February 14, 2006
SAUZE d'OULX, Italy (AP by Brett Martel)—Jeremy Bloom has stood inside the 20-yard line waiting for a punt so many times, he can't imagine nerves being a problem when he's in the starting gate.
Even if this time it happens to be the Olympics _ and most likely his last major ski competition.
"There's not much like returning a punt, the former Colorado football player said. "I know no one's running to take my head off here.
He'll worry about things like that next week, when he attends the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
On Wednesday, though, he'll be part of an American freestyle skiing team that is widely regarded as one of the deepest in men's moguls, given that Nate Roberts, ranked fifth in this year's World Cup standings, didn't even make the squad.
Bloom, whose college football career was cut short two years ago when the NCAA ruled he couldn't play while accepting ski endorsements, won the Olympic trials in late December to go along with three top-five finishes on the World Cup circuit.
Last year, he won an unprecedented six straight World Cup events, establishing himself as the best moguls skier of 2005, and maybe the man to beat at the Turin Games. He's ranked seventh in World Cup standings this season, largely because he has limited his action to focus on the Olympics.
Combine his success with his highly publicized, losing battle with the NCAA and the fact that "Sports Illustrated for Women featured him as one of the sexiest men in sports, and it's easy to see why he's been one of the primary attractions of these Olympics.
That brings obvious pressure, but Bloom is used to that by now.
"The pressures that go along with playing college football are really helpful in something like this, Bloom said.[pagebreak]Should Bloom falter, the American medal chances remain solid, with the likes of Toby Dawson, Travis Cabral and 2002 silver medalist Travis Mayer.
"We're competing against the best in the world just to make the American team, Cabral said. "We have such a strong team, I knew it was going to be very tough to make it.
Unlike snowboarding, though, there is plenty of good outside competition.
One top skier is fearless 18-year-old Canadian Alexandre Bilodeau, now ranked second on the World Cup circuit, who needs to get his mogul turns in good enough rhythm to complement his stunning 1080-degree, off-axis jumps. That's a flip-and-twist combination equal to three full revolutions, and it's unusual. He's the only Olympian to have done such a jump in World Cup competition this season. The rest have stuck with 720s _ either two twists or a twist with a flip.
Scoring is based 50 percent on form in the moguls, 12.5 percent each for the two jumps and 25 percent on speed. So form in the moguls could be Bilodeau's greatest area of weakness, and some Americans weren't shy about reminding the judges to scrutinize the turns carefully this week.
"It's turned into a little more of an air show lately. Turns don't get their full value, said Dawson, currently ranked fourth in the world.
Another favorite is Dale Begg-Smith of Australia, the current world No. 1, along with Janne Lahtela of Finland, a podium finisher in all three of his World Cup races this season.
But Bilodeau, like Bloom, would have people believe that he has an edge in dealing with pressure _ although his reasons relate to his youth, not experience on the gridiron.
"I am not putting any pressure on me. I am focusing on experience for 2010, the French Canadian said, referring to the next Winter Olympics in Vancouver. "If a (winning) result comes, it's a bonus.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press