ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Ski jumper Alan Alborn of Anchorage is headed to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Alborn, 21, clinched a spot on the U.S. Olympic team Wednesday by winning the Gold Cup ski jumping competition in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
The best American ski jumper in more than a decade, Alborn has turned heads in international competitions since this summer. With two top-10 finishes in World Cup competition last weekend, he seemed a lock to make the Olympic team.
He made it official Wednesday by winning the Gold Cup event, a U.S. Ski Team competition that rewarded the winner with $10,000 and automatic entry into the Olympics.
Alborn, who turned 21 last week, becomes the first of what could be a record number of Olympians from Alaska at the 2002 Games. Seven Alaskans, including Alborn, competed at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, and this winter's contingent could top that number.
Girdwood snowboarder Rosey Fletcher and Anchorage cross-country skiers Nina Kemppel, Wendy Wagner and Kikkan Randall are considered shoo-ins for the Olympics. And at least four Alaska biathletes are among the favorites going into the Olympic Trials later this month -- Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, Rachel Steer and Jeremy Teela of Anchorage, and Deb Nordyke, a Bartlett High grad now living in Utah.
Anchorage's Scott Gomez, meanwhile, has a slim chance of making the Olympic hockey team, and at least three other cross-country skiers -- Rob Whitney and Lars Flora of Anchorage and Aelin Peterson of Fairbanks -- remain in the hunt for spots on the Nordic team.
Of that group, Alborn is creating the most buzz.
The U.S. Ski Team is starting to call him Alan ''Airborne'' Alborn, hoping no doubt that the name will catch on in time to make Alborn a familiar name in time for the Olympics.
It's an apt nickname.
The son of Dave and Mary Alborn of Anchorage, Alborn grew up around airplanes. His dad is a pilot for Gemini Air Cargo. Alan, who got his pilot's license at 17 and owns a Cessna 185, says he would fly all the time if he could afford to: ''It's fun, but expensive.''
While fuel costs him about $2.25 a gallon, a pair of jumping skis runs about $400 -- and the mileage is great, at least in Alborn's case.
On Wednesday, Alborn had jumps of 118.5 meters and 113.5 meters to easily win the 120-meter jumping competition at Howelsen Hill.
Though the victory brought Alborn a lot of attention, it was a bit anticlimactic from Alborn's perspective.
That's because on Saturday and Sunday, he posted back-to-back, career-best performances in World Cup competition, the sport's grandest stage other than the Olympics. On Saturday in Engelberg, Switzerland, he broke the hill jumping record on his second of two jumps and finished sixth overall. On Sunday, he finished fourth, missing a medal by one spot.
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