Ski jumping team still looking to make up ground

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— Anders Johnson, Peter Frenette and Nicholas Alexander insist things are better than they were four years ago in Vancouver.

In hindsight, it would be hard to imagine it could be much tougher.

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Then, the three American ski jumpers were the most underfunded bunch at the Olympic games.

Four years ago, Alexander stood outside of a pet store soliciting funds. On Friday at the RusSki Gorki Jumping Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, Alexander was the United States’ top qualifier in the men’s large hill event, placing 30th.

Nicholas Fairall qualified in 31st, while Johnson qualified in 36th. Frenette just missed the cut, at 43rd.

The final of the large hill event is today.

“It’s been really tough,” Johnson said. “But this has been the first time in a long time our team is starting to fund top athletes. It started two years ago. We got a lot of committed sponsors, and we have a group of four guys that don’t have to pay too much.”

Funding from the United States Ski and Snowboard Association used to be nonexistent.

The organization, though, lives on a slippery slope. With only so much funding to give out, USSA puts money toward sports that it knows are more successful and that are more mainstream.

Even for ski jumping, though, it’s gotten better.

Thanks to smaller sponsors and individual donations, the United States slowly is catching up with the rest of the world.

“It’s gotten a lot better,” Frenette said. “Four years ago, we had to pay for every trip. Now, with the help from the team and individual sponsors, I do not have to spend any of my parents’ money when it comes to these trips.”

Money certainly is a factor. Many of the top jumpers and countries have a fully funded team.

Switzerland’s Gregor Deschwanden, 22, qualified in 14th on Friday. He said performance-wise, he isn’t much further along than the Americans.

But he also hasn’t had to pay for anything when it comes to ski jumping since he was 15 years old.

“I don’t pay,” he said. “It’s all the Swiss Team. And when I jump good, I get more.”

It’s hard to say whether ski jumping will ever take hold. It will require an extraordinary performance in a large event.

All four American skiers still are young, with Alexander the oldest at 25.

They’ve shown improved results on the World Cup this season, and each said they’d like to continue with the sport.

Whether the gap with top nations ever narrows, it involves a plethora of factors.

“We’ve had to pave our own trail,” Johnson said.

“That’s gone well for us. It’s still a really long way until we’re at the top. But I think we’re all still young enough and committed enough to keep going,” he said.

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229, email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @LukeGraham

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