Kevin Bickner soared 227.5 and 225.0 meters in the season finale at World Cup ski flying in Planica, Slovenia. (Getty Images/AFP-Jure Markovec)
PLANICA, Slovenia (March 25, 2017) - Kevin Bickner (Wauconda, IL) led a strong day for the entire U.S. men's ski jumping squad in its season finale at Planica Saturday. The USA finished seventh in the team event - its best overall team finish since 1985. Three of the four U.S. jumpers eclipsed the 200 meter mark.
Bickner led the way, soaring 227.5 and 225.0 meters on his two jumps. Both broke the old U.S distance record of 221.5 meters that fell a week ago when Bickner flew 244.5 meters in Vikersund, Norway. He now holds the top three distance marks ever for a U.S. ski jumper. Will Rhoads (Park City, UT) went 204.0 meters, while Michael Glasder (Cary, IL) soared 203.5 meters. Junior Casey Larson (Barrington, IL), who was top 10 in the Junior World Championships last month, went 198.0 on his best ride.
The USA finished seventh, qualifying for the second round and finishing just behind Japan and ahead of the Czech Republic in the field of a dozen teams.
"I'm happy with the way things ended," said Bickner, who had barely missed qualifying for Friday's individual event a day earlier. "I woke up sick on Thursday and almost didn't jump in the qualifier but I was able to get better for today and had some jumps closer to what I'm capable of and I had a lot of fun doing it. I'm really happy we were able to achieve such a result so I'm satisfied with the way we ended the season."
Bickner, just 20, has emerged as a leader on a team that is moving forward one step at a time. He recorded a 15th and 21st place World Cup finish this season - the best U.S. results in nearly 15 years. He was inside the top 30 for World Cup points six times.
Glasder, the veteran on the team at 26 (turning 27 on Monday), had his best season ever, scoring his first World Cup points with a pair of top 30 results.
"We are always expecting good results as a team so it was really nice to end the season on a positive note," he said. "Sometimes as athletes it's hard to recognize the progress that's being made. But as a team we all made significant steps forward this season. It was really long so we are looking forward to a little break before our summer season starts again and preparing for the upcoming Olympic Games."
Mike Glasder soars over the valley below in Planica. (Getty Images/AFP-Jure Makovec)
As a 17-year-old junior, Larson made his World Cup debut this season after finishing eighth in the Junior World Championships last month at the Utah Olympic Park. A week before Planica, he soared 216.5 meters in Vikersund - then one of the longest jumps ever by an American. Rhoads, 21, also set a personal best in Planica with a 207.0 meter jump in Thursday's qualifier.
"What's really amazing is the depth of the group," said Olympic champion and USA Nordic head Billy Demong. "in addition to the foursome on the World Cup, another Norge Ski Club skier, AJ Brown, flew over 200 meters in training this week as a forerunner! The athletes we have now have the potential to make history and are capable of just about anything. It will take more time for them to develop the confidence to be contenders but they are serious dark horses already."
The team will return to the USA after spending the winter at its training base in Slovenia for a break before resuming training at the Utah Olympic Park later this spring.
The USA finished seventh in a World Cup ski flying team event in Planica, Slovenia Saturday - its best finish in over 30 years.
Three U.S. jumpers cracked the 200 meter mark.
Kevin BIckner led the USA with jumps of 227.5 and 225.0 meters. Bickner set a new U.S. distance mark last weekend in Vikersund, Norway at 244.5.