Click photo to enlarge
Charles Gandolfo performs a freestyle ski jump into the Utah Olympic Park splash pool on Thursday. Christopher Reeves/The Park Record

Some of the young athletes at the U.S. Ski Team's Aerials Tryout Camp at the Utah Olympic Park on Thursday afternoon were hitting the water in the pool at the end of the ramps awkwardly, causing loud cracking sounds.

Others looked like they'd never put on a pair of skis before, and some hadn't before the camp began on Tuesday.

Some looked like they were starting to get the hang of the sport.

All of them looked like they were having a great time, whether bouncing on trampolines for a warmup or swimming back to the edge of the pool after a completed jump.

The 15 athletes, ranging in age from nine to 23, were at the Olympic Park because they had been chosen from a group of gymnasts, trampolinists and acrobats who had submitted tryout videos during a recent U.S. Ski Team contest.

The program, in conjunction with Fly Freestyle, will try to initiate the athletes into the sport of ski jumping while attempting to find a few future Olympic gold medalists in the process.

Matt Saunders, the World Cup coach for the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team, said he hopes all the kids at the camp decide to stick with aerials.

"Ideally, we'd love to keep all of them," he said. "We'd love to get them all interested."

But, he added, he knows that's unlikely. So between the 15 kids at the Park City camp and the 32 who will participate in a similar camp in Lake Placid, N.Y., later this month, he hopes a handful go on to compete at a high level.

"The goal between the West Coast and East Coast camps is to get somewhere between five and 10 athletes that are going to stay in aerials," he said.

For now, Saunders and the rest of the coaches are focusing on developing some basic skills in the athletes.

"For the first four days, it's just about wetting the kids' beaks and seeing if they're interested in pursuing it," he said. "We've got some kids who haven't been on skis before but look really good on the trampoline. Then we've got some skiers who aren't as good on the trampoline but look better when they get out on the ramps."

Todd Ossian, the head aerial coach for the U.S. Ski Team, said the athletes will be given every opportunity to succeed.

"We do physical testing, trampoline testing, and we'll have them jump and have a water ramp competition at the end of the week," he said. "We're looking for coachability, coordination, balance, acrobatic talent and skiing ability."

Fly Freestyle has a special prize for the top male and top female athletes at the end of the camp too, according to Saunders.

"Fly Freestyle is awarding a scholarship to the top man and top woman this year," he said. "That will pay for their ramp fees for the whole summer."

Ossian said that it's been a great week so far.

"We've had a great turnout and this is without question one of our most exciting weeks of the summer," he said. "There's a ton of energy. We have all the coaches and several U.S. team members out here helping. It's perfect; this is exactly what we were shooting for."