In Salt Lake City, Bloom was favored to win a medal, but on his second jump in the finals he wobbled high on the steep course at Deer Valley, costing him time and points, and finished ninth. "It was a small mistake, but freestyle skiing has a high risk-error factor," says Bloom. "It was disappointing."
"He blew it," says Moseley. "That was his gold medal to win."
Nevertheless, the Olympics thrust Bloom into a world of commercial opportunities that complicated his life and his two-sport career. Thinking he was in compliance with NCAA rules, he signed several endorsement contracts after the Games, with plans to return to Colorado to play football. The NCAA ruled that he was not permitted to accept endorsement money (as opposed to salary) while playing college football. Bloom sued in the summer of 2002 and lost. He dumped his endorsement contracts while appealing the ruling, spending two years playing for the Buffaloes in the fall before joining the World Cup circuit in the winter. In a 22-day stretch in December 2002, Bloom scored against Oklahoma on an 80-yard punt return in the Big 12 championship game, took four final exams three weeks early so that he could travel to Finland for a World Cup event (he finished fourth, wearing his signature helmet, modeled after a Colorado football helmet), then played for the Buffaloes in the Alamo Bowl four days before New Year's. "Insane," says Bloom. "I don't know how I did that."
Although his coaches will debate the point, Bloom says each sport helped the other. "I never skied better than when I was in great football shape, and fighting the NCAA for two years gave me all kinds of mental clarity," he says. "Training for moguls helps my foot quickness and vision for football." His skill set is unique. He spent last summer training daily in Los Angeles with UCLA speed, strength and conditioning coach Doc Kreis, who previously held that position at Colorado. "I concluded that he had to be trained like a football player who is also a hurdler, like Willie Gault," says Kreis. "We put together a brutal little program, almost vicious really, and Jeremy exceeded it."
In Bloom's two-sport life, the ultimate tipping factor was economic. Most top-level skiers use endorsement money to fund private coaching or trips to find snow, or for training on water ramps (used for practicing jumps into water, the ultimate soft surface for learning jumps). Bloom needed the money to cover his mounting legal bills. In the spring of 2004, despite the possible consequences, he signed endorsement deals with Under Armour and Bolle Eyewear; he has since added Rip It, an energy drink, which bought his headgear sponsorship. ("No more CU Buffs helmet," he says. "Maybe a CU Buffs sticker.") Three courtrooms later the NCAA declared him permanently ineligible, ending his college football career.
"My time is over on this issue," Bloom says. "But the problem is not going to go away. There are going to be more nontraditional athletes competing in the NCAA."
Freed from other worries, Bloom had a breakthrough season in moguls. Judges evaluate the technical quality of competitors' turns and skiing (50% of the total score) and do likewise with their jumps (25%). Elapsed time counts for the final 25%. Bloom has long excelled at the pure skiing and turning. "Great dynamic skier," says St. Pierre. "He needed to get current on his jumps."
The sport changed dramatically in 2003. During the '02 Olympic year inverted jumps such as Moseley's Cork 720 (nicknamed the "dinner roll") were illegal if a skier's feet went even marginally above his head. The following year rules against inverted jumps were rescinded. Last year, with extensive training on water ramps, Bloom upgraded his jumps to include a D-Spin 720 Iron Cross (a single inverted backflip and two spins with skis crossed) and a 720 Iron Cross (a double, off-axis spin from an upright launch). "You never know what people will come out with every year," says Moseley. "But Jeremy caught up last year. And the way he picked up the new jumps, like overnight, was a total joke."
While Bloom is the favorite to win the gold medal, there's also a chance he'll miss the powerful U.S. team altogether. The four-man squad for Turin will be named on Jan. 25, with three members culled from World Cup results and a fourth selected at a wild-card competition. Assuming nothing, Bloom won't allow friends to buy tickets for Italy until he is named to the team or clinches a spot.
After the Games he will rush toward the NFL. "He's a guy you have to look at," says NFL personnel evaluator Ron Hill. "He's smallish but athletic, plays at a fast pace." At the combine Kreis expects Bloom to run exceptionally fast in the 40--perhaps as fast as 4.2 seconds--and to lift 225 pounds as many as 18 or 19 times, very good for a small man. It is risky to attend the combine so soon after skiing and without intense football training, but Bloom has told Tony Davis, "To heck with it. I'll still blow them away."