- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Olympic athletes sacrifice their personal lives, their bones and ligaments, too, on the altar of gold. They punish themselves with years of relentless, often brutal training. Then the moment comes. And then, in a flash, the moment goes. At some point, it goes for good.

Jeremy Bloom’s competitive skiing career, however, might just be a warm-up.

For Bloom, a mogul specialist on the U.S. Olympic ski team, the Winter Games are a prelude to what he hopes are many moments on another, perhaps larger stage. Of course, he wants to win, and he has diligently prepared for his moment. He says he is fit and ready for Turin.

But the instant he completes his last run Feb.15, his life as a professional football player — a would-be professional football player, that is — begins in earnest.

The NFL Combine in Indianapolis starts exactly a week later, and Bloom will be there. He will be weighed and measured, poked and prodded, timed and tested. Scouts will determine whether, at 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, he is big enough. Few doubt he is fast enough. Bloom reportedly runs the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds, which would place him among the fastest in the league, if not the planet.

Goodbye spread eagle. Hello spread formation.

“The Olympics are great, but they’re not the Super Bowl,” he said.

“I love football. Skiing is primarily a recreational sport. Football is your teammates and the pressure and the rivalries and 80,000 people screaming. … Football is that unknown right now, that missing block, like ‘What if?’ I need to answer that.”

Bloom played for the University of Colorado in 2002 and 2003, returning kicks and catching passes, including a school-record 94-yard reception. His first punt return went 75 yards for a touchdown, and he ran back a kickoff 88 yards for a score.

Even after Bloom lost his well-publicized scrap with the NCAA and was ruled ineligible because he accepted endorsement money to finance his ski training, he continued to train in both sports. A lifelong Colorado resident and a die-hard Denver Broncos fan, he has sought the counsel of John Elway among other NFL notables. He has run countless routes and caught hundreds of passes during workouts.

In the meantime, Bloom, 23, became the first to win six World Cup mogul competitions in 2004-05, shredding any notion football has short-changed his skiing. On the contrary, he said, football has enhanced it.

“It’s helped me tremendously,” he said. “The challenges, the pressures, the mental toughness it takes.”

A prodigy on skis at 11, Bloom said he thought he knew about taking punishment on the slopes. That was before he arrived at Colorado and fell into the hands of noted strength coach Doc Kreis. “Then I knew what hard work was,” he said.

After finishing ninth in Salt Lake City in the 2002 Games, Bloom said he is better than ever. He won the World Cup in 2005 and the Olympic trials last month. Yet he still looks forward to full-time devotion to football.

“I would think that as long as I was playing I wouldn’t be skiing,” he said. “I’d want to be running routes all year, which I’ve never done. I’d want to be training all year, which I’ve never done.”

He speaks longingly about the trips to football-mad Nebraska and Oklahoma and Florida State, playing in the Rose Bowl and especially the camaraderie with his teammates. He describes standing on the sidelines at Colorado as a “two-edged sword.” On one hand, he misses the game terribly.

“But I’m there to support my teammates,” he said. “That’s one of the great things about college football. You live with these guys. You train every single day with them. You’re at team meetings together. You’re with each other all the time. It’s like going back and seeing family.”

Bloom, well-muscled and powerful for his size, knows he has to bulk up to play in the pros. But he points to NFL receivers Steve Smith and Santana Moss, pint-sized yet extremely dangerous. He has the speed and, without a doubt, the agility. Mogul skiing is all about jumps and flips and twists and then landing on your feet. He said he would fit in with a team that employs multiple receivers.

“I feel like I can stretch the field,” he said.

“You can’t ignore him,” one NFL college scouting director was quoted as saying.

“One thing I’ve learned is you never underestimate Jeremy Bloom,” former Colorado coach Gary Barnett told www.skiracing.com. “Once he sets his mind to do something, I don’t know how you prevent him from doing it.”

One thing Bloom could not do, however, was persuade the NCAA to let him play despite his sponsors. Arguing the two sports were separate and promising that his ski sponsors would never reference him as a football player, Bloom and his family pushed their case but eventually lost in 2004.

With his cover-boy looks, bubbly personality and talent, he since has become a one-man marketing machine, accumulating more sponsors and recognition and posing for magazines.

“I turn down more offers than I accept,” he said.

But the ruling still gnaws at him. He said he hopes the rules are amended for future athletes.

“I prepared. I worked hard,” he said. “I wanted to start at receiver. That was the one thing I really wanted to do. And then to look back and think that it wasn’t my own ability limiting me from doing that. It was an organization of people that didn’t do any of this, didn’t put in the long hours, didn’t dedicate themselves every day. I thought that was really unfair.”

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