Let the competition begin

Mayer, Bloom, Bahrke expect big things in Lake Placid

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— Maybe this whole skiing gig will work out for Travis Mayer after all.

Back in the United States for nearly a month, Mayer, and the rest of the freestyle field, begin World Cup competition in Lake Placid today. Mayer, originally from upstate New York, expects a throng of supporters to come and watch.

One year removed from winning silver in the 2002 Olympics, Mayer has not slowed down. The skier, who moved to Steamboat Springs six years ago to focus on training, is leading the pack in the World Cup moguls standings.

"We'll have quite a crew (in Lake Placid)," Mayer said via conference call from New York on Thursday. "It should be pretty fun. After the Olympics, everyone got pumped about moguls skiing and they realized maybe Travis wasn't a ski bum after all."

Blessed -- or unblessed -- with anonymity heading into the Salt Lake City games, Mayer is now a force in the freestyle world. But his fondness for top finishes has prompted the 20-year-old to feel something that he really didn't have a year ago -- pressure.

"Now, I have the silver medal and am leading the World Cup," he said.

Lake Placid is the first of three American stops on the World Cup freestyle tour. The other two, Deer Valley, Utah, and Steamboat, also hold special significance for the young man.

Mayer calls Steamboat home, and he's eagerly awaiting the Feb. 7-8 competition for a chance to "relax, do some laundry, snowshoe at Sarvis and get a burrito," he said.

But first is the return trip to Deer Valley, site of this year's World Championships, on Jan. 28 through Feb. 2. Deer Valley hosted the freestyle races during the Salt Lake City games, so Mayer is thrilled at the chance to build upon the success he has already enjoyed on the course.

"I don't know what jumps I'm doing yet," Mayer said. "The hill is unique. It's longer than the ones we've been on. It's a test of endurance and technical skill. It's a course suited to my technique, so hopefully I can do well."

Mayer's 150-pound frame traverses longer courses faster, and the large number and shape of the moguls on the Deer Valley run suits his skiing style, he said.

Besides, he is used to, and enjoys, racing on runs designed by former coach Tim Meagher. Meagher designed both the Deer Valley course and the one Mayer and his competitors will see in Steamboat in several weeks.

"I was really lucky I moved to Steamboat," Mayer said. "It's a marquee place to train. No one else has a World Cup course up for four months a year."

High-profile teammates Shannon Bahrke and Jeremy Bloom joined Mayer on Thursday's conference call from Lake Placid.

Bahrke is currently atop the World Cup women's moguls standings, and Bloom is back on the World Cup circuit after wrapping up his freshman football season for the University of Colorado Buffaloes.

Like Mayer, Bahrke is ecstatic about the chance to return to the site where she captured silver in last year's Olympics. Bahrke has even purchased a home in the Salt Lake City area.

But the countless hours Bahrke spent in the gym and on the slopes leading up to the Olympics last year has been replaced by a newfound enthusiasm for the sport. It has led to two wins and two runner-up finishes in four events for the Tahoe City, Calif., resident.

"This year, I'm taking a step back and enjoying it for once," Bahrke said. "This year, I didn't have any expectations. One event just led to the next."

Bloom seemed indifferent to the idea of returning to the site of what he called "the biggest disappointment of my life."

His ninth-place finish in the Olympics wasn't what Bloom was shooting for, but the Loveland resident went on to capture the 2002 World Cup moguls championship.

With football behind him for now -- he is still undecided as to whether he'll return to CU next year to play football -- Bloom is pleased with his quick transition from the grass at Folsom Field to the snow on runs in Finland and Canada.

On Jan. 11, Bloom took second in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, for his first podium finish of the season. In his first event of the year, in Ruka, Finland, he finished fourth.

Last year, Bloom won the competition in Lake Placid.

He refuses to allow last year's results to dictate his attitude this season.

"I'm looking forward to Saturday's competition regardless of last year," he said. "I just want to keep skiing well."

Bloom's quick start on the World Cup circuit can be attributed in part to his believing that his layoff from skiing wouldn't hamper his performance, he said.

"Mentally, it's probably been better," he said. "During football season, I tried to block skiing out. Right after the Big 12 Championship, I took finals early and started to think about skiing. Then it was back to the Alamo Bowl, and I tried to do the same thing. Now, I'm just focusing on skiing. Football season, especially in college, is so long. It was refreshing to be on snow."

Mayer, Bahrke and Bloom are expected to race in Steamboat on Feb. 7-8.

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