Tuesday, January 15, 2002
Steamboat Springs Growing up, Tommy Schwall lived one house over from Nordic Combined Gold Cup winner Todd Lodwick and just near the home of U.S. Ski Team special jumper Clint Jones.
After a strong performance in this weekend's Continental Cup, Schwall could be the third kid from his neighborhood near Fish Creek Falls to qualify for the Olympics.
The U.S. Olympic Special Jumping Team, which was supposed to be announced late on Tuesday, will likely include Schwall and Steamboat jumper Brendan Doran. Both local jumpers produced top performances at last weekend's Continental Cup in Japan.
Based on points earned during the Continental Cups, Schwall and Doran are expected to join U.S. Team members Alan Alborn and Jones, who have had strong finishes in World Cup events this season. The U.S. Team is picked through a selection criteria (Continental Cup points) and coaches' discretion.
Hometown boys Jones, Schwall and Doran and Alaska's Alborn, who had trained in Steamboat for three years, are expected to be four of the five members named to the U.S. Olympic Team. Winter Sports Club jumping coach Chris Gilbertson said this year's U.S. jumping team should have one of the highest percentages of athletes with Steamboat ties.
"We're kind of lucky, but it definitely shows we are doing something right," Gilbertson said.
In one of the best performances of his life, the 18-year-old Schwall solidified his spot on the U.S. Team at the Continental Cup. With a fourth-place finish Sunday and a 14th place in Saturday's large hill jumps, Schwall earned the points he needed for an Olympic spot.
Under the USSA guidelines, the remaining three spots after Jones and Alborn would be given to the jumper with the most points gathered during this season's Continental Cup.
Schwall was one of seven U.S. competitors at the Continental Cup vying for the three spots on the Olympic team. Doran, who earned points with a 26th-place finish on Saturday, and Schwall were the only two Americans to break into the top 30 in the three-day competition.
"I'm pretty happy that I could be one of the better guys on the team. I didn't want to barely slip in there. I've been jumping much better, feeling the last couple of weeks that I would just be able to make the team," Schwall said.
After finishing 36th in Friday's small hill jump, Schwall came back on Saturday to finish 14th. On Sunday, Schwall had his strongest finish ever in a competition featuring current and past Olympians.
With strong winds blowing, Schwall had a qualifying jump of 130 meters and then followed it up with a first-round jump of 134 meters, which put him in first place. Leading the field of top international jumpers, Schwall had the pressure of being the last jumper.
"I was the last to go, and I had never been in that high of level of competition. I didn't feel nervous, but the jump indicated I was a little nervous," Schwall said. "It wasn't quite right. It was a little early."
But Schwall's jump of 118 meters was good enough for fourth place as he finished behind a 17-year-old Finn and two top Japanese jumpers.
Although this will be Schwall's and Jones' first time to the Olympics, Doran and Alborn competed in the Nagano Olympics in 1998. The fifth member to be named to the U.S. Olympic Team is still unknown.
"The easy part is qualifying. The hard part is jumping well (at the Olympics)," Schwall said.
"When I go there, I'll be serious about the Olympics. It's not just an experience for me."