Tate Frantz Makes His World Cup Debut at the Venue in his Hometown Where His Ski Jumping Career Began
Born and raised in Lake Placid, Tate Frantz has been skiing all of his life. In elementary school he joined the After School Ski Program at Whiteface and did a lot of cross-country skiing at Mt Van Hoevenberg, too. Then he started ski jumping and vividly remembers a turning point moment in 2015 as though it happened yesterday. Standing below watching older athletes jumping from the big tower, he told himself, “That’s what I’m going to do. I want to jump the big hill and fly far.”
He’s always been driven and always wants to be the best, so it wasn’t long until he had big dreams of being a world class Nordic Combined athlete. Until he woke up one day with knee pain. That’s when his summer of trouble began.
The pain got worse and forced big decisions for Tate. But as he would tell you himself, how we respond to adversity in our lives makes all the difference. So, calling forth the courage he needed to keep his dream alive, he found a bold new path forward. And today, it’s all paying off with brilliant success.
At just seventeen-years-old – after traveling the world the past two years, living on his own, and going to school while training and competing with the world’s best ski jumpers – he will soon make an extraordinary homecoming to compete in his debut FIS Ski Jumping World Cup right here in his own hometown at the Olympic Jumping Complex where his career began. He will be the youngest athlete in World Cup competition this year. He’ll also be coming home ranked in the top five ski jumpers in the United States. And he will be returning triumphantly as Lake Placid’s new ski jumping hero competing in the first FIS Ski Jumping World Cup in Lake Placid in more than 30 years.
In the Beginning
“Skiing’s been a big part of my life. It’s almost all I did growing up,” says Tate. Since his very early years he trained and competed at Olympic Regional Development Authority venues. He was an athlete with the New York Ski Education Foundation (NYSEF) program. He started ski jumping when he was nine at an after-school program designed for kids to drop in and try it out.
“Larry Stone and Colin Delaney are the two coaches I’ve grown up with,” says Tate. “Larry was the one who introduced me to the sport, and Colin eventually took me from Larry’s hands and led me through the progression to the bigger jumps. I’ll always be grateful for their guidance and support.”
With highly developed cross-country and ski jumping skills combined with his dedication to sport, Tate grew into a high-level competitor in Nordic Combined. That’s a sport that combines cross-country skiing and ski jumping. Last year, he was rising in his sport and traveling to compete at venues on increasingly higher levels, from the Junior World Nordic Combined Championship in Poland to Continental Cup competitions in Russia, Lillehammer, Norway, and Lake Placid.
The Summer of Pain
But this year’s been different for Tate. After taking time off from the intense focus of international Nordic Combined competition, he woke up one morning in early June with knee pain. When it didn’t go away with standard treatments, he upped his game to find a solution.
Says Tate, “It was keeping me from roller skiing and cross-country training and even prohibiting me somewhat from jumping and doing more strength work in the gym. I got custom orthotics for my shoes and tried rest and ice and anti-inflammatories. Nothing was working. I got x-rays and MRIs. They showed nothing wrong with my knee. I saw four different doctors, and everyone said it all looks better than ever.”
Come September when he still couldn’t train for cross-country skiing and had gone too long without training in his sport, it came time to re-evaluate his goals. “I knew the season for Nordic Combined was out the window entirely,” he recalls. He could easily have fallen into self-pity. Instead, he chose a different direction. I’ve historically been a stronger ski jumper than a cross-country skier, so jumping was a possibility. I decided to commit to ski jumping for the season, not knowing how it would work out.”
He makes it clear he hasn’t quit Nordic Combined. It’s still a passion for him. But because his knee is not letting him cross country ski for reasons no one knows, he chose this new path. And he’s turned it into a booming success. “I went from being ranked maybe top 15 in the US in Nordic Combined to ranked top 5 for ski jumping,” says Tate. “And now, I’m getting my first start on the world’s highest stage at the World Cup in Lake Placid.”
Since the start of the season just a few months ago, no one would have expected it. Not even Tate himself. “I heard the Ski Jumping World Cup was coming to Lake Placid, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s cool I wish I could be there. But that’s not going to happen.’ Well, now it’s happening.”
The Life of a Professional Ski Jumper
With so much on his plate, he’s really not had time to contemplate his big homecoming. Training in Norway. Going to school online. Traveling back to to Lake Placid for the holidays. Then to Slovenia for a competition. Back to Norway. Then across the globe to Japan. Back to Norway. Then the Junior World Championships in Whistler, on Canada’s west coast. Says Tate, “I’ve flown around the world this season, but it’s obviously’ all worth it to do something you really enjoy doing.”
The light in his eyes and the joy in his voice is tells it all. He really does enjoy the sport. “You get in the air and time just slows down. You’re flying under your own power and it’s pretty incredible. It’s even better when you’re in a big competition. You have the crowd cheering you on and the support of thousands of people below. You zone in, and you know you can do one of your best jumps. And when you take off into that first phase of the flight, you can feel you’re gaining height and gaining speed and you know it’s going to be a great jump. There’s no other feeling like it.”
But competing at this level is not easy, and Tate doesn’t pretend it is. Finding balance is one of his life’s challenges as an athlete. A typical day of training in Lillehammer has him waking up around 7:00 am, making and eating his breakfast, and getting to the hill by 8:00. His morning is filled with getting ready to jump and going up and down the hill making five or six jumps. All the while working on the intricacies of his form. Then it’s back home to jump online for school from noon to 4:00 pm and studying as hard as he can until 5:00 when he runs back out the door to the gym for a power session before once again running back home to make a quick dinner.
There isn’t much off time, if any. Tate is training seven days a week, typically with 10 to 12 training sessions a week, and most days including a double session. “Since I injured my knee,” adds Tate, I also take time in the evening to do rehab on it, so things have been even a little busier.” That means after his evening strength training, Tate still has a physical therapy routine to do at home. “I just gotta listen to my body. That’s probably the most important thing. My aim is always to stay consistent with my training, especially around competitions, but my body knows what’s best.”
Summers, you might expect to be a little different. When you’re from Lake Placid – home to the only ski jumping facility in all of North America homologated for both summer and winter training and competition – you train year-round. Still, he does get a break. In April and May, international competitors like Tate take time off from their sport. “You still want to keep your body in shape,” he says, “But we also try to emphasize doing other things during the offseason.”
Last spring, he spent time trail running, backcountry skiing with friends in the Norwegian fjords, mountain biking, and generally just staying active. “When April comes, it’s really nice to switch your brain and do something different mentally. It’s important for me at that time to stop thinking about being a professional athlete and just be a kid for a while. And that is still who I am. It’s good to just go hang out with friends and do a back flip on Nordic skis. It’s a welcome break. Then, June first, we’re right back on the hill and back to work.”
Getting to the World Cup
Last year, Tate was already traveling the world and competing in major Nordic Combined events. He was at the Junior World Championships last year in Poland. He also competed in Continental Cup competitions, the level just below World Cup, in Russia and in Norway before coming home to the FIS Continental Cup in Lake Placid last March.
While that experience helped Tate prepare for the extra demands this season, it’s his drive to succeed that he credits for helping him rise so quickly in the world of ski jumping. Yet to get to the biggest stage yet – the World Cup in Lake Placid – he had made it count when it mattered most.
“My parents always told me, I’m good under pressure. That when I’m put on the spot, I’m always able to perform. I proved that last week in Japan when the wind was blowing sideways,” he says. In the last Continental Cup before the World Cup in Lake Placid, his last chance to score the points he needed to qualify, he pulled it off. And he didn’t waste any time doing it. On his first jump of that competition, he made his longest jump in the competition. That’s the one that immediately qualified him for the World Cup in Lake Placid.
A Homecoming Like No Other
It’s special for any athlete to get to the World Cup. It’s a rare chance though to debut in their own hometown. And it adds a whole new level of special when that hometown is hosting its first Ski Jumping World Cup in more than 30 years!
“I’ve gotten a lot of messages from people who are going to be there starting on Friday’s qualification round,” he says. “Just having that support is going to be pretty cool, but it’ll be great having my parents there, too. They’ve only gotten to watch me compete a handful of times.”
Tickets are selling like they’re on fire, and it is projected that event will sell out. With thousands of people at the bottom of the hill, many locals who are there to see Tate and will literally be looking up to him to see this 17-year-old hometown hero fly through the air.
“No matter how I do in the competition, I will be there in Lake Placid competing on the top stage in the world against the world’s best. Against athletes who have won Olympic medals and World Championship medals, and I’ll be the youngest athlete who’s competed in the world cup all year by a long margin.” Tate says he intends to do well in front on his hometown, but no matter how the field performs, the event will be an incredible experience for him. He’s excited to be representing the US, excited to be ranked in the top five in the country, and excited to be at home for his first World Cup on such an auspicious occasion for Lake Placid.
“I’m coming back to this absolutely world class venue that is as good if not better than the jumps you see around Europe. I have friends who grew up jumping in places like Norway and Slovenia, and we talk about the Lake Placid jumps. They’ve seen the towers and want to try them. European athletes are all wanting to travel to jump here, and then when they do, they love these hills. That’s pretty cool. And now it’s really awesome we’re bringing the World Cup back to town, welcoming the world.”
Tate urges everyone to come out and see the event, especially the qualifying rounds on Friday night. He adds, “The older guys on the circuit have been doing this for longer than I’ve been alive, so I’ve still got a lot to learn. Come on out and watch me hopefully qualify on Friday night.”
With Tate’s flair for showing up big when it really matters, Lake Placid’s in for a great show at the Olympic Jumping Complex.