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Ski jumpers form new group

Submitted by Peter Graves/USA Ski Jumping

When USA Ski Jumping (USASJ) unveils itself at the U.S. Ski Jumping and Nordic Combined Championships at the Utah Olympic Park on July 30, many will make the mistake of thinking male ski jumpers have started a brand-new organization.

In reality, USASJ is a recalibrated version of Project X, a private nonprofit which guided the U.S. Olympians through the 2010 Games in Vancouver and drew international attention for its efforts.

"We changed the name because it didn’t really make sense," said USASJ chair Joe Holland. "It just didn’t resonate well in the community."

Started three years ago after the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association (USSA) announced it would pursue Olympic medals at the cost of athlete development, Project X provided athletes with financial, marketing, technological and instructional support. It was spearheaded by Parkite Alan Johnson, parent of top jumpers Anders and Alissa, with the intent of serving as a short-term patch until a more organized group gained traction. That never happened, however, Project X had momentum after Vancouver.

"As we realized that this was no longer a patch, we took it more seriously," said Holland, who competed in nordic combined at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics. "We heard a lot of noise from the community. They wanted these athletes to be supported."

As USASJ, the group has a new board and a renewed focus on finding sponsors (Backcountry.com was the primary sponsor for Project X). Holland said they are in negotiations with television networks for U.S. coverage, and they will go to New York next week to sell potential donors on the potential for ski jumping.

"We think it’s the ultimate American sport," Holland said. "I know Americans would like to watch it."

Overseas, the U.S. team is popular for the disadvantages it must overcome, making it a good vector for sponsorship.

"Everybody recognizes us as the underdog," Holland said. "We don’t have big budgets like these other countries. In Europe, ski jumping is huge. The crowds have 50,000 to 100,000 spectators, and our story is alive and well with them."

The team will also be able to offer sponsors carte blanche, ranging from individual athlete sponsorship to customizing the shirts on the team’s backs. "We’ve had some positive feedback (from sponsors)," Holland said. "Right now we’re just looking for a base hit. Then we’ll go for doubles and triples and home runs."

The U.S. Women’s Ski Jumping team, dumped by USSA two years after the men when it was announced women would not be included in the Olympics, landed VISA as a core sponsor but has still encountered troubles paying its bills in recent months.

Holland also serves on the executive board for USSA and said the jumpers will continue to lobby that organization for its support, but they realize it won’t come without an improvement in competition results. Whereas many U.S. women are among the world’s elite, U.S. men rarely finish in the "points" – or top 30 – at World Cup events.

"I wear two hats," Holland said. "The focus for USSA is to win Olympic medals. That’s it. If we’re able to develop medal contenders, they’ll support them."

USSA will still sanctions events, provide insurance for officials, and educate coaches in ski jumping. As the sport’s national governing body, USSA – not USASJ – is recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Ski Federation.

Holland said efforts will continue to unearth strong jumpers from a U.S. population that doesn’t highly value the sport, but there’s no golden formula.

"It’s critical to have a good strength/weight ratio," Holland said. "Guys have to be able to dunk a basketball, and you have to be small. Athletes are either tall and skinny or short and skinny. That’s a pretty broad group."

Olympians Clint Jones and Casey Colby will direct administrative and coaching operations, while 1984 Olympic ski jumper Jeff Hastings will serve on the subcommittee that oversees marketing and fundraising operations.

USASJ will hold a press conference at the conclusion of July 30 events at the Utah Olympic Park.


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