Mac Bohonnon: high-flying skier on a mission

By John Kekis

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 1 2012 12:20 p.m. MST

In this photo taken Jan. 21, 2012, U.S. Ski Team member Mac Bohonnon of Madison, Conn., competes in the qualification round of the men's aerials World Cup freestyle skiing event in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Mike Groll, Associated Press

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — Mac Bohonnon squints in the bright sunlight, the rugged high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains looming in the distance like so many sentinels. He checks his bindings, flips down his glasses, pushes off, and down a steep u-shaped ramp he plummets.

Seconds later, he's hurtling 60 feet skyward, his body twisting and turning in flight before his skis slam the surface of a 17-foot-deep pool of water with a huge thud, creating a giant splash that sends waves caroming off and over the sides.

Just another moment in the life of an aspiring Olympian. Since he moved here to the Olympic Training Center nearly four years ago at age 13 to hone his skills in freestyle aerials, Bohonnon has lived to jump into that pool when the panorama is green and snow is an afterthought.

"I've always loved to jump," Bohonnon said. "I absolutely love skiing, but jumping is my passion."

As is the thought of competing in the Winter Olympics. Bohonnon was willing to sacrifice the innocence of youth to attain that goal and, unlike Alpine stars Bode Miller and Lindsey Vonn, there are no big sponsors knocking at Bohonnon's door.

"This sport is real small, it doesn't have a lot of publicity," Bohonnon said. "There's not a lot of money in it. You're not a celebrity even if you're a world champion."

So, to try to find extra cash to pay some of the bills — he has to pay travel expenses and competition entry fees — Bohonnon decided to create a website to tell his story. Check it out at www.macbohonnon.com .

"I'm not trying to do anything crazy. I'm just trying to kind of start with the basics, get sponsors, get publicity, just baby steps," said Bohonnon, who's had more than 6,000 visitors since his site went up late last year. "I mean, I'm not an Olympic athlete. I'm not a world champion right now, but I'm trying."

Inspiration came from Eric Bergoust, 1998 Olympic gold medalist in men's aerials at Nagano, Japan.

"He did the best job getting publicity for our sport and making a career out of it for himself," Bohonnon said. "Now that he's back in the sport as a coach, he's kind of inspired me and a few others to get our sport some visibility and make it bigger."

Bergoust had an edge — his site went up after his Olympic moment.

"I finally had the credentials to put it up. I was trying to get sponsors and speaking engagements to promote the sport," Bergoust said. "I did well. I think the guys that were ranked did very well. The website was probably a small part of that."

Not much has changed since.

"It's all about having talent and having a great work ethic and pursuing a dream of going to the Olympics, and if he can make some money along the way, that's great," said Mac's mom, Libby. "What Mac knows from those who have gone before him is there's not a lot of money to be made, and it's getting harder and harder — unless you have red, curly hair and your name is Shaun White."

When Bergoust was soaring to Olympic stardom, Bohonnon was a toddler anticipating his third birthday in Madison, Conn. At least at that point. Bohonnon had already been skiing for nearly half his life, one of the perks of growing up in a home where the sport is king. Mom and dad didn't encourage basketball or hockey because they both loved to ski — and there was that family home in Vermont.

Mac, who started in Alpine, joined older brother Cody in trying freestyle together, "had a blast" and was hooked. At a summer camp in Lake Placid four years ago, former U.S. coach Dmitriy Kavunov was recruiting youngsters for a development program and asked Mac if he'd be interested. The youngster jumped at the chance.

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