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Taking Off Jeremy Bloom, a promising wide receiver at Colorado, stepped back from football for a run at his first love, mogul skiing

The introduction, bellowed over the sound of rock music in the
peaks above Lake Placid, seemed better suited for a high school
homecoming parade. "And now," hollered the announcer at last
month's Gateway Freestyle Challenge, "let's give it up for that
big, honking football player, Jeremy Bloom!"

The small, wiry figure swathed in black Gortex and crouched over
his skis at the top of the mogul course hardly fit the billing.
But as soon as he exploded from the gate for his final run of
the World Cup season, Bloom, the world-class skier, showed
shades of his alter ego, the all-state wide receiver. With an
aggressiveness that he had not unleashed since he left
freshman-year football camp at the University of Colorado last
July to try to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic freestyle team,
Bloom ripped through the bumps, flung himself high and far on
his two required jumps and finished with his career-best score:
a 27.96 that cemented his spot on the team. Let's Go Crazy, the
Prince song blaring in the background, didn't even begin to
describe Bloom's approach to the run.

Afterward the 19-year-old Bloom, who skied conservatively to two
podiums but no wins in the five World Cup races that preceded
the Lake Placid finale, explained his abandon. "I've tried to be
consistent all season," he said, fingering one of his two tiny,
silver hoop earrings. "Today, I wanted to get down that hill as
fast as I could."

It was an urge that Bloom first experienced at age three, when
he learned to ski at the Keystone (Colo.) Resort. His mom, Char,
an instructor there, taught Jeremy the basics, but his
grandfather Jerry Bloom provided the incentive by tossing candy
bars down the mountain during family ski weekends. For young
Jeremy, who grew up in a health-food-only household, the
prospect of a Hershey bar was enough to overcome his fears on
Keystone's steepest trails. Soon Char and Jeremy's father,
Larry, were looking back on black-diamond mogul runs to see
their youngest son bumping along after them. "People would stop
and stare," says Char. "They'd ask, 'Why aren't you entering him
in competitions?'"

Char assented when Jeremy was five. His first competition was
the Small World Cup, a local Alpine event. On his first run
Jeremy tucked in and shot straight down the hill. "See those
flags?" Char asked her son afterward. "This time, go around
them." He nodded, heard the beep and ignored the flags again.
Char threw up her hands in amused acquiescence: Her son, it
seemed, was destined for straight-line skiing.

Bloom soon became a regular on the local junior mogul circuit,
going undefeated between the ages of 11 and 14. During class at
school he drew pictures of stick figures on jagged mountains,
gold medals the size of gongs around their necks. But it wasn't
the doodling that made teachers worry about Bloom, an A student
through high school. It was the roughhousing at recess. "Jeremy
was mild-mannered, but on a football field he kind of went
crazy," says Char.

The only activity that Bloom enjoyed more than catching big air
was catching footballs. Though he never grew beyond 5'9", 160
pounds, Bloom had sure hands and speed (he has run a 4.25-second
40-yard dash) that made him the most dangerous player on his
Loveland High team. After leading Loveland to the state 4A title
as a senior, Bloom signed with Colorado, mainly because it was
within driving distance of his favorite mountains.

While football prevented him from training for skiing year-round,
Bloom's natural ability had earned him a spot on the national
freestyle C team in 1998. However, when he had not been promoted
after three years, despite winning the Nor-Am Cup (one step below
the World Cup) in 2001, Bloom found it difficult to picture
himself in the 2002 Games. Feeling slighted by the time Colorado
football summer workouts began, he tried to funnel all of his
athletic ambition into becoming a starting wide receiver. Bloom
was impressing Colorado coach Gary Barnett a few weeks into camp
when he received a surprise invitation from the U.S. ski team to
be one of 10 mogulists who would train in Chile for the upcoming
World Cup season.

His Olympic fire once again stoked, Bloom nervously requested a
meeting with Barnett. The coach not only gave Bloom his blessing
to pursue his dreams but promised that his scholarship would be
waiting when he returned. "I hated to leave football, but my team
gave me high fives on my way out the door," says Bloom, who
caught glimpses of Colorado's Big 12 championship season on
airport TVs between ski races. "I needed to go to Chile to prove
a point."

High in the Andes in September, Bloom attacked the slopes like a
man given a second chance at life. He was as fit as ever, from
gridiron agility drills as well as from a high-endurance
training program that he had squeezed in between Boulder and
Chile. The workouts had helped Bloom lose the upper-body bulk he
needed for football and redevelop the leg strength required for
mogul skiing. To the disbelief of his fellow mogulists in Chile,
he would force his aching quads into ice baths,
football-locker-room-style, after being the last one off the
slopes at the end of the day.

It was immediately apparent, says head coach Jeff Wintersteen,
that Bloom had, well, blossomed. He was performing his jumps and
turns with scalpel-like precision, and he had mastered a quiet
upper body--"you don't know how fast he's going until you look
at the scoreboard," says Wintersteen. "We knew he was good, but
Jeremy distinguished himself in Chile. We laid it out for him:
It's football or skiing. He put all his eggs in one basket."

As a reward for his new dedication, Bloom was named as a
coaches' "discretionary pick" to compete in Tignes, France, on
Nov. 22. After debuting with a third-place finish, he seized a
permanent spot on the World Cup roster, as well as the celebrity
that comes with being a dual-sport star with catalog-model
looks. He has been approached by a couple of major apparel
companies about possible sponsorship deals (he is allowed to
collect until the day he reenrolls at Colorado) and, as a sign
that he has truly arrived, fan mail. ("You're a role model--and
a fox!") The ultimate compliment, however, came from Canada's
Jean-Luc Brassard, the 1994 gold medalist, after Brassard
finished third in Lake Placid. "It's tough to keep up with these
Americans, they jump so high and have such unbelievable
technique," said Brassard, who, along with countryman Stephane
Rochon and a trio of Finns, pose the biggest challenges to Bloom
and 19-year-old teammate Travis Mayer today. "They are too good
too young these days."

Bloom left Lake Placid with plans to get even better. "I learned
today what it's going to take to win," he said, "and being
conservative is not going to cut it." Before he had a chance to
eat, shower or soak in the fact that he had just become the
world's No. 1 mogul skier, Bloom was already describing the
intense land-training regimen that he was going to undergo in
the final month before the Games. "I gave up a lot to go for
this," said Bloom. "I'm not slowing down now."



COLOR PHOTO: KRIS LINDAHL/LOVELAND DAILY A star receiver in high school, Bloom has retooled his football-trained body to develop the strength needed for the moguls.

"I hated to leave football," says Bloom, "but my team gave me
high fives on the way out."