Should moguls specialist Jeremy Bloom succeed in making the U.S. Olympic ski team against a talent-laden field, he is expected to unleash a hair-raising maneuver at the 2006 Winter Games as he thunders down the bump-riddled course at Italy's Sauze d'Oulx, his knees chattering like jackhammers, and launches himself in the air for a 720-degree rotation with his skis crossed behind his back.
Then, shortly after his final run is complete, Bloom will hop a jet and race back to the United States for a more daunting athletic challenge: preparing for the NFL draft. First stop is the NFL combine in Indianapolis, staged the week after the Turin Games, where Bloom and the nation's top college players will be timed, weighed, measured and mentally dissected by hundreds of team owners, coaches and scouts in order to assess their value for April's draft.
With two World Cup championships, Bloom already has proven himself the best freestyle moguls skier going. What he wants to prove in Turin, host of the 2006 Winter Games Feb. 10-26, is that he has learned to peak at the precise moment when Olympic medals are awarded, having finished ninth at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City.
But for Bloom, making the NFL represents a greater challenge. He hasn't played football for two seasons, having been stripped of his college eligibility by the NCAA after he signed endorsement deals to fund his Olympic training while returning punts at Colorado. He also is undersized at 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds. By all accounts, Bloom is 170 pounds of sheer muscle, grit and reflexes, but in the eyes of some NFL scouts, he may not have the mass to withstand the pro game's pounding.
It's that skepticism that drives Bloom, along with an unstated desire to settle a score with the NCAA, whose rules regarding amateurism cut short his college career after his legal challenge failed.
"If I stopped skiing right now, I feel I could look back on my skiing career with a smile," Bloom said during a pre-Olympic news conference this past fall. "But football is an unknown."
Bloom's father, a psychology professor at Colorado State, elaborates on his son's quest.
"He has won his share of World Cup events and two overall world championships in freestyle skiing," Larry Bloom said in a recent telephone interview. "It is the one thing that was taken away from him — football — that he has a thirst for."
Click on http://Jeremybloom.com , and you'll find a gallery of images of a young man with a face like a boy-band idol and a torso that could have been sculpted from a slab of marble. Watch footage of him in action, and you'll see an athlete thriving in his element — whether it's Colorado's No. 15 streaking up a football field and dodging defenders like a water bug, or a professional skier raging down a rutted mountainside, absorbing a pounding that ought to dislocate kneecaps as if he's doing nothing more taxing than playing hopscotch in the park.
That's the essence of Bloom's athletic ability, explained E.J. "Doc" Kries, Colorado's former strength and conditioning coach who's now at UCLA. "You don't realize how strong he is and how well developed his hips and legs are simply because you bypass that aspect," Kries said. "He makes it look easy. He seems to accomplish things to where you feel like you can do it, too. But we really don't realize until we try how hard it is."
Bloom's quest to qualify for the Olympic team begins with the U.S. ski trials in Steamboat Springs, Colo., on Friday. Winners of the men's and women's moguls and aerials events earn automatic wild-card spots. The balance of the 14-member freestyle team will be chosen mainly based on performances in World Cup events.
Bloom was a moguls phenom when Scott Rawles, now a coach with the U.S. ski team, first saw him on the slopes at Breckenridge, Colo. — just 11 and tiny, but with quick feet, excellent hand-eye coordination and uncommon focus. All of that translated to football, as well.
Gary Barnett, Colorado's former football coach, was struck by Bloom's explosive speed in high school. He liked the fact that he would block for other receivers. Bloom was small, no doubt. But he had good grades and was a Colorado native, which was enough to tip the scales in his favor, in Barnett's mind.
The coach has no inkling that he had a prospective Olympian on his hands at the time. Nor did the U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association until Bloom exploded in international competition in 2002 and vaulted from its "C" team to the Olympic squad. With Barnett's blessing, Bloom deferred his first season at Colorado to train for the Salt Lake Games.
After Bloom's disappointing Olympic finish, Barnett realized what a fighter Bloom was. Bloom surrendered his skiing endorsements to play football as a freshman but filed suit against the NCAA's restrictions at the same time. Then he threw himself into training and returned his first punt 75 yards for a touchdown against Colorado State.
Later that fall, he set a school record with a 94-yard touchdown reception. Between games Bloom skied competitively at his own expense. In a three-week span his freshman year, he competed in the Big 12 championship game, took his finals, flew to Finland for a World Cup ski race (finishing fourth) and played in the Alamo Bowl. And he continued playing football until his final legal appeal against the NCAA was exhausted.
The next month, having been ruled ineligible, Bloom lashed out against the NCAA before Congress in hopes of pressuring the organization to relax its restrictions on endorsements on behalf of two- and three-sport athletes who might follow him.
NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro says that's unlikely. "I don't see any movement in that direction," Renfro said. "The [NCAA] membership has really been adamant about that relationship between student-athletes and commercial products because it can lead to both exploitation of the student-athlete and a deterioration of the concept of amateurism."
After two seasons, Bloom gave up football and signed deals with Under Armour apparel and Bolle eyewear, essential to defray his mounting training bills (upwards of $50,000 a year) for skiing. Focused solely on skiing, he became the first man to win six consecutive World Cup mogul events in a single year in 2005 and clinched his second World Cup title. But he still missed football and was on the sideline in October to watch his Buffaloes romp over Texas A&M at homecoming.
"I miss every single aspect of it," Bloom said. "Skiing is such an individual sport. That's good, and that's bad. When you win, there's no one to celebrate with. In football you have teammates and the pressure and the rivalries and 80,000 people screaming. I can't find that in skiing."
So he'll seek it in the NFL, having retained agent Gary Wichard to represent him.
Barnett predicts Bloom will impress at the NFL combine. "He's going to score really well. He'll have good times and good numbers. He'll have everything but the size; that's going to knock him down. But what they can't measure is his competitiveness. He is the most competitive guy I've ever been around. I know if I were at the next level, I'd want him on my team."