grove is the most sophisticated among about six facilities in the Midwest equipped to host summer events, Smith said. "In wintertime we usually get the biggest crowds," he said. "Last year during a two-day period we got close to 10,000 people to come out. I'd be happy if we get 5,000. That would be pretty awesome."
Fox River Grove Village President Robert Nunamaker said the village is very pleased to host the upcoming races.
"(Norge Ski Club officials) have revived their planning in the last few years and have experienced a resurgence on the national stage. We're just delighted," Nunamaker said. "I've talked to some of the merchants in town and they said when we have bike races and ski races, they see a marked increase at their shops."
Brown said members of Norge Ski Club are hard at work to organize the race while working with village officials to create a plan to manage parking and traffic.
"We are tickled to death to get the U.S. National Championships because it is highly prestigious," he said. "We don't have any paid staff except the coaches. It's really an honor for us."