What's it like standing in a pair of skis at the top of a plastic-coated ramp that sweeps jumpers straight up into the sky above a swimming pool?
"It was scary," 13-year-old Matt Jager of Midway said of his first attempt at a forward flip off the summer freestyle aerial ski jump at the Utah Winter Sports Park earlier this week.But after a few more tries to perfect both a forward and a backward jump during the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's first-ever "Sport to Sport" camp, Jager was starting to sound pretty confident.
"It's not really hard," he said after completing a neat, skis-first landing into the pool. That's because Jager is a nationally ranked power tumbler, and many of the moves are similar.
Except for the takeoff. Power tumblers need a running start to flip through the air. Freestyle aerialists need to ski down a mountain. Or, if there's no snow, down a ramp that leads into a swimming pool.
Bob Bills, director of youth programs for SLOC, hopes to help athletes like Jager transfer their skills from summer to winter sports. Participants in the freestyle aerial camp also include gymnasts and divers.
Although Olympic organizers are funding this and two other camps like it, as well as efforts to cross-train other athletes including those who compete in wheelchairs, Bills said he doesn't expect participants to compete in 2002.
"There is a possibility for 2002. I'll never say no. What I really see is 2006 and beyond," Bills said, describing the program as part of the state's Olympic legacy.
Jager isn't sure he's ready to switch sports because he says he's dreamed of competing as a power tumbler in the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece. But he was more than willing to try something new.
"I was excited," he said of being among the 19 young athletes from around the state recruited for this week's camp. "I had watched this before and thought it would be fun to do but I never thought I'd get the chance."
The same went for a family of power tumblers from Midway, the Hills. Riley, 11; Austin, 13; and Brooke, 15, all had a good time Wednesday even as they struggled to perfect their flips.
"It was fun. It's kind of hard to explain," Austin Hills said. "It just seems like it's a lot easier. You have a lot of speed. It's pretty intense." He said he wants to make an Olympic team in "any sport I can."
One athlete trying out the sport for the first time Wednesday knows what it's like to be an Olympian. Scott Donie won a silver medal in diving in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain, and competed in Atlanta in 1996.
"When they told me 11-year-old kids were doing it, I thought I'd give it a try," he joked after finishing a not-so-great jump. "These kids are incredible."
Donie, an acting student in New York City, was invited to the camp to show the other crossover athletes that even for an Olympic champion, it's not easy to switch sports.
"I just try to talk to the kids and answer any questions they have," he said. " let them know I'm human just like they are, that when I stand up at the top of the ramp, I'm just as scared as they are."
Gold medalist Nikki Stone, who trained at the pool for her victory in freestyle aerials at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, was also on hand to watch the newcomers.
Her advice? "Make sure you're doing it because it's fun," she said. To make her point, she hollered out at Jager as he climbed out of the pool,"Having fun?"
"Yeah!" Jager said.