- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 16, 2002

PARK CITY, Utah (AP) They are the crash-test dummies of the Winter Olympics, minus the seat belts and air bags.

Known as forerunners and forejumpers, they are the fearless skiers, ski jumpers, lugers and bobsledders who test the conditions at the Games' many venues before the competition.

And as long as nothing goes wrong, they get to do it again.

At Utah Olympic Park, they've checked the icy surface on the luge course ahead of Germany's Georg Hackl. They soared off the 90- and 120-meter hills before Swiss jumper Simon Ammann won either of his gold medals.

Down the hill first. Off the ramp first. Through the starting gate first. But, hopefully, not first to the emergency room.

They're guinea pigs strapped to skis and sleds.

"It's no big deal," said 19-year-old forejumper Hartman Rector of Holladay, Utah. "I've jumped these hills more than anyone else in the world. Why should I be afraid?"

Forerunners serve a multitude of functions.

By watching them, ski jump judges gauge wind speed, decide where to place the starting bar and make sure the landing area is groomed properly.

Thursday, the team jumping in Nordic combined was postponed by high winds but not before a forejumper was nearly blown halfway to Ogden.

During bobsled and luge, a forerunner's descent down the 15-turn track enables officials to test the timing eyes essential in a sport in which first and second place can be decided by one-thousandths of a second.

Olympic photographers, too, rely on forerunners. They can focus their lenses on these understudies in a type of dress rehearsal.

Some forerunners are aspiring Olympians with their own just-missed-making-the-games stories. Others are better known, including Jen Davidson, dropped from the U.S. team's No. 1 bobsled just before the Games by best friend Jean Racine, who will be a forerunner.

Rector estimates he has jumped off the 90-meter hill at Utah Olympic Park 2,000 times. He was one of 20 young jumpers, including two girls, picked by Salt Lake City organizers.

Though he didn't make the U.S. team, Rector felt like an Olympian anyway.

"This is awesome," he said after being cheered by 17,000 fans who watched his test flight in qualifying. "It's a great experience getting to jump in front of big crowds like this."

At times, it is impossible to distinguish between an Olympic jumper and the kid next door.

Last week, a strong tail wind forced judges to stop the competition and reconfigure the hill. So they moved the bar higher up the takeoff ramp for more speed.

But before resuming, guess who got to try it out?

"Next up, ladies and gentlemen, a forerunner," the hill's public address announcer warned as jumper 4F got ready. "Guinea pigs. These are young guys. They can handle it."

Easy for him to say.

Seconds later, Tim Nelson of Boise, Idaho, flew 84.5 meters eight meters farther than one of the jumpers from Slovenia. If not for his distinct orange jump suit and unusual bib number, Nelson would have blended into the field.

"These kids are all good," said Alan Johnson, who oversaw the jumping at Olympic Park. "Half of them come from our local club."

And one of them is Anders Johnson, his 12-year-old son.

When high gusts and near whiteout conditions canceled 90-meter qualifying, Rector and some of his buddies jumped anyway.


"Why not?" he said.

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