Four years ago, a wide-eyed Clint Jones could only imagine what it was going to feel like to jump in the Olympics.
Now, a more experienced Jones is focused on what it will take to be successful during his second trip to the biggest stage in all of winter sports.
"It's pretty much the same situation," Jones said. "But I've got a lot more experience now. I've seen the ups and downs, and I think I'm better prepared to compete this time around."
In 2002, the 17-year-old ski jumper from Steamboat Springs was on top of his game leading up to the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
He was part of a two-man duo that had elevated America's hopes for the future of ski jumping, and he joined teammates Alan Alborn, Brendan Doran, Tommy Schwall and Brian Welch at the Oly--mpics.
The young skiers were overwhelmed with the amount of media coverage generated in the months leading to the Winter Olympics that fueled high expectations for top finishes.
The U.S. Ski Team got a solid showing from Alborn, who finished 11th in the 90-meter and 34th in the 120-meter jumping events, and Jones, who was 42nd in the 120-meter.
But although the results were respectable for the young team, the showing was frustrating in the wake of the hype surrounding the Olympics.
Since Salt Lake City, Jones has tried to learn from his experience. Now, he is preparing to take the stage again in Torino, Italy.
Although his goals remain unchanged, Jones said he's not the same jumper who took the hill in February 2002.
"Once you've had good results, everything changes," Jones said. "The expectations are different once you start jumping well. The goal changes from just jumping well to maintaining a certain level."
With just 208 days until the 2006 Olympics begin, Jones is one of the frontrunners to represent the United States in Italy and is confident he will be able to step it up this season.
"A lot of people say the Olympics are just another World Cup," Jones said. "There's some truth to that, but the top athletes in the world step it up a notch at the Olympics. There are fewer jumpers than a normal World Cup, but you have to jump really, really well because you know everyone else will be jumping at the top of their game."
Jones is the top jumper on the American team and won a pair of Super Tour events in Lake Placid duing the Fourth of July weekend.
Alborn missed the Lake Placid events, but another Steamboat jumper, Tommy Schwall, also had a promising showing, placing second. Anders Johnson of Park City, Utah, was third.
Jones realizes that he and the rest of the American team will need to improve this winter if they hope to be competitive in Italy.
Although Jones has enjoyed several top results -- including four top-15 finishes in World Cup events and a seventh at the Junior Worlds in 2002 -- he understands that he must strive for better consistency.
To reach that goal, Jones knows he will need some help from Alborn, his longtime friend.
Alborn, who returned to the American team last year after a short retirement, was hampered by injuries and inconsistent results in 2004-05.
He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in February and has spent the early part of the summer rehabilitating his knee.
Special jumping coach Corby Fisher said Alborn recently returned to the jump hill, but he was not ready to compete in Lake Placid.
"He will stay back (in Park City) and dial in his jumping until mid-August," Fisher said. "Alan is an athlete who knows what he needs to do and can get back to the elite level very quickly."
Jones said his teammate's return would make a world of difference on and off the ski-jumping hills.
Jones said he likes having Alborn around in training because he pushes him. Having some company on the road also helps.
"Having him back will definitely change my attitude," Jones said. "It's hard to be on the road all alone," Jones said. "I spent a lot of long days in Europe last winter. ... It's hard to be on the road and away from your friends and family."
To combat the homesick blues, Jones has come up with a plan and a new approach to make life on the road a little easier.
"I think I'm going to try to make the most of it this time around," Jones said. "It might mean some more time free-skiing or playing my guitar, but I'm just going to try to enjoy the time I spend on the road."