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Gliding to a pair of Junior Olympics

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Photo by Mark NadellAlder Creek Middle School eighth-grader Russell Kennedy races to a first-place finish in a Far West competition earlier this year.
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Words like “natural”, “versatile” and “potential” come to mind when associating Russell Kennedy with skiing ” Nordic or Alpine.

“The kid absolutely loves to ski,” said Danielle Nichols, head J3 coach of the Sugar Bowl Alpine Ski Team. “He loves everything about snow.”

As Kennedy’s coach of two years, Nichols knows all about his dexterity on a pair of skis, a skill that qualified the 14-year-old Alder Creek student to compete in the Junior Olympics March 23 through 26 at Mount Hood Meadows, Ore.

While he will be joined by 13 teammates from the Sugar Bowl team, Kennedy is the only skier in the area to qualify for both Alpine and Nordic Junior Olympics. And that’s not common.

“It’s not common at all,” Nichols said. “I think it’s been done maybe one other time. Nordic is so demanding, to balance both is almost impossible.”

Almost.

Kennedy went undefeated on his way to becoming middle school state champion this past Nordic season and was the only eighth-grader on the Far West squad to compete in the Junior Olympics ” held last week in Houghton, Mich.

“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anybody make JOs in both (Nordic and Alpine),” said Mark Nadell, Far West Nordic administer and middle school assistant coach.

Neither Nadell nor Nichols could confirm that Kennedy is the first to accomplish such a feat; but either way, the coaches concurred that earning a shot at both essentially is unheard of.

“Russell loves to compete,” Nadell said. “He’s just a competitor, and his innate love of skiing is what sets him apart from other kids.”

Against the fastest Nordic skiers in the nation at Junior Olympics, Kennedy finished 24th in the Classic style and 28th in Freestyle.

“It was very difficult. It was harder than I expected,” Kennedy said of his first Junior Olympics, although a top 30 result among the talented field of skiers is considered quality, Nadell said.

Kennedy, who began downhill skiing at the age of 3 at Tahoe Donner Ski Area and cross-country skiing a few years later, said he prefers Nordic skiing over Alpine and thus trains more in that discipline. Once in high school, he plans focus solely on cross-country.

“It’s more difficult, more challenging,” he said about Nordic skiing, adding that he prefers Classic over Freestyle because it is more technical. “And I like the feeling when you’re gliding over the snow.”

That’s not to say he dislikes strapping on a pair of downhill skis and ripping down a steep pitch.

“I like hitting the gates,” Kennedy said about Alpine skiing. “It’s also challenging, but not as much (as Nordic). It’s fun to carve, and it’s fast. I like speed.”

With cross-country skiing dominating his time, Kennedy only trained with the Sugar Bowl Alpine Ski Team an average of about five times a month this winter, Nichols said. Somehow that was enough to race his way to the 25th and final position at the Junior Olympics Qualifier at Squaw Valley Feb. 11 and 12.

“Russell is one of those kids who is just a really talented athlete. He doesn’t have the opportunity to train that much because he splits (practice time) between Nordic and Alpine skiing, but when he comes out he is capable of training at a very high level,” Nichols said. “It’s always great to have him show up on the hill …

“He’s so into skiing, he understands what it takes to become a good skier.

Part of that understanding is realizing there’s always room for improvement.

“In Nordic I can always work on technique,” he said. “I also need to work on strengthening my upper body.”

In improving his strength, Kennedy said he does pushups, pull-ups, bench press and anything that targets his triceps.

“In downhill I probably need to work on a lot,” he said.

Come next week, Kennedy will be working on capturing medals in his three events: Slalom, Giant Slalom and Super Giant Slalom.

“I’m psyched,” he said.


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