Ski jumpers hope to build off Olympics

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— The standings might not have shown it, but Monday was not a bad day for the members of the U.S. Special Jumping Team.

Led by Alan Alborn, the squad scored 728.4 points to place 11th in the 13-team competition. While the team's placement was near the bottom of the list, it was a big improvement from the disappointing showing in last Wednesday's K-120 finals in the individual event at Utah Olympic Park.

"Overall, all four guys improved on their jumps technically, so it was good," Alborn said. "This was kind of a big-pressure competition because of the team atmosphere."

It was pressure-filled because all four guys had two jumps to count. Alborn said none of his teammates wanted to let the others down.

Alborn's jumps of 120.5 meters and 120 meters were the longest for the young American team that was without Steamboat Springs jumper Brendan Doran.

Doran came down with a stomach virus following Sunday's training session and was forced to pull out of the event at the last minute.

Brian Welch of Maine replaced Doran on the U.S. roster. It was Welch's first Olympic jumping experience.

"It was really awesome," Welch said of his first Olympic jumps. "Right now, I'm looking to the next Olympics actually I'm looking forward to the competition right after the Olympics to see if I can't get some good results there. Hopefully, I just keep improving."

Welch said he just found out Sunday that he was going to be jumping Tuesday. He said things had been close all week with Doran, but once the Steamboat Springs skier got sick, he got the nod.

Welch recorded two jumps of 93.5 meters in his Olympic debut. Tommy Schwall of Steamboat Springs jumped in the second group in the team event.

Schwall had jumps of 105 and 102 meters. It was a huge improvement for him after the individual competition, which was held last week.

"I was happier than I have been, but I definitely could have done a lot better," Schwall said. "I can't complain, but I definitely have more work to do."

Schwall said he had goals set for himself but is hoping this experience will help him in future World Cups and Olympics. On Monday, much of the pressure was on Alborn and Clint Jones of Steamboat, who have been the top American jumpers all year.

"We didn't have any pressure coming into this competition we were not expected to get a medal or anything, so we just had fun with it and tried to have some solid jumps out there," Jones said.

The more relaxed game plan helped Jones produce two of his long rides down the mountain in the past week. On his first go, he soared 117.5 meters and he followed it up with a jump of 114 (from a lower starting gate) on his second attempt.

"It was all that I had hoped for, not in the aspect of jumping, but the total experience," Jones said of the Olympics. "It was pretty awesome being the home country. It was something I've been looking forward to for years and years."

Jones, Schwall and Welch said they look forward to more success on the World Cup Tour and the 2006 Games in Italy.

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