February 23, 2010

U.S. high schooler takes 32nd in ski jumping

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WHISTLER, British Columbia - Peter Frenette arrived at Whistler Olympic Park in Callaghan Valley at 8 a.m. Saturday well before most other ski jumpers.

He had to wax his own skis and rip apart a few seams from his ski suit - the same ski suit he personally sewed a few weeks ago while training in Park City, Utah.

Such is life for cash-strapped U.S. ski jumpers, who are not funded by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association.

"We're the first athletes here every morning because we have to wax our own skis," said Frenette, who turns 18 Wednesday. "Everyone else has people that do everything for them. It'd be a lot easier to focus on just our jumping than, 'I've got to go there and wax my skis and make sure my suit's legal and do all this stuff.'"

Frenette, considered the future of U.S. ski jumping, barely missed the cutoff to advance to the finals in the large hill ski jumping event Saturday. He finished 32nd out of 50 jumpers with a score of 90.6 after soaring 114 meters at a top speed of 92.2 kilometers per hour.

"Definitely regrets," Frenette said. "There's so many little things. You're like, 'OK, if I could have done that, I could have gone a couple meters farther.' It's kind of hard being that close because you know you can be in with the top-30."

Switzerland's Simon Ammann won his fourth career Olympic gold medal by soaring 144 meters in the first round, then 138 meters on his second jump. "Hopefully, next Olympics I'll be right there," said Frenette.

Still, not too shabby for a 17-year-old who a month ago thought his first shot at the Olympics would be 2014 in Sochi.

Despite Frenette never competing in a major international competition or World Cup event, U.S. coach Jochen Dannenberg saw talent in the Saranac Lake, N.Y., native on the Continental Cup circuit. He was the top American during a recent event in Japan and finished 12th at world juniors in Germany last month.

So in late January while training in Austria, Frenette received a call from U.S. Nordic Director John Farra that he was an Olympian.

"It's been really exciting, and kind of intimidating, too, being my first big international competition," Frenette said. "I'm jumping against the best guys and it's definitely a lot harder than other competitions I've been in. But it's a cool experience."

Between world juniors and Olympic training, Frenette returned to his home just outside Lake Placid for two days. He celebrated by catching up on homework - math - because he's been away from school since early January.

But the Olympics make the lofty investment from Frenette's parents worthwhile. Frenette comes from a family full of skiers and his parents, who are school teachers at the same high school he attends, have to work two jobs to support their son's career.

His dad, Peter Sr., a computer teacher by day, does carpentry. His mother, Jennie, a music teacher by day, works at a restaurant.

"It's definitely hard not having any funding," said Frenette. "It's just another thing to worry about when you really don't need to be worrying."

Frenette guesses that between a few donations, sponsorships and his parents own money, he's spent $30,000 since last summer.

"Ten thousand on plane tickets alone," said Frenette, who has taken three trips to Europe and one to South Korea and Japan since last year. "Skis are $1,000. Suits are $500. Europeans have like 30 suits. We sew our own when they rip. Boots are $300. Hotels in Europe, training costs. It adds up quick.

"Hopefully the plan is to keep getting better results and someone will sponsor us or fund us."

Frenette then put his hand over the USA logo on his warmup jacket.

"Not them. Not them yet," Frenette said, disappointedly. "I feel it's going to happen. But you just don't know. It's definitely a tough situation."

But 30 grand? Sochi is four years away. How are Frenette's parents and a few sponsors going to continue to support him, especially since he plans to continue ski jumping in lieu of college?

Frenette noted how the USSA has invested money in recent years to biathlon and Nordic combined, and "it's paid off." Frenette was there last week when Johnny Spillane won the Americans' first Nordic combined medal.

"Someone's got to see it," Frenette said. "What it'll take to make ski jumping more popular in the U.S. is just consistently good results. Podium at Olympics. Podium at World Cups. Nobody knows about ski jumping in the U.S.

"Having good results here is making me want to keep doing it, get better, try to be the best one day and put ski jumping on the map."

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