John F. Russell: A risky jump

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Taking risks is nothing new to Steamboat Springs native Corby Fisher.

The 30-year-old has taken more risks in his short life than a stray dog crossing Interstate 25 during rush hour.

He was a ski jumper until a series of injuries, including a broken neck and two concussions, forced him to stop jumping in the mid-1990s. When doctors wouldn't clear him to continue jumping, he turned to rodeo and spent several years riding bulls.

As if that wasn't risky enough, Fisher took one of the boldest steps of his life two years ago, when he accepted the position of head coach of the U.S. Ski Team's special jumping squad.

He took the position knowing the job would be thankless and that he would have to work with one of the smallest budgets of any team in the world. Yes, he had a talented ski jumper in Clint Jones, and he got lucky when veteran jumper Alan Alborn decided to return to the team.

But the reality was that Fisher was being asked to lead a team that was poorly funded, lacking a plan for developing new talent, and a long shot to win a medal at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in Italy.

Even more disturbing is that most Americans know more about the rejects on "American Idol" than they did about the five ski jumpers representing their country at the Olympics.

For Fisher, taking the coaching job was a bigger risk than ski jumping, bull riding or investing every penny he has into a retirement scheme involving Lotto tickets. It would have been less risky to take a motorcycle ride with Evel Knievel or go on a late-night date with Paris Hilton.

Only time will tell whether the risk of taking the coaching job will pay off for Fisher. Last week, he resigned, bringing an end to his two-year run.

When he took the job, his goal was to make the U.S. Team competitive with the world's elite. But February's Olympics proved the team has a long way to go.

I hope Fisher's legacy will not be defined in terms of results. I've met few coaches who have displayed Fisher's dedication and love for sport.

Because I'm not a jumper, I can't say much about his coaching style. But I know that it's going to take more than great coaching to elevate the U.S. Ski Team into the one of the world's best. It's going to take a commitment to build a development program that will take athletes from the club level to an international level. American athletes need to travel to Europe to get the experience to be competitive, and they need to do it when they are younger.

The current approach to skiing in America is to support the teams that have proven they can win at the World Cup level.

It's a nice theory. But how does a team produce top results if it has no funding for development?

The national ski jumping team is in a catch-22, and unless something changes, the team's next coach will face the same risk -- and most likely the same fate -- as Fisher.

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