In the life of a special jumper, the difference between making the podium and just making the cut for the finals is measured in terms of meters and points.
The difference between gold and tears could come down to a narrow miss on the takeoff or a bobble during a telemark landing.
Nobody needs to remind American Alan Alborn.
During his career, he has learned that it's the little things that matter, and his coach says it will take only a small adjustment for the veteran ski jumper to climb in the standings before he arrives at the Olympic jumping complex in Pragelato, Italy.
"There is no doubt that he is an underdog," coach Corby Fisher said. "But the field at the Olympics is going to be so competitive that any of those skiers could win on any given day."
In the past four years, the American team has struggled through many ups and downs, but the optimistic Fisher said he thought things were starting to come together.
"This is a great team, and I'm excited to get these guys together and see what they can do," Fisher said.
Alborn elected to skip the U.S. National Champ--ionships in Steamboat Springs at the end of January to compete in World Cup events in Japan.
It was a tough decision, but one that the coach and Alborn agreed would help him at the Olympics.
"His main goal is the Olympics," Fisher said. "I don't think he's as strong physically as he was in Salt Lake City -- he's been beat up the past couple of years -- but I think his head is in a better place."
This season, Alborn, who trained for several years in Steamboat, has led the Americans on the World Cup tour. He was ranked 51st after the first period of the season.
Fellow Olympic veterans and Steam--boat natives Clint Jones and Tommy Schwall will join Alborn in Italy.
Youngsters Anders Johnson, of Park City, Utah, and Jim Denny from Duluth, Minn., will get their first crack at the Olympics. Fisher doesn't expect those ski jumpers to be in the medal hunt, but he thinks they will gain a tremendous amount of experience that will pay off down the road in 2010.
But none of the Americans will be a favorite in Italy.
Most people are looking for Jakub Janda, the current World Cup leader, and Janne Ahonen to contend for medals. However, Fisher said the top 30 in the world are extremely close.
Among others to watch are Norway's Roar Ljoekelsoey and Lars Bystoel. Both skiers got off to a slow start but have rebounded in recent competitions. It's also hard to discount Poland's Adam Malysz, who won the silver medal in Salt Lake City but has struggled this season.
Fisher said World Cup veterans such as Malysz, Ahonen and Janda know how to turn in good performances at big events.
In the team event on Feb. 20, the Austrian and Norwegian teams will be considered the favorites to medal, but they have proven that they can have off days already this season.
Fisher said he hoped the U.S. team could break into the top six in Italy and have the opportunity to jump in both rounds. The team standings will be determined by the combined results of all four jumpers and the field will be cut to the top six teams between the first and second rounds.
The first individual event is Feb. 11 and 12, and the normal-hill qualifying and finals and the large-hill competition are Feb. 17 and 18.
The qualifying round will be used in the normal- and large-hill events and only the top 50 jumpers after that round will advance to the second day of competition. The field will be cut to the top 30 between the second and third rounds on the final day of each event.
The normal hill in Pragelato is a K95 (HS101) and the large hill is a K125 (HS137), but unlike many of the other venues in the world, the jumps are more than 3,000 feet above, not at, sea level. Fisher is hoping that the altitude will favor the U.S. team, which trains in places such as Park City, Utah, and Steamboat.
"Altitude can make a big difference in ski jumping. The air is thinner, so it affects the lift and drag skiers feel in the air."
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