Local athletes share in Olympic experience by forejumping | SteamboatToday.com

Local athletes share in Olympic experience by forejumping

— Bryan Fletcher, Alex Miller, Brett Denney and Nick Hendrickson may not be Olympians, but chances are that they logged just as many jumps, if not more, at Whistler Olympic Park than competitors last week.

"It feels awesome," Miller said. "You can feel the Olympic spirit."

Miller, and several of his teammates on the U.S. Nordic Combined Team who are not on this year's Olympic roster, were asked to come to British Columbia to forejump for Nordic combined and ski jumping events. They're not there to compete, but they are helping with the behind-the-scenes work that goes into every jump meet — and getting a feel for the 2010 Winter Olympics along the way.

"We jump before the competition, and during the competition," Fletcher said. "If it's snowing, we clear out the track; or before the competition, we are basically cleaning the in-run and polishing the track by skiing it. We make sure the hill is consistent for everybody."

A select group of junior athletes from Canada and a few athletes from Austria and Germany also are forejumping at the games.

Denney said it's been hard work for the forejumpers but that being around the U.S. Olympic Team has made the work worthwhile.

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The forejumpers' day typically begins with a 5:30 a.m. hour-long bus ride to the Nordic combined and jumping venues. Once there, the athletes do whatever is asked, whenever it's asked. That usually includes a couple of jumps before each round on the jump hill. It also might mean jumping after an Olympic athlete has crashed to make sure everything is in order, or when wind conditions change and officials need to figure out which start gate the jumpers should use.

"You never know what you will be doing," Fletcher said. "Sometimes we sit around all day, and other times we need to be ready to go at a moment's notice."

This is the second time Fletcher has been an Olympic forejumper. He did it in Salt Lake City in 2002, and he was happy to come back and do it this year in Vancouver. He had hoped to be on the U.S. Olympic team, but he didn't make the cut after struggling in the early part of this season.

"It's cool getting to jump in front of these large crowds," Denney said. "We know they are not here to see us, but it's still a lot of fun."

The job is giving the skiers a taste of the Olympics.

"It's our own personal Olympic experience. We get to ski in front of a big crowd, and we get to see what the Olympic level is all about," Hendrickson said. "It's different than World Cup, and it's our chance to get a feel for the Olympics without all the pressure."

The forejumpers are just one of the many connections Steamboat Springs has to this year's Winter Olympics. Other local ties include former Olympian Clint Jones, who is coaching the forejumpers, and Kris Severson, who is handling the sound inside the venue before, during and after the events. Rob Powers can be seen on the large-screen television that brings all the action to the spectators before the event and between rounds. He keeps the fans engaged with entertaining on-the-spot interviews from the stands, and interviews athletes as they exit the finish area.