Jeremy Bloom, a promising wide receiver at Colorado, stepped back from football for a run at his first love, mogul skiing
The introduction, bellowed over the sound of rock music in the peaks above Lake Placid, seemed better suited for a high school homecoming parade. "And now," hollered the announcer at last month's Gateway Freestyle Challenge, "let's give it up for that big, honking football player, Jeremy Bloom!"
The small, wiry figure swathed in black Gortex and crouched over his skis at the top of the mogul course hardly fit the billing. But as soon as he exploded from the gate for his final run of the World Cup season, Bloom, the world-class skier, showed shades of his alter ego, the all-state wide receiver. With an aggressiveness that he had not unleashed since he left freshman-year football camp at the University of Colorado last July to try to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic freestyle team, Bloom ripped through the bumps, flung himself high and far on his two required jumps and finished with his career-best score: a 27.96 that cemented his spot on the team. Let's Go Crazy, the Prince song blaring in the background, didn't even begin to describe Bloom's approach to the run.
Afterward the 19-year-old Bloom, who skied conservatively to two podiums but no wins in the five World Cup races that preceded the Lake Placid finale, explained his abandon. "I've tried to be consistent all season," he said, fingering one of his two tiny, silver hoop earrings. "Today, I wanted to get down that hill as fast as I could."
It was an urge that Bloom first experienced at age three, when he learned to ski at the Keystone (Colo.) Resort. His mom, Char, an instructor there, taught Jeremy the basics, but his grandfather Jerry Bloom provided the incentive by tossing candy bars down the mountain during family ski weekends. For young Jeremy, who grew up in a health-food-only household, the prospect of a Hershey bar was enough to overcome his fears on Keystone's steepest trails. Soon Char and Jeremy's father, Larry, were looking back on black-diamond mogul runs to see their youngest son bumping along after them. "People would stop and stare," says Char. "They'd ask, 'Why aren't you entering him in competitions?'"
Char assented when Jeremy was five. His first competition was the Small World Cup, a local Alpine event. On his first run Jeremy tucked in and shot straight down the hill. "See those flags?" Char asked her son afterward. "This time, go around them." He nodded, heard the beep and ignored the flags again. Char threw up her hands in amused acquiescence: Her son, it seemed, was destined for straight-line skiing.
Bloom soon became a regular on the local junior mogul circuit, going undefeated between the ages of 11 and 14. During class at school he drew pictures of stick figures on jagged mountains, gold medals the size of gongs around their necks. But it wasn't the doodling that made teachers worry about Bloom, an A student through high school. It was the roughhousing at recess. "Jeremy was mild-mannered, but on a football field he kind of went crazy," says Char.
The only activity that Bloom enjoyed more than catching big air was catching footballs. Though he never grew beyond 5'9", 160 pounds, Bloom had sure hands and speed (he has run a 4.25-second 40-yard dash) that made him the most dangerous player on his Loveland High team. After leading Loveland to the state 4A title as a senior, Bloom signed with Colorado, mainly because it was within driving distance of his favorite mountains.
While football prevented him from training for skiing year-round, Bloom's natural ability had earned him a spot on the national freestyle C team in 1998. However, when he had not been promoted after three years, despite winning the Nor-Am Cup (one step below the World Cup) in 2001, Bloom found it difficult to picture himself in the 2002 Games. Feeling slighted by the time Colorado football summer workouts began, he tried to funnel all of his athletic ambition into becoming a starting wide receiver. Bloom was impressing Colorado coach Gary Barnett a few weeks into camp when he received a surprise invitation from the U.S. ski team to be one of 10 mogulists who would train in Chile for the upcoming World Cup season.
His Olympic fire once again stoked, Bloom nervously requested a meeting with Barnett. The coach not only gave Bloom his blessing to pursue his dreams but promised that his scholarship would be waiting when he returned. "I hated to leave football, but my team gave me high fives on my way out the door," says Bloom, who caught glimpses of Colorado's Big 12 championship season on airport TVs between ski races. "I needed to go to Chile to prove a point."
High in the Andes in September, Bloom attacked the slopes like a man given a second chance at life. He was as fit as ever, from gridiron agility drills as well as from a high-endurance training program that he had squeezed in between Boulder and Chile. The workouts had helped Bloom lose the upper-body bulk he needed for football and redevelop the leg strength required for mogul skiing. To the disbelief of his fellow mogulists in Chile, he would force his aching quads into ice baths, football-locker-room-style, after being the last one off the slopes at the end of the day.
It was immediately apparent, says head coach Jeff Wintersteen, that Bloom had, well, blossomed. He was performing his jumps and turns with scalpel-like precision, and he had mastered a quiet upper body -- "you don't know how fast he's going until you look at the scoreboard," says Wintersteen. "We knew he was good, but Jeremy distinguished himself in Chile. We laid it out for him: It's football or skiing. He put all his eggs in one basket."
As a reward for his new dedication, Bloom was named as a coaches' "discretionary pick" to compete in Tignes, France, on Nov. 22. After debuting with a third-place finish, he seized a permanent spot on the World Cup roster, as well as the celebrity that comes with being a dual-sport star with catalog-model looks. He has been approached by a couple of major apparel companies about possible sponsorship deals (he is allowed to collect until the day he reenrolls at Colorado) and, as a sign that he has truly arrived, fan mail. ("You're a role model -- and a fox!") The ultimate compliment, however, came from Canada's Jean-Luc Brassard, the 1994 gold medalist, after Brassard finished third in Lake Placid. "It's tough to keep up with these Americans, they jump so high and have such unbelievable technique," said Brassard, who, along with countryman Stephane Rochon and a trio of Finns, pose the biggest challenges to Bloom and 19-year-old teammate Travis Mayer today. "They are too good too young these days."
Bloom left Lake Placid with plans to get even better. "I learned today what it's going to take to win," he said, "and being conservative is not going to cut it." Before he had a chance to eat, shower or soak in the fact that he had just become the world's No. 1 mogul skier, Bloom was already describing the intense land-training regimen that he was going to undergo in the final month before the Games. "I gave up a lot to go for this," said Bloom. "I'm not slowing down now."