NFL looms, but Bloom looking for Olympic berth

As the Jamaican sun beat down upon him, Jeremy Bloom was thinking only one thing: he needed to earn some points.

He had already won the half-mile run and finished second in the kayak race, the bike race and the swim, but he'd been disqualified from the rock climb. ("I was a little too aggressive," he said). Sound crazy? That's because it was.

The annual SuperStars competition has been held in exotic places for more than 30 years (remember Heavyweight champ Joe Frazier nearly drowning in the '70s?), and Bloom planned to win the 2003 version.

To do it, he'd have to win the 100-yard dash and place at least fourth in the obstacle course. Against professional football players Dexter Jackson, Charlie Garner, Ahman Green, Will Allen and Hines Ward, neither would be easy.

The obstacle course and track were set up in a fenced-off area away from the Montego Bay resort area, where the other events were held. On the surrounding fields and beach, local Jamaicans of all ages played soccer and cooked on barbecues, but when the competition began, nearly everyone drifted over to peek through the chain-link fence.

Bloom, 21 at the time, barely edged out Formula One driver Thomas Schecter for fourth place in the obstacle course behind three football players; there was no way the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Bloom could push a sled as far as Dexter Jackson, anyway. For Bloom, the 100 was the moment of truth.

In mere seconds, the NFL got a preview of what, if all goes according to plan, it's going to get next year. Bloom shot off the line and ran step for step with Green, one of the NFL's blazers. By the end of the race, Bloom was 3 full yards ahead of Green. At the finish, the clock read 9.41 seconds. Green and Ward were left shaking their heads, Bloom had won his competition and cemented himself into the consciousness of the NFL's elite.

It is that kind of explosiveness that has defined Bloom's athletic career thus far, and it is that kind of explosiveness that he hopes will carry him through his next three challenges.

First is making the 2006 U.S. Olympic ski team. Despite Bloom's skiing successes (most recently, six consecutive World Cup victories last season) and mainstream popularity, an Olympic bid is no guarantee. Four spots are available for the moguls competition and there are a dozen skiers, including Bloom, Travis Cabral, 2002 silver medalist Travis Mayer, Toby Dawson and Nate Roberts, who have a shot.

After that, he'll start on the next challenge: medaling in Turin. In Salt Lake City in 2002, Bloom finished ninth overall in the freestyle moguls.

"As a skier, I'm so much better than I was in 2002," Bloom said. "The tricks I'm doing are so much harder. I've made a lot of progress with my speed, so I'm a lot faster and a lot more dynamic in the turns."

The moguls team leaves for fall camp in Wolf Creek, Colo., on Nov. 19 to train for the start of the upcoming season. There will be seven World Cup events before Turin and three of the U.S. Ski team spots will be determined by points earned in those competitions. On Dec. 30-31 in Steamboat Springs, Colo., the 16 members of the U.S. moguls team will compete in the anyone-can-win U.S. Olympic trials. The winner, regardless of previous performance, gets an automatic trip to Turin.

"Getting to the Olympics will be a difficult path for all of our athletes," U.S. moguls coach Scott Rawles said. "Going into the coming season, the slate is clean. The only thing the skiers are guaranteed is their World Cup starts."

For Bloom, that means taking his training one day at a time.

"I try to just focus on what I have to do on a daily basis," he said. "There are a lot of important dates coming up, but the way I've been able to prepare with the most success is to worry about today. I feel good, I feel like I'm in great shape and I believe I did everything I could over the spring, summer and fall to prepare for Olympic competition."

That included trips to U.S. Skiing's water ramps in Utah to learn new tricks, training trips to South America and Europe, and daily five-hour training sessions in the gym.

"Just a lot of plyometrics," he said with a smirk.

The moguls finals in Turin take place on Feb. 15. After that race and six years on the U.S. Ski Team, Bloom will say farewell to skiing and begin his third project: making the NFL. Just one week after the Olympics, Bloom, accompanied by his newly appointed football agent Gary Wichard, is expected to attend the NFL combine at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

There, Bloom plans to run the 40-yard dash in 4.2 seconds.

"I know I can impress the scouts with speed," Bloom said. "It's the big reason I had success in Colorado. Speed is what I bring to the table and in the NFL, you have to be fast."

Bloom, an All-State football player at Loveland (Colo.) High School, played two years for the University of Colorado before having his eligibility revoked by the NCAA for accepting sponsorships that afforded him his ski career.

It has been two years since he's touched a football, which speaks to why he selected Wichard as his front man. Wichard represents several players who at one point were question marks, most notably Dwight Freeney, drafted 11th overall by the Colts in 2002 when no one wanted to touch a 6-foot-0 defensive end, and Adam Archuleta, a skinny linebacker who had never played safety and was taken 20th overall by the Rams in the 2001 draft.

Bloom's question mark is obvious, but in just two years of college football, he managed to accumulate stats so impressive that Wichard believes he'll go on the first day of the NFL draft in April. As a receiver/kick returner, Bloom averaged 19 yards per reception, 14 yards per punt return and 28 yards per kickoff return, all numbers that put him amongst college football's elite. Had he finished out his college career, it is only natural to think his numbers would have improved even further.

"I want Jeremy to go as high as possible in the draft and then prove people right," Wichard said. "I don't want him to go lower and then have to prove people wrong. I would be happy with a first-day pick, but that's not the ceiling for me."

Bloom's explosive speed -- the same speed that won the 100 at the SuperStars competition two years ago -- makes NFL scouts salivate.

"That word, explosive, is paramount to Jeremy's life, both on mountains and on the football field," Wichard said. "He is the most explosive player in this draft, without hesitation."

Bloom plans to add 10 pounds by the time he does his NFL pro-day workout in the spring, but the current success of smaller wide receivers like Washington's Santana Moss (5-foot-10, 190 pounds) and Carolina's Steve Smith (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) gives even more credence to the idea that it is OK to take a chance on less-than-hulking speedsters with on-field savvy. And Bloom, negating those who say football has nothing to do with skiing, thinks he has plenty of it.

"It's all about your reactions," Bloom said. "When you ski moguls, you're going so fast that all you see are colors and your senses take over. You're looking ahead all the time. You have to be able to read things and adjust, just like you do when you're running through the secondary or returning a punt or a kickoff."

Or exploding on to a brand-new scene.

Lindsay Berra is a writer for ESPN The Magazine. She can be e-mailed at lindsay.berra@espnmag.com.