Crossover Kid - Ski Mag

Crossover Kid

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The Crossover Kid, March 2005

To the 4,000 fans

gathered at the bottom of Deer Valley's Champion run, Jeremy Bloom is no different from any other U.S. freestyle skier. Boots-to-goggles in the team uniform of red, white and blue Tommy Hilfiger, he roams the crowd before the night's dual moguls contest, chatting with friends, family and rivals. Here, he doesn't have to play the part of Jeremy Bloom, college football cause célèbre, Jeremy Bloom, media phenomenon, Jeremy Bloom, skiing's biggest crossover celebrity since Jonny Moseley. This is the 2004 World Cup tour, not SportsCenter, and the freestyle-savvy crowd is more amped up for hometown underdog Nate Roberts. If it weren't for Bloom's head protection-a football-style helmet painted with the gold and black colors of his University of Colorado football team-he might seem like just another perfect-turning D-spinner.

Six months later, that's exactly what he is. Instead of spending the fall returning kicks and catching passes for the Buffaloes, the 22-year-old Bloom is training full-time for the bumps, having lost a three-year battle with the National Collegiate Athletic Association over sponsorships that Olympic-level amateurs use to pay for training, travel and equipment. Bloom can best a mountain, leave a tackler on the turf and muster the mental strength to stay within himself. But he hasn't been able defeat the giant bureaucracy, which allows its athletes to play other sports professionally (if Bloom were a shortstop for the Yankees, he could take home seven figures), but denies them endorsement deals of any kind.

"(The NCAA) never did anything to help me," Bloom says. "The hardest part was, I had to put my future in other people's hands. Before that I'd say to myself, listen, if I work harder than anyone else, if I train harder, if I mentally prepare better, I'll be in a position to accomplish my goals."

Or, if you will, accomplish gold. Without football, the freestyle skier, who's made it to 17 podiums over the last three years despite his part-time status, need only think about the snow-particularly the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. Bloom may not be happy about that, but it's even worse news for all the other mogul skiers. Because every time Jeremy Bloom isn't supposed to do something-like play football for a Big 12 school, compete in the Olympics or win big at a World Cup-he finds a way to make it happen. If he can't stick it to the NCAA on the gridiron, he'll stick it to someone with his Völkls. "I'm always motivated by disappointment-and by people who don't believe in me," he says.

Bloom has always had what his father, Larry, calls "the competitive head," something that set him apart from his brother Jordan even when it looked as though the elder sibling had more ability. The Blooms lived in Loveland, Colo., an hour north of Denver. Larry and his wife, Char-the two divorced in 1999-loved to ski bumps, and spent most weekends at Keystone, Colo. Jeremy took his first mogul run when he was 3. "He fell a hundred times," says Char, who for the last 16 years has worked as a ski instructor at Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. "I asked him, 'What did you think of that?' and he said, 'It sure was a lot of falling down and getting up again.'" Jeremy's freestyle future was further sealed after he spent time on the racecourse. "He didn't do a single gate. Just went straight down," says Char.

As a 10-year-old, Bloom admired the recklessness of Edgar Grospiron, winner of the first-ever Olympic moguls gold in 1992. But by the time Moseley won in '98, Bloom's approach was more cerebral. He taped every race, watching and re-watching Moseley's runs, analyzing what scored high. "Turns are my thing," Bloom says. "I've always worked hard at having the best form in turns that I could. Air is important, speed is important, it's the package-but if you want one thing to be better than everyone else's, it's turns, because it's 50 percent of your score."

Not to mention that, at fe-foot-nine and 170 pounds, Bloom didn't have much body weight to push him down the mountain. On a football field, however, it was just the opposite: The kid could fly. Though his smaller frame meant he was not the sort of player coaches scout in seventh grade, Bloom helped Loveland High win state championships in both football and track and field. When Colorado coach Gary Barnett offered him a scholarship, he didn't hesitate to pick the Buffs over Colorado State. They were the team he grew up watching on TV, the ones who won a national championship in 1990.

But with the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games around the corner, freshman Bloom figured he'd defer both football and academics until the following September to focus on skiing. A perfect plan, except he wasn't high up in the ski team pecking order. Though he'd performed well within his age group, winning bronze at the 2000 World Junior championships as well as the 2001 Nor-Am moguls crown, Bloom was relegated to the C team, which meant he'd barely see action on the World Cup circuit, let alone be considered for Salt Lake. Stung, he re-enrolled at the University of Colorado, where a summer of getting into Division I football shape gave him "a whole new definition of hard work."

Andy Carroll, CEO of ICON Sports Group, and Bloom's mentor and agent since 2001, intervened at the last minute. Why not go ahead and join the Ski Team at its summer camp in South America, Carroll suggested. You can play football next season. "He said to me, 'Wouldn't you like to go down there and prove a point?'"That kind of caught my attention," Bloom remembers. Luckily, Barnett agreed to hold the scholarship for him. "He said he viewed the situation like I was his son, and this was what he would want his son to do," Bloom says. "I went down there to show them and prove to them that I was a good enough skier to earn World Cup starts and make the Olympic team."

He made the case-but all the Ski Team gave him was a single shot. We'll put you in a competition, the coaches told him. Finish in the top 12, and we'll put you in another one. Bloom had never placed higher than 19th in a World Cup, but on Dec. 1, 2001-the same day Colorado knocked off Texas for the Big 12 championship-Bloom finished third in Tignes, France, well ahead of both Moseley and current teammate Toby Dawson. With every practice run and every turn, Bloom reminded himself that failing as a skier meant he had also missed a great season of football for nothing. The result: He was first in the World Cup standings going into the Salt Lake Olympics.

But at the Games he finished ninth. "One mistake, that's all it takes," Bloom says. "The biggest disappointment of my life by far. Everything I ever worked for, just down the drain." Again, he channeled the doubt and disappointment into success, going on to win that year's overall World Cup freestyle title-a more difficult if less glamorous achievement than Olympic glory.

Looking back, Bloom says he's sort of glad he didn't win. The success and notoriety-as well as the possible financial windfall-would have made it hard for him to go back to school. But that's what he did-and his first real football camp was somewhat mortifying. As a freshman on the team, you're supposed to be a nobody, not someone who's gotten face time on NBC and is making headlines trying to reform the NCAA. Bloom didn't want to be seen as better than his teammates, and he certainly didn't want them to think he thought he was. Fortunately, the diminutive Olympian could walk the walk.

Against rival Colorado State in the 2002 season opener, Bloom came off the bench in the fourth quarter to return a punt, filling in for an injured teammate-on national TV, in his first college football game with 75,000 fans screaming their heads off and the Buffs trailing 13-0.

"I said to my fiancée, Kristen, I'm not going to watch this," says Jeremy's father, Larry. "I just want to make sure he catches the ball. I couldn't look for a few seconds. She told me he caught the ball, and then I watched: He burned off a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown the first time he ever touched the ball.

"For me, standing there as one of the fans, there was a split screen. As I saw this in front of my eyes I also had on the other half of the screen a 9-year-old boy, a 10-year-old boy, an 11-year-old boy, going out for a pass, pretending he was catching it for the University of Colorado, or the Denver Broncos. He was always John Elway, even if he was a receiver. So here's 'Elway,' catching a pass in the backyard as this blessed event unfolded in front of me. It was the high point of his sports life and of my experience with him," says Larry.

Bloom finished the season as a first-team All-American, then went out and skied, despite the fact that all the other skiers had been training year-round. He showed up in Finland on Dec. 19, finished fourth, flew back to play in the Alamo Bowl against Wisconsin, then went on to win three of the next six World Cup events.

But in 2003, his sophomore year, football didn't go as well. Bloom admits he wondered, "What would happen if I just specialized in one sport? Would I be the leading receiver at Colorado? Would I dominate the World Cup tour?"

In March of 2004, having gotten nowhere with the NCAA, and with his ski career draining his parents' money, Bloom announced he'd begin taking endorsements, and flat-out said that if the NCAA didn't want him to play football, they'd have to kick him out. After months of additional media coverage, court rulings and administrative hearings, that's exactly what they did. "The NCAA is not reasonable in attempting to make exceptions for athletes that are exceptional," says Carroll. "Jeremy knew that to give himself an opportunity to be successful in winning a gold medal, he'd have to follow Moseley's insights and make money to hire his own trainers and coaches."

It's likely Bloom will be remembered as a collegiate Curt Flood, someone who fought a fight he couldn't win so others down the road might find a way. His "Student Athlete's Bill of Rights" is designed to reform the NCAA. "It's something I really believe in," Bloom says. "I think what they do to some of these athletes is criminal. Amateurism still holds a place in our society that's sacred, but they need to bring amateurism into 2004-just like the IOC did in 1972."

Now if Bloom remains a two-sport athlete, it will be on Sundays, as a pro. He's eligible for this year's National Football League draft, though it would make more sense, for both him and any team that wants him, to hold off until 2006. If he does play in the NFL, Bloom's role as an ambassador for skiing could be even bigger. He's someone who can make skiing cool while reaching into the living rooms of mainstream America.

Bloom is also interested in modeling and acting. He already works with the William Morris agency as well as Ford Models, having cashed in on his good looks and athlete's form for the likes of Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch and GQ. Just don't call him an actual model. Not that Bloom minds taking off his shirt and cavorting in a hot tub with a pretty girl (let alone getting paid to do it), but to him a model is someone who doesn't do anything else and isn't about anything else. That life-without his other interests-would bore him.

If he's under the bright lights of showbiz or in the NFL, it's unlikely Bloom would keep skiing-but if he wins the gold in Turin that might not matter. In fact, it might not even matter that most NFL teams forbid their players from skiing even for fun. "I don't really like skiing," he says with a straight face. Which is not to say he doesn't enjoy two feet of powder on a blue-sky day. But what he really grooves on is competition: "The thrill, feeling the butterflies, the motivation it takes to train, the satisfaction of winning. That's what I love."

Char Bloom remembers riding the chair with Jeremy at an ev't look for a few seconds. She told me he caught the ball, and then I watched: He burned off a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown the first time he ever touched the ball.

"For me, standing there as one of the fans, there was a split screen. As I saw this in front of my eyes I also had on the other half of the screen a 9-year-old boy, a 10-year-old boy, an 11-year-old boy, going out for a pass, pretending he was catching it for the University of Colorado, or the Denver Broncos. He was always John Elway, even if he was a receiver. So here's 'Elway,' catching a pass in the backyard as this blessed event unfolded in front of me. It was the high point of his sports life and of my experience with him," says Larry.

Bloom finished the season as a first-team All-American, then went out and skied, despite the fact that all the other skiers had been training year-round. He showed up in Finland on Dec. 19, finished fourth, flew back to play in the Alamo Bowl against Wisconsin, then went on to win three of the next six World Cup events.

But in 2003, his sophomore year, football didn't go as well. Bloom admits he wondered, "What would happen if I just specialized in one sport? Would I be the leading receiver at Colorado? Would I dominate the World Cup tour?"

In March of 2004, having gotten nowhere with the NCAA, and with his ski career draining his parents' money, Bloom announced he'd begin taking endorsements, and flat-out said that if the NCAA didn't want him to play football, they'd have to kick him out. After months of additional media coverage, court rulings and administrative hearings, that's exactly what they did. "The NCAA is not reasonable in attempting to make exceptions for athletes that are exceptional," says Carroll. "Jeremy knew that to give himself an opportunity to be successful in winning a gold medal, he'd have to follow Moseley's insights and make money to hire his own trainers and coaches."

It's likely Bloom will be remembered as a collegiate Curt Flood, someone who fought a fight he couldn't win so others down the road might find a way. His "Student Athlete's Bill of Rights" is designed to reform the NCAA. "It's something I really believe in," Bloom says. "I think what they do to some of these athletes is criminal. Amateurism still holds a place in our society that's sacred, but they need to bring amateurism into 2004-just like the IOC did in 1972."

Now if Bloom remains a two-sport athlete, it will be on Sundays, as a pro. He's eligible for this year's National Football League draft, though it would make more sense, for both him and any team that wants him, to hold off until 2006. If he does play in the NFL, Bloom's role as an ambassador for skiing could be even bigger. He's someone who can make skiing cool while reaching into the living rooms of mainstream America.

Bloom is also interested in modeling and acting. He already works with the William Morris agency as well as Ford Models, having cashed in on his good looks and athlete's form for the likes of Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch and GQ. Just don't call him an actual model. Not that Bloom minds taking off his shirt and cavorting in a hot tub with a pretty girl (let alone getting paid to do it), but to him a model is someone who doesn't do anything else and isn't about anything else. That life-without his other interests-would bore him.

If he's under the bright lights of showbiz or in the NFL, it's unlikely Bloom would keep skiing-but if he wins the gold in Turin that might not matter. In fact, it might not even matter that most NFL teams forbid their players from skiing even for fun. "I don't really like skiing," he says with a straight face. Which is not to say he doesn't enjoy two feet of powder on a blue-sky day. But what he really grooves on is competition: "The thrill, feeling the butterflies, the motivation it takes to train, the satisfaction of winning. That's what I love."

Char Bloom remembers riding the chair with Jeremy at an event when he was 14. She suggested they take a couple of mother-and-son runs, just for fun. "He said, 'Mom, every run is a training run.' I use that in my ski classes all the time. I say, listen, whatever you're doing, you can still have fun, you can still enjoy it, but every time you're on skis it's a training run. You're trying to excel. There's a lot of wisdom in that."

n event when he was 14. She suggested they take a couple of mother-and-son runs, just for fun. "He said, 'Mom, every run is a training run.' I use that in my ski classes all the time. I say, listen, whatever you're doing, you can still have fun, you can still enjoy it, but every time you're on skis it's a training run. You're trying to excel. There's a lot of wisdom in that."

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