A record number of ski jumpers and about 5,000 family members and fans are expected to fill Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove this weekend during its 109th annual ski jump championships.
Ninety-three hopefuls, ranging in age from 5 to 50, registered for the international event that started Saturday with younger competitors seeking a spot to represent the Central Division in the National Championships in Anchorage, Alaska this March. Sunday will showcase more experienced athletes and is likely to draw the biggest crowd, said Norge spokesman Charlie Sedivec, also a former ski jumper who started about 50 years ago.
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"Kids competing today also could be on the next official Olympic team," Sedivec said,
About 50 to 60 participants typically register for the event, he said, but this year saw a surge in registration as many may have had their eyes on the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Such inspiration also attracted jumpers from around the globe, including Norway, Finland, Slovenia and Canada, to compete on the suburban slopes. Competitors also came from around the United States, including Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Ben Dowling, 14, of Eau Claire, Wis., said he loves the jump and the winter air. "This is my second time at Norge, and they always have good conditions here," Dowling said.
Ryan Johnson, 16, of Bloomington, Minn., said he's been ski jumping since he was 5 years old, following his father and grandfather's tracks. "I've been coming here since I was 8 years old, and it's one of my favorite places. The conditions are very good."
Norge, near Northwest Highway and Route 22, boasts the oldest continuous running annual competition in North America. Mother Nature supplied plenty of snow this time, along with 12 frigid degrees, despite sunny skies. Jumpers, dressed in bright orange or other colored ski suits mingled with fans and family before they took their turn on the suburban slopes.
One casualty Saturday was the closure of the 70-meter jump due to 35-mile-per-hour winds. As a result, the Junior National Championship Qualifier likely will be moved to Sunday, Sedivec said.
Volunteers, including Bob Madro of Lake Bluff, made sure everyone felt at home. "I just love the place and the friends that I've met here," Madro said.
Renee and Steven Seibert brought their 4-year-old son, Caden, to the event to shed some cabin fever and encourage the youngster in the sport.
"We've lived here for a couple of years and always pass by, so we thought this would be great family fun," Renee said.