KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Peter Frenette and his teammates on the U.S. men's ski jumping team knew the odds of making the podium were stacked against them, so they just tried to do their best and have a good time.
Wearing stick-on stars-and-stripes moustaches and American flag decals on their cheeks, Frenette, Anders Johnson, Nick Fairall and Nick Alexander placed 10th in their last event of the Sochi Winter Olympics, the team jumping competition, held under the lights Monday night at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center.
"It's the team event, and we're not really one of the top teams, so we're just out having fun," Frenette said.
Peter Frenette of Saranac Lake skis into the out-run area after landing a jump during the first round of Monday night's men's team competition at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (Enterprise photo - Chris Knight)
During the first round of the event, Frenette, who's from Saranac Lake, jumped first and soared 113 meters. Fairall, of Andover, N.H., followed him with a 120.5-meter effort. Park City, Utah's Johnson jumped 119 meters and Lebanon, N.H.'s Alexander followed with the best jump of the group, 126.5 meters. Added together, the U.S. team received 402.5 points, not enough to advance to the next round. Only the top eight teams moved on to the finals.
When the night was over, Germany won the gold medal, Austria took silver and Japan got the bronze.
The U.S. squad's disappointing result Monday added to what's been a tough games for these young athletes, none of whom made the finals in the two individual jumping events. In last week's normal hill competition, Frenette, Alexander and Johnson never made it past the first round. In the large hill individual event on Friday, Frenette failed to qualify for the first round by three places. His other three teammates advanced, but couldn't get into the final.
Frenette, a two-time Olympian, said he just had a hard time nailing down the timing on these jumps.
"Every jump, pretty much, it's so late timing," he said. "Once it gets in your head like that it's kind of hard to shake it. You lose a little bit of confidence. It's tough to come back from starting off slow.
"It's a little frustrating," Frenette added. "I came in here expecting to compete well, and I didn't really do that, but I made it here and had fun. I'm at the Olympics having a good time. It's a great accomplishment to even make it, so I've got to remember that."
Johnson said he had a couple good training jumps Sunday but was a little late on the takeoff for his competition jump tonight.
"This is a hill that's a lot like the newer hills they're building these days," he said. "It's a different curvature than what we're used to with a hill that's ten years older. It's just something you've got to get used to and move forward."
"It's a different style hill and the rhythm of it is a little different," said Fairall. "It's something that we weren't able to adapt to as quickly, unfortunately. As much as we'd love to medal, we'd have to ski our absolute best, so we wanted to have fun, do it with a smile on our face and enjoy our experience."
Regardless of what results they posted, this close-knit group seemed to know how to have fun at the games, whether it was their funny posts on Twitter (the picture Frenette tweeted of a fan's note that read "Good Luck USA! Don't Die!"), their ripping out the changing room wall between the U.S. and Canadian teams, or a beard-growing competition between Frenette and Johnson, his roommate. Johnson shaved his beard off before tonight's team event so he could wear the fake patriotic moustache.
"I wanted to make this moustache look a little better than the one I was having," he quipped. "I had a blast at these games. You know, for our team, we're not winning medals, but we're trying and we're hoping in four years that we can, and we want to have fun in the process."
Johnson is the veteran of this team, even though he's only 24 years old. This is his third Olympics. Asked if he plans to continue to jump, Johnson said he's "certainly not packing the skis and being done as of now.
"I want to keep going. I love the sport, and I really feel I haven't reached my true potential yet."
If anything, Johnson said the cost of being a professional ski jumper could be the thing that drives him from the sport.
"It's not a popular sport in the U.S., and we haven't attracted a lot of positive international results to really draw in some big sponsors, which is tough," he said. "I really want to keep jumping, but if I can't financially swing it, then I can't do it. It would be a huge bummer if that's what it came down to."
Fairall, whose in his first Olympics, said the idea of retiring from ski jumping has crossed his mind in the past, but not now.
"I think I love the sport too much, and I think I'm getting to the point now where it's starting to click and the details we're working on are starting to fall into place," he said. "We have an organization now that is a good group of people in the background that are helping to support us. I think this could be a huge step forward for ski jumping in the U.S."
The men's ski jumping team will stay in Sochi through the end of the week and go to Sunday's closing ceremonies. After that, they'll be back on the Continental and World Cup jumping tours through the end of the season.