Underfunded U.S. jumpers qualify again at Olympics | SteamboatToday.com

Underfunded U.S. jumpers qualify again at Olympics

Team struggles with money but has managed to put athletes on the hill

Luke Graham

— The U.S. Ski Jumping Team showed that it is moving in the right direction Friday in Whistler, British Columbia, qualifying Nicholas Alex­ander and Peter Frenette for today's big jump finals.

But maybe more evident is the uphill battle the team still faces.

It's one of the only sports the United States Olympic Committee doesn't fund. There are few sponsors, and the athletes and their families have to foot most of the bill.

So while the Austrian team climbed aboard its $500,000 bus after Friday's competition, Alexander, Frenette and teammate Anders Johnson — who was just out of qualifying Friday in 42nd place — could only shake their heads.

"Eventually, we can be competitive," said Alexander, who qualified 28th. "But it's going to take a lot of funding. You have to pump some money into the program. You can't expect results to come from a program that has nothing. That's not how it works."

Alexander said the team looks for funding and sponsorships wherever possible. That included Alexander standing outside of a pet store with his gear, asking for donations.

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"Some pretty bizarre stuff," he said. "We're struggling to get by."

But maybe the best model to look at for the team happens to be the skiers' brethren in Nordic combined.

Not long ago, the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team struggled with funding and struggled to compete on an international level.

But sticking it out helped, and as Johnny Spillane proved by winning a silver medal, it's certainly possible to turn a program around.

"We look up to those guys," Johnson said. "They're our peers and role models. What they do in the sport motivates us to be where they are."

Frenette and Nordic combined star Billy Demong are from Lake Placid, N.Y., and Frenette said Demong has been a big influence on him. Seeing Demong at the top of his sport helps Frenette think U.S. ski jumping might not be that far off.

"It's inspiring to see him do so well," Frenette said. "It's a great feeling to have someone like that from your same town."

And really, it's not too far-fetched to think America can be competitive in ski jumping. All three Americans qualified for the finals on the smaller jump earlier in the week. Today, they'll have two spots in the finals.

Also consider that Alexander is the oldest member of the team at 21. Johnson is 20, and Frenette is just 17.

"You go over in Europe and people getting amped up in it," said Frenette, who qualified 30th. "All the other teams are superstars. Over here, nobody knows who we are. But good results would help that."

Funding might be the biggest hurdle.

U.S. ski jumping coach Jochen Dannenberg said the current model must be changed. As one of two full-time coaches, he said for America to be competitive with the rest of the world, the team needs at least $100,000 a year.

Where that money would come from is the biggest question. But when the money comes, the results could follow.

"You can say money is not everything," Dannenberg said. "But everything is nothing without money."