King of Bormio
By Brian Pinelli
Over his nine-year career on the FIS World Cup Tour, Andrej Jerman has often been inspired by the lyrics of the legendary 60's, 70's and 80's rock and roll jam band, the Grateful Dead. However, he insists that his nickname, "Jerry," has nothing to do with the iconic group's singer and songwriter, Jerry Garcia.
"The nickname doesn't come from Jerry Garcia - it was given to me 25 years ago," says the 31-year-old Slovenian ski racer. "I've always been a fan of the Grateful Dead. They were such a great live band and so creative in how they blended one song into another."
In the 1970 song, Truckin, Garcia's lyrics, "What a long, strange trip it's been," may actually summarize Jerman's ski racing career. While the journeyman racer has had his share of success, he's also been hampered by three knee reconstructions and a complex wrist fracture. Despite the setbacks, he's managed to compete in two Olympic Games and four World Championships.
Jerman's victory at the downhill in Bormio, Italy, the second win of his career, was particularly special considering his previous struggles. Starting fifth out of the gate, his time of 2:00.32 on the long, bumpy and arduous Stelvio piste, would hold up to all forthcoming challengers, giving the 1.86-meter Slovenian his first win since 2007.
"It's a course I like and have skied well on over the years," said Jerman. "After the race, Marco Buechel came up and congratulated me and said ‘When you win on this hill you are the best.' That meant a lot to me."
Jerman's time was a substantial 0.53 seconds faster than Switzerland's Didier Defago, who skied 17th. However, Austria's Mario Scheiber was 0.44 back until being disqualified for wearing illegal boots.
Leaving the starthouse 20th, Austria's Michael Walchhofer could only manage a third place finish, more than a second slower than Jerman. World Cup downhill leader, Didier Cuche, who started 22nd was 1.28 seconds behind the Slovenian's winning time.
"After Cuche came off the San Pietro jump and I saw his time, I realized the victory was probably mine," said Jerman.
For Jerman, it was his fourth career World Cup downhill top three and second victory. On February 23, 2007, Jerman won his first race in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany besting Austria's Hans Grugger by 0.26 seconds.
"It's really hard to compare the two victories, they are both very different," he said. "But this one means a lot to me."
It has not been a great start to the season for Jerman, making his victory in Bormio particularly impressive and perhaps a bit surprising. He was 48th in the season-opening downhill in Lake Louise and 18th the following week in Beaver Creek. In Val d'Isère he failed to finish in the super-G and a couple of weekends ago suffered a nasty crash in Val Gardena somersaulting and sliding after hooking his leg on a gate. Jerman sat out the following day's downhill.
"It's hard to explain, but I felt good coming into the race and knew I had a chance," said Jerman about Bormio. "I think there were higher expectations after the strong training runs (Jerman was first and second in two training runs)."
After the race, Jerman drove home to Slovenia and the town in which he grew up, Trzic. Slovenian newspapers declared him, "The King of Bormio."
"People forget about skiing in Slovenia quickly but it's been a big deal here," he said. "Many people came out to welcome me when I returned to my hometown."
In Jerman's two previous Olympic appearances in 2002 & 2006, he has finished 28th twice in two downhills. His best event finish was 19th in the combined in Turin, Italy.
Considering Tuesday's performance, expectations will be considerably higher for the veteran racer come Vancouver in February. Jerman will seek to become only the second male Olympic medalist from Slovenia and first in a speed event. Countryman Jure Kosir won bronze in the slalom in Lillehammer in 1994.
"This gives me confidence for the Olympics, but anything can happen there and not only for the Olympics, but also for the classics in January, the Lauberhorn (Wengen) and Hahnenkamm (Kitzbuehel)," he says.
Jerman begain ski racing at the age of six at a small ski area called Zelenica near his home in the alpine city of Trzic, situated about 50-kilometers from Kranjska Gora. While he showed promise with his dedication and prodigious work ethic at a young age, injuries and setbacks came early. At just age 13, he broke both of his shins.
However, Jerman persevered and near the end of his junior racing career he won a silver medal in super-G at the 1998 World Junior Championships in France. Coming off this success, he blew out an ACL the following season skiing in his first Hahnenkamm downhill in Kitzbuehel.
Jerman would continue to race skiing relatively inconsistently in the seasons to follow. He would also suffer another major knee injury, slowing his career once again.
"I never considered giving up," said Jerman. "I always felt you just have to fight through these situations and keep working hard."
Perseverance once again paid off in the 2006-07 season when he won that first downhill in Garmisch and followed it up finishing second in another downhill the next day. Despite a shoulder injury, which prevented him from competing in World Cup finals, Jerman finished a strong sixth in the season downhill standings.
In 2007-08, Jerman once again skied well, although only landed on one podium, achieving a third in a downhill in Chamonix. He finished 16th that year in the overall World Cup standings, his best-ever.
Last season, Jerman's results dropped off once again. He only finished in the top ten in downhill twice, seventh in Kitzbuehel and fourth in Kvitfjell. At the World Championships in Val d'Isère, he was thirteenth in the downhill. Overall, the Slovenian fell to 34th in the overall standings and 16th in the downhill standings.
What happened this past week in Bormio, proves that Jerman remains a serious contender in downhill as we head into the January classics and February Olympics. Although never establishing himself as a household name, the determined Slovenian racer has rebounded time and time again and should never be counted out.
And like his musical hero, Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead, Andrej "Jerry" Jerman seems to take everything in stride with a dedicated work ethic, yet laid-back approach to life.
Despite the recent victory, there will be no major New Years celebrations for Jerman - there are larger mountains to climb in 2010. Just some quiet time with his newlywed wife, who he recently married on July 4th of this past year.
"I will spend New Years Eve at home with my wife," says Jerman. "and then back to training a few days after that."
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