Alborn goes airborne again

Special jumper overcomes injury, makes Olympic return

— A love of flying brought Alan Alborn back to the ski jumping hills after leaving the sport in 2004. It has been hard work that helped him climb back to the top of the American team after a knee injury last season nearly ended his jumping career.

But Airborne Alborn isn't the same jumper who finished ninth on the normal hill at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, and he isn't the same jumper who decided to retire from the sport at the end of the 2003 season.

"This isn't life or death, this is sport," Alborn said. "When I went back to Alaska, I had a whole lot of time to think. I was driving trucks and dozers and just sitting there chugging along for hours and doing 100 percent different stuff than sport. Everybody looks back to what they could have done better, and the one thing that hit me was to focus in on having fun, and when it is time to compete and train, to be 100 percent ready for it -- not just show up."

He was the only American to make the second round cut Friday night and the only one on the jump hill Saturday. But for the second time in the Olympics, the skier from Alaska, who trains in Steamboat Springs, could not break into the top 30. He finished 43rd.

"I know where I can be if I have a great jump -- if I get dealt some pretty fair conditions," Alborn said. "But everybody gets so upset about the conditions, and it's such a short little time span. Whatever, you just have to jump good."

Alborn said he was not satisfied with his jump of 108 meters but that he wasn't going to get too worked up about it. He was happy to be competing at the Olympics and to have advanced to the second round after suffering a serious knee injury in January 2005 while recreational skiing in Park City, Utah. Alborn had a few days off before the team started training for the World Championships. He decided to hit a tabletop jump but was a little too cautious and crashed on the landing.

"I hurt my knee last season, and going into the summer, I was pretty skeptical about even making it back to jumping," Alborn said. "All the muscle disappeared in my leg. I couldn't walk. I couldn't bend my knee. It was pretty humbling. I just worked hard and did all the therapy, maybe more than I was supposed to do."

Doctors told Alborn it would take about six months to recover from a total reconstruction of his right knee. But what Alborn wasn't prepared for was dealing with the pain of a severe bone bruise on the bottom of his right femur. Nine months later, he was back on the jump hill, but few people thought he would be ready for the Olympics.

"It was a dumb mistake, but it's been a real character builder," Alborn said.

Alborn came back and has led the American team on the World Cup and at the Olympic Games in Pragelato. But Alborn said he doesn't get hung up on the results at this point. He prefers to focus on making the small steps that will help him make the final cut and return to the top 30 ski jumpers in the world.

Austrian Thomas Morgenstern soared 140 meters Saturday en route to winning the gold medal on the large hill under the lights in Pragelato.

"I still don't believe it," Morgenstern said after the event. "I had the best jumps every day here. Last year, this year, everything is perfect."

Morgenstern's jumps of 133 meters and 140 meters helped him move past teammate Andreas Kofler. Kofler combined jumps of 134 and 139.5 meters to earn the silver, and Lars Bystoel of Norway added a bronze medal to the gold one he won in the individual event earlier in the Olympic Games.

The special jumpers will have a day off before making their final Olympic appearance Monday.

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