At 19, Bloom is chasing and realizing his dreams

Moguls favorite put off football scholarship

Winter Olympics

Salt Lake City 2002

February 12, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

DEER VALLEY, Utah - For every kid who ever grew up with two left feet, Jeremy Bloom's life must seem unfair.

For starters, he's got a black belt in karate, which he earned at age 12. Then there's football, where, despite being only 5 feet 9, 155 pounds, he averaged 23.3 yards a catch at Loveland (Colo.) High School to earn a scholarship from the University of Colorado.

He also just so happens to be, at 19, the best moguls skier in the world.

So life's not so bad, to say the least. (Need we mention that USA Today also referred to him as a "bona fide Olympic heartthrob?") In fact, the biggest teen-age angst Bloom suffered the past year was how to break the news to Colorado football coach Gary Barnett that he couldn't come out for the football team in July. There was this little thing called the Olympics he had to take care of instead.

"I was pretty nervous, but, yeah, I made the right decision for sure," says Bloom, who is the World Cup points leader in freestyle moguls and a favorite to win gold when competition begins today. "[The Colorado football staff] thinks it's great, actually. All of them were so supportive of me. They said to go for your dream and we'll see you next year."

Bloom has a number of dreams, including winning a Big 12 championship, which the Buffs did this past season. But the opportunity to go for gold in Salt Lake City had to take precedence. At least for now, anyway.

"People used to tell me I was stupid for playing football," Bloom says. "I made the U.S. ski team when I was 15 and a freshman in high school, and I was the smallest one out there as a freshman playing football. Some people didn't understand it, but I just had a dream and I didn't want to let anyone get in my way."

Few have so far, except the NCAA. The governing body of college athletics informed Bloom that, once he enrolled at Colorado, he could lose his college football eligibility by signing endorsement contracts he was offered as a result of skiing. It's a decision he's appealing.

"It's in the middle of the NCAA, which is not a good place to be," Bloom said. "Right now, we are trying to set up a fund through the U.S. ski team so while I'm playing football I can still compete in some competitions and still keep ski contracts, but I actually won't make the money until I graduate from college."

Until he enrolls, however, he can do as he pleases. Bloom has already done some commercials and a photo shoot for Teen People, been on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and posed in his boxers for an underwear ad. If he wins a gold medal, those offers would likely triple, considering the moguls are one of the Winter Games' showiest sports. However, at 19, it's a lot of pressure, and winning is no done deal. There have been six different winners in six different events on the World Cup circuit this year. Bloom has just consistently been the best.

"It's like taking a pee-wee baseball player and throwing them into Game 7 of the World Series," Bloom said. "There's so much more attention and pressure, but it's fun. It tends to play with your mind a little bit, but I just can't let it do that.

"It's just the biggest honor for me to wear these clothes and represent this wonderful country. Just being here is an honor itself."

A lot of it still seems pretty surreal, too, Bloom says. Like getting into Salt Lake City and being told he had to go and grab as much free Olympic gear as he could handle.

"There was this huge room, like a warehouse," Bloom says, grinning. "And right away when we walked in they were like, `There's a bunch of places you have to go.' And they were like, `The rings are over there.' And I said, `The rings?' It was really cool. They had all the rings set out. You get to pick which one you want, like 14-karat gold, and you get a free one with a metal band. I was like, `I want it all!' "

Always has.

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