Friday February 15, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- During his free time, Spencer Knickerbocker enjoys reading, watching movies and playing the guitar. He likes playing Neil
Young and Taylor Swift songs, although Whitney Houston’s "I believe I can Fly" and Tom Petty’s "Free Fallin" seem more fitting.

After soaring 80 feet and winning the Pepsi Challenge’s Open Class last year, the 20-year-old Colorado resident returned to his hometown on Monday to compete in this weekend’s Harris Hill Ski Jump.

"I definitely do feel more pressure when jumping at Harris Hill. I want to represent my town really well and put on a good show for the hometown fans," said Knickerbocker, who attended Brattleboro Union High School as a freshman and sophomore. "It’s nice being able to sleep in my own bed and to be with family."

Knickerbocker will be practicing at the 90-meter jump on Cedar Street this morning, before competing in the FIS Cup on Saturday and Sunday. He will be going up against talented jumpers from Japan, Austria, Slovenia, Canada, Ukraine, Germany and the United States.

"This is the premier class," stated the hometown favorite, who knows that the U.S. entrants will be solid. There’s Harris Hill record holder Chris Lamb, top U.S.competitor Nicholas Fairall, and also Mike Glasder.

The gates will open at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with the action starting at 11 a.m. and opening ceremonies beginning at noon. The ticket prices are: $15 per adult, $12 per child (6-12) and free for ages 5 and under.

The estimated 40 to 50 jumpers will receive scores from the five judges, who will be grading the athletes on their form in the air and their landing. Any movement in flight or bobble when they touch down will cost them points in the 0-20 range. Distance also factors in, with deductions going to those that fail to reach the 88-meter mark.

"I get a little nervous, just like any athlete would get. We try to be professional about it. We’re not all freaking out up there," said Knickerbocker. "I try not to make a lot of changes. I’m usually thinking about possibly jumping earlier, or the technical part of it all. It also kind of keeps you distracted."

But aside from having no fear, what is it that makes Knickerbocker so good at what he does?

"You have to be a really good athlete. You have to work and train really hard. You have to do it for the joy of the sport. You have to be really passionate about it," he stated.

Knickerbocker joined the Steamboat Springs, Colo., Winter Sports Club in November of 2011. While there, his days have consisted of weightlifting, cross-country skiing and ski jumping, but he’s also holding down a part-time job at a cafe.

"Every day is pretty busy. I’m really lucky to be able to live and train out there. I owe Harris Hill a lot. That jump is basically paying me to have their logo on my helmet," continued Knickerbocker.

Having entered his share of Nordic Combined events -- a combo of ski jumping and cross-country skiing -- all over Europe, he’s still not sure which part of it he prefers.

"Jumping is so much fun, but I also like to live an active lifestyle and do aerobic activity. Winning a cross-country skiing race is the best feeling, because it’s such a hard, grueling sport."

Now a member of the U.S. Development Team, the next step would be the U.S. A or B Team. And the ultimate goal for Knickerbocker would be representing his country in Nordic Combined in the 2018 Olympics.

And who can blame the fan favorite if he launches off of the jump at Harris Hill this weekend while dreaming of himself standing on the podium, with a gold medal around his neck and our national anthem playing?

Shane Covey can be reached at scovey@reformer.com or by calling 802-254-2311, ext. 163.