John Russell's sports column appears Tuesdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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The idea of building a competitive ski jumping program in the United States might seem like an impossible task to many people, but not everyone.
Two-time Olympian Clint Jones (2002 and 2006) knows the challenges his sport faces on this side of the Atlantic. He’s experienced many of them firsthand as an athlete.
Luckily for our country, he didn’t let the lack of funding, or the team’s volatile history, stop him from joining forces with another former special jumper, Casey Colby. Together, the pair wants to build a foundation in the U.S. that will get the Americans to the top of the jump hill.
Sure, some will say the climb is impossible. Some will say there is no saving ski jumping in America. Jones and Colby are out to prove those people wrong.
“I would tell those people that the sport hasn’t changed that much,” Jones said. “If they think it’s dying — it’s only a perception. We have a lot of talented athletes on this team, and our numbers are about the same or better than when I was jumping.”
Joe Holland, chairman of Ski Jumping Development USA, announced that Colby and Jones have been hired to lead the privately funded program after German coach Jochen Danneberg left.
But this is a sport limited by geography, and in a country where kids dream of being the next Tom Brady, LeBron James or Alex Rodriguez — not Simon Ammann or Gregor Schlierenzauer — it’s hard to find support.
But that’s not to say that the American team doesn’t have talent. In fact, Jones thinks many of the building blocks for this team are already in place, and with time, the athletes will be successful.
In February, Nick Alexander, Peter Frenette and Anders Johnson represented the United States at the Olympics. All three jumpers made the qualifying cut in the normal hill event, and Alexander and Frenette also made the cut in the large hill competition.
The results were respectable, but they were not groundbreaking. At the end of the day, the Americans were still a long way from the podium and still looking for the ride that will take them to the top. Meanwhile, the Austrian team boarded its $500,000 bus with the team gold and two individual bronze medals in tow.
However, the athletes on the American team wore the red, white and blue with pride even though they had no support from the U.S. Ski Team leading up to the games.
Jones said the team is lucky to have found financial support from former ski jumpers who have gone on to find success in the business world. He doesn’t expect the team to gain the support of the U.S. Ski Team in the near future and thinks it’s best for the team to move forward without expecting to fall back into the fold.
Yet, he is optimistic about the future of the team and the sport in the United States. Now, the former American star just needs the support, and the time, to make it happen.