SAUZE d'OULX, Italy – A bobble through the bumps and a small splash of snow hit Jeremy Bloom harder than any linebacker could. Might have made him wish he'd stuck to football, too.
Bloom's skiing adventure came to a less-than-satisfying close Wednesday. The two-sport star finished sixth in Olympic moguls and felt compelled to smile through it all, even though the ending wasn't the one everyone expected.
"It really isn't about winning the medal for me," Bloom insisted.
That honor went to fellow American Toby Dawson, who capped off four years of single-minded toil to finish third. Mikko Ronkainen of Finland won silver and Dale Begg-Smith of Australia added to his recent dominance by taking the gold.
American Travis Mayer, the silver medalist in 2002, finished seventh and announced his retirement afterward, while teammate Travis Cabral came in ninth.
Bloom has bigger things on his radar now — starting with a trip to the NFL scouting combine next week — and wallowing in disappointment isn't part of that.
"This may be my last mogul competition and if so, I'll look back on it with a huge smile on my face," he said. "I've had more success in this sport than I ever dreamed possible. It's just been an amazing ride and I don't think a medal here would have affected that at all."
Great PR, but hard to believe given what he's been through. His two years as a football star at the University of Colorado ended after the NCAA ruled he couldn't accept endorsement money for skiing.
Determined not to be pushed around, Bloom dropped out of school and focused on skiing, saying football was his true love but refusing to give up his other passion. To him, the move was as much a matter of principle as practicality. He also wanted to better his ninth-place finish in the 2002 Games.
He won an unprecedented six straight races and the World Cup title last season, positioning himself as the man to beat in 2006.
Then, the finale — an average trip down the slope at Sauze d'Oulx that made him look more like a football player who likes to ski than someone who has devoted his whole life to the mountain.
"I knew I had made a mistake," he said, referring to his run. "I came here to accomplish my goals. I didn't come here to win any certain color medals. I was so close, you know."
Bloom bumped around a little on his ride through the moguls between the first and second jumps — nothing terrible, but noticeable nonetheless. The landing after his second jump was what really did him in, a result of over-rotating his 720-degree, off-axis spin. Snow flew up behind him as he hit the ground with the back of his skis, his knees bending too much to call it championship form.
At the bottom, he smiled and raised his hand, although it looked more like a sigh of relief than a victory fist pump. When his score came up, Bloom nodded knowingly.
U.S. freestyle coach Jeff Wintersteen said nobody should have expected his star to coast to a medal.
"A lot of people made the assumption that it was in the bank, but it wasn't," Wintersteen said. "I thought Jeremy handled the pressure extraordinarily well. His run was quite good, he just made a little error and it ended up costing us."
Dawson, the South Korean-born, American-adopted 27-year-old, skied under the radar, as all of Bloom's teammates did the past few years. He pursued skiing with single-minded tenacity after a self-described meltdown in qualifying for the 2002 Olympics.
"I basically completely choked," he said. "I'm a little older, a little more mature. I was able to keep my wits about me, qualify, put together a couple good runs and get a medal here."
His road to the bronze was not about glamour, but rather the hard work of improving on the technical side of skiing through the moguls. Turns count for half a skier's score and Dawson thought he could make himself stand out by going at them more aggressively — carving is the term — on his way down the steep, slippery hill.
That, plus his plan to peak at the Olympics, not during qualifying events or Olympic trials, worked out perfectly.
"I was just taking it one step at a time," Dawson said.
The top two finishers have divergent stories.
Ronkainen was one of the world's best earlier this decade but has struggled mightily of late. He qualified for the finals in 13th, showing few signs that he might win his first Olympic medal.
"But I've always known that it's close and I can win a medal any day," Ronkainen said.
Begg-Smith, meanwhile, won for the fourth time in the last five competitions, dominating much the way Bloom did last season.
He spent a good deal of time in the winner's news conference talking about his move to Australia from Vancouver, one he made after he got tired of languishing on the Canadian developmental team.
"I was happy with the program in Canada and I was happy with the program when I moved to Australia," he said. "Happy both ways."
Bloom can probably relate, being pushed and pulled in two directions.
With six touchdowns of 75 yards or more during his two-year college career at Colorado, he might have been a first-round draft pick had he stuck with football.
But he is small, only 5-foot-9, 175 pounds. Out of football shape, he'll have to be at his best as tryouts progress over the next few months.
He wasn't Wednesday, which left him looking ahead almost before he caught his breath at the bottom of the hill.
"It's great to have that right now — something that's such a big challenge right ahead of me," Bloom said.