Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs It had to have been a bottomless feeling for Jeremy Cota.
He was leading the 2010 U.S. Winter Olympic Team Trials in Steamboat Springs, seeing skier after skier unable to nudge him out of the one guaranteed Olympic spot. Then, world champion Pat Deneen, the last skier to go, put down a phenomenal run.
As judges tallied up the scores, it was close. Real close. Deneen’s score just bested Cota, and Deneen, who almost assuredly was going to make the Olympic team anyway, earned the automatic bid.
There was obvious disappointment as Cota was a dark horse going into the competition.
He was on the U.S. freestyle C team. He’d been on the team less than a year and would have made a huge splash with a win.
But Cota said the second-place finish did more for him than anyone could have expected.
It put him on the radar of U.S. Ski Team coaches, it showed he could ski on the big stage, and maybe most importantly, it proved to himself that he could compete and make the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Cota’s personality makes him someone people should root for.
He just missed making the U.S. Ski Team for three years by struggling at the NorAm selections event. Last season, he did the same thing again, a simple slip costing him a spot on the team.
But where Cota could have gotten down on himself, he instead decided to change his strategy. He decided to focus on the technical aspects of his skiing and not always go as big as he could.
It worked, as he won the 2009 NorAm circuit and finished second at those U.S. Olympic Trials last month.
Cota’s got a laid-back attitude that serves him well. He’s not high strung and doesn’t seem to worry too much.
With three World Cup starts ahead of him, with all three likely to decide the rest of the Olympic team, Cota knows he has a chance.
He also knows he is still that dark horse candidate and that he’s a long shot to make it. But when asked whether he thinks he can do it, Cota just smiles. He insists he hasn’t done a perfect run yet.
With the balance he found in the past year, Cota seems confident and easy about what’s to come next.
When the U.S. Team is selected Jan. 26, Cota certainly will be in the picture. If he doesn’t make it, it won’t be that bottomless feeling, he said.
Judging by Cota’s ability on skis and his personality, that feeling has the possibility of not being bottomless at all.
It could be a feeling of elation.
The feeling of earning a ticket to Vancouver.