By Eddie Pells
Of The Associated Press
The first jump on the road to the Olympics came near a lonely stretch of Interstate 90 on the Continental Divide in Montana.
Moguls skiers Brad and Bryon Wilson built the jump off a rock near the bottom of the hill (above their Butte hometown). Often, they would ski through the moguls and off the jump so late in the afternoon they’d have to wait for cars to approach so the headlights could illuminate the makeshift course.
The toughest challenge, though, was coming to a complete stop in the short space between the landing area and the barbed-wire fence that separated the skiers from the highway.
“I guess you could say it’s where we started going above and beyond for training,” Brad Wilson said.
One reward for their risk taking is the bronze medal from the Vancouver Olympics that now sits in Bryon’s house, not far from their now-more-traditional training area in Deer Valley, Utah. Brad, who finished 20th four years later in Sochi, recently added a silver medal in dual moguls from this month’s world championships to the mix.
The ultimate goal, of course, would be for the brothers to qualify together for next year’s games in South Korea.
“It would be epic,” Bryon said.
Even without barbed wire waiting at the end of a run, moguls are a brutal endeavor. Nearly everyone who’s done this at an elite level knows the pain Bryon Wilson is going through now, as he rehabs his right knee, mangled after an accident during a World Cup event in Lake Placid in January.
Bryon’s injury lit a fire under Brad, which he says is responsible for his recent surge. He finished fifth in the regular moguls race at worlds, and also third at a World Cup dual moguls contest last month.
Brad had missed most of the last two seasons himself because of a knee injury of his own.
“When I saw Bryon go down, it was pretty fresh in my head, for sure,” Brad said. “It’s why it hit me so hard. It lit a fire and reminded me how much I really love the sport. It reminded me, don’t take it for granted. I made it back. Now I have to enjoy it.”
Their separate Olympic experiences were as different as could be.
Bryon was basically an afterthought for the U.S. team heading into the 2009-10 season, not even afforded a spot on the U.S. ‘A’ team. But he was granted two World Cup starts for the Olympic season, and by finishing on the podium twice, he secured an unexpected trip to Vancouver. His head spinning too quickly to get nervous, he kept his strong skiing going straight into competition day at Cypress Mountain.
A few hours later, they were hanging a bronze medal around his neck.
“I just had fun,” he said.
His younger brother’s experience in Russia was different.
He didn’t have as many issues earning his spot, but struggled with the package of jumps he wanted to lay down for the big day.
“It didn’t go great in training. My coach said, ‘What do you think about taking a step back?'” Brad said. “I thought, ‘We’re here at the Olympics, it’s go big or go home.’ That’s what you always learn when you start skiing.”
Brad Wilson finished last among the 20 skiers to make it into the first elimination round of finals.
“It hit me when I was there, about how big a stage it was, and I couldn’t deal with the pressure,” he said. “I was skiing super well. But I threw a trick I wasn’t really ready to throw.”
America’s godfather of moguls, Jonny Moseley, said in a recent telecast that if the United States is going to win an Olympic medal in a sport dominated by skiers from Canada and some from France — and overshadowed by all the halfpipers and slopestylers that populate America’s action-sports world — it will come from one of the Wilson brothers.
Bryon’s plan is to rehab the knee in time to return for the start of next season.
Brad is taking some time off after his success at World Cup, and will do some summer skiing in the Southern Hemisphere, along with the water ramp at the training center in Park City, Utah.
But they’ll never forget where they came from.
“Mom would take us up to the pass, drop us off for a few hours,” Bryon said. “I remember hucking myself off those jumps and eating crap a lot. That’s the kind of stuff you’d have to do because there was nowhere to train.”