Suburban ski jumper places 20th in large hill event, accomplishing Olympic goal
When Kevin Bickner looks back years from now on his first experience at the Olympics, he'll always remember the overwhelming feeling of standing atop the large hill in Pyeongchang right before his individual ski jumping event.
"That's when it all really sunk in that you're at the Olympics competing," he said. "It's hard to describe. I had so many emotions coming over me."
It's difficult not to let those feelings take over, Bickner said, but the 21-year-old Wauconda native tried his best to push them aside, relax and focus on his jumps. His hard work paid off when he finished 20th overall in the large hill event.
"Top 20 had been a goal I set at the beginning of the season," he said. "I'm pretty happy I was able to accomplish it."
Bickner, who began the sport at 9, was the highest-placing American in both the large hill competition and the normal hill event, in which he finished 18th. Even so, he thought he performed his best jumps once the individual events were over and he was able to compete with his teammates Monday -- even if they didn't make it past the first round.
"I wasn't quite as nervous or stressed," he said. "I was able to relax."
Bickner was among three members of the Norge Ski Club in Fox River Grove to land spots on the U.S. ski jump team, the others being Casey Larson of Barrington, who came in 39th in the normal hill event, and Michael Glasder of Cary, who finished 32nd in the normal hill and 46th in the large hill. The group also includes William Rhoads of Utah.
"We pretty much live together all year round, so it's almost like a sibling relationship," Bickner said. "For the most part, we're all really good friends."
Now that their participation in the Winter Games is over, Bickner said the team doesn't have much time to celebrate before they head to Finland, then Norway and Slovenia to compete in the Ski Jumping World Cup. He and his teammates intend to check out other Olympic events -- including halfpipe skiing, big air snowboarding and hockey -- and explore South Korea before they leave next Monday.
"I'm really trying to take advantage of the short time I'm here," Bickner said. "I think just being here, having the Olympic experience and checking out different events -- to me, that's celebrating."
The hill at Norge is too small for Bickner to train on anymore, but he fully intends to visit his home club frequently. It's been fun to experience the support his friends, family and community members have shown back home, he said.
So will they get to watch Bickner try for another Olympic run in four years?
"Absolutely," he said.