Pressure no stranger to U.S. Freestyle Team |

Pressure no stranger to U.S. Freestyle Team

Shannon Bahrke, from Tahoe City, Ca., celebrates on the podium after winning the gold medal in moguls at the World Cup Freestyle competion in Mont-Tremblant, Que., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2003. (AP Photo/Ryan Remiorz)

fixture atop the World Cup podium this season|Associated Press|.

After earning silver medals in moguls at the 2002 Olympics, Travis Mayer and Shannon Bahrke have a new attitude, one that favors a more relaxed approach. The result: Both now lead the world in freestyle skiing.

It’s ironic that the intense pressure to medal at the 2002 Winter Olympics — and the downtime the followed — helped Mayer, from Steamboat Springs, Colo., and Bahrke, from Tahoe City, to earn World Cup leads heading into the 2003 FIS Freestyle World Championship. But that’s the breaks; they are the skiers to beat, and neither, it seems, thought backing off would mean doing better in the long run.

“This year I’m just kind of taking a step back and just kind of enjoying it for once …,” Bahrke said Thursday from the Olympic Training Center in New York. “Last year, there was so much pressure to make the Olympic team and this year, I don’t know, I really had no expectations. I just wanted to ski well. One event led to the next one and here I am back in the U.S. wearing the yellow (leader’s) bib.”

The World Cup will continue in the U.S. this weekend with a competition at Lake Placid, N.Y. After that, the world’s best will turn toward the world championship in Deer Valley, Utah, the 2002 Olympic mogul venue, Jan. 28 through Feb. 1.

The world championship is the biggest single competition in freestyle skiing beyond the Olympics.

“After the Olympics I think a lot of people expected me to do really well, but I didn’t want to walk down that road,” said Mayer. “I wanted to really enjoy my Olympics and then have any skiing and any success that I had happen be like gravy (rather) than fulfilling expectations … So far I’ve been able to keep my head on straight and look at it under those terms.”

The Cornell student has also performed exceptionally well, earning podium finishes in three of his last four World Cup races since the Olympics.

Mayer and Bahrke will also lead one of the more stacked U.S. Freestyle Teams in recent memory.

Travis Cabral, from South Lake Tahoe, is currently ranked fifth in the World Cup. He won his first World Cup moguls event Jan. 12 in Tignes, France, earning a berth in the world championship for the first time.

“I think I’m ready. I’m starting to go bigger and faster now. I think I’m ready for the world championship,” Cabral said.

Also on track for the championship is dual-athlete phenom Jeremy Bloom of Loveland, Colo.

Bloom was a punt returner and wide receiver for the University of Colorado football team in 2002. CU won the Big 12 North conference but lost the Big 12 Championship to Oklahoma.

Bloom returned to the World Cup tour before attending the Alamo Bowl, placing fourth in his first World Cup race since March. He also is the reigning freestyle World Cup champion.

Bloom postponed college football a year in order to compete in the 2002 Olympics, where he finished ninth.

While his accomplishments have attracted widespread acclaim, his Olympic finish tarnished his seemingly resplendent skiing record.

“It will be interesting for me to go back (to Deer Valley) because it definitely was the site of the biggest disappointment of my life,” Bloom said. “I don’t necessarily know if it was the course or what, but I think I’ll have mixed emotions. Obviously, I’m excited for the opportunity to compete in the world championship.”

Bloom’s participation with CU’s football program has also helped provided him with training opportunities, although it siphoned away his on-snow time.

“Physically, it is (an advantage). There are negatives and positives,” Bloom said. “I think as a whole probably mentally it’s been better than anything because dealing with the pressure of a punt return in front of 76,000 people — that’s different pressure than we have in skiing. If we ski and we fail, we let ourselves down. It’s not like we let thousands and thousands of people down, not only our team but our fans. Even though it is different, it was a good learning experience for me.”

The pressure from the Olympics, followed by leading the World Cup, is almost like going one from one hot seat to another for the U.S. contingent. Both Mayer, Bahrke and Bloom say the pressure with the Olympics is “day and night” compared with skiing in the World Cup.

But for Mayer, the pressure is greater because he went from unknown to world leader in less than a year.

“For me, there’s almost a little bit more pressure than there was at the Olympics because at the Olympics I came in as sort of the fourth guy on the team and nobody seemed to know my name,” Mayer said. “Now I have an Olympic silver medal and am leading the World Cup … but I’m also looking forward to going back to Deer Valley.”

Words from the wise to young athletes contemplating the road to the Olympics

“Stay on the tramp and try to have a lot of fun when your young. Play a lot of sports. I think Jeremy is a testament to that. The more you do the better in the long run because you’ll be a better athlete.” — Travis Mayer, men’s freestyle World Cup leader, 2002 Olympic silver medalist

“The biggest thing is keep it fresh. So many people try to come in and do whatever is supposed to be done. I think kids now days are doing lots of different tricks … and I think they are so much better skiers for doing those things.” — Shannon Bahrke, women’s freestyle World Cup leader, 2002 Olympic silver medalist

“The most important thing is to like what you’re doing … I’ve seen some incredibly talented kids get burned out … I had the oppo when I went tohigh school to go to ski academy and just ski and I knew I’d get burned out so I went to high school. I think it’s important to do a lot of things and not just concentrate on one thing, especially at (a young) age.” — Jeremy Bloom, 2002 Freestyle World Cup leader, punt returner for the University of Colorado football team

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