Standing inside a warming hut, the size and look of a one room log cabin meant to house eight, there were more than three times the number this day. Located at the bottom of the 70-meter ski jump in Lake Placid, New York we had just completed a competition and gathered in the hut for the results. This was no ordinary competition, it was the culmination of a dream that began twelve years ago. Even since I was eight years old, the time Mom enrolled me in a ski jumping class at our local hill, my dream was to make it to the Olympics someday.
We were a cross country skiing family and I was the only one that took up jumping. Rather than betray family tradition I combined the two. Thankfully, there was a sport for that called Nordic Combined which includes both cross country skiing and ski jumping. A two day competition, the longest jumper with the fastest time in cross country wins. The stronger of two sports was cross country skiing and in previous competitions I beat most of those vying for the coveted Olympic team spots. With my jumping being the weaker of the two I spent a great deal of time focusing and improving by training harder and jumping more over the past few years in order to prepare for this competition.
That day in Lake Placid was the Olympic tryouts. The fulfillment of my dream so close. Not 100% sure the dream was achievable, my back up plan was to be selected to compete in the Junior Worlds in Europe which was also part of this competition. And after making that team be asked to join the US team and prepare for the Olympics four years later. At the time, I was only on the development team and not yet a full fledged member which included benefits like free trips to European competitions.
My dream so close held in the balance while awaiting the final results, now minutes away. I knew it was not only about the results this day, but also the potential long term development and whether it was in the coaches best interest to invest time and money on members who would best represent the US.
Still in my cross country skin tight aero ski outfit and a down jacket, I began sweating profusely thanks to those other sweaty bodies in the now sauna-like hut. The beads of sweat turned into small creeks streaming off my cheek forming puddles next to my feet. I didn’t care my main concern was the dream. At 20 years of age I put a lot of my life on hold, including college.
Suddenly, the hut door swung open and in walked the three coaches from outside, presumably where they gathered to decide the fate of my dream. The head coach, coach Peterson, a short-haired red head with a scraggly beard and piercing blue eyes able to zero in on our jumping style offering up detailed coaching suggestions which were left up to each of us to do what were told, held the results in his notepad. He had the power to make or break my dream, but he didn’t know it. Grabbing a nearby chair he stood up. His towering presence quieted the group.
With notepad in hand he looked around at the attendees. There were thirty of us or so who competed these last few days. That’s thirty of the top skiers in the US vying for three coveted Olympic team spots and three Junior World spots. With six available spots the odds were pretty good. Besides, it was my dream and I put in a lot of effort to get to this point. Coach Peterson looked around and thanked everyone for their efforts and stating, “This was a difficult decision to make for us. You are the cream of the Nordic crop and there’s only room for a few at the top.” “Yeah, yeah, get on with it,” I thought to myself, “Let my dream become reality!”
He then flipped the page on his notepad and said, “These will be the members to represent the US in the 1984 Olympics for Nordic Combined.” The three names he read didn’t include an Allen. A big round of applause drowned out my initial disappointment. I didn’t want to be a bad sport and applauded along with everyone else. The coach flipped another page and said, “This will be the team representing the US in the Junior World competition in Oslo, Norway.” He read the first name, not mine, then the second name, again not mine.
My odds dwindled with each name read. Time stopped. Eternity. Puddles of sweat. Heart beats. He read the last name to represent the US. I was a shoe in to be part of the US Ski Team for future competitions and free trips to Europe and other places around the world. My dream. One final spot. “Rob Carlson.” My heart dropped and what was once sweat now turned to tears. Unable to hold back the flood, the dream of my lifetime from eight years old and the first time I took a jump on a very small bump on a Wednesday night to all the years of training and 1000s of jumps working my way up to the large hills and flying further than I could have ever imagined was over. I would have rather been injured and crashed out of my dream than to have not made the team.
I left the warming hut shortly thereafter the next round of applause died down, returned to my hotel, packed my bags, changed my flight and caught the next plane home. A few months later after consulting with a doctor about a persistent knee pain due to over-training, I chose to have knee surgery that following spring, which closed the deal on my dream. I spent the following year healing and drinking my woes away and slowly failing out of university, but dropped out before it was too late.