ANCHORAGE - Champion Anchorage ski jumper Alan Alborn announced his retirement from the U.S. Ski Team this week.
Alborn, 22, said knee problems are forcing him to leave the sport that gained him five national championships, two Olympic appearances and the U.S. jumping record of 221.5 meters. His knee required surgery last fall and has been a source of pain for more than a year.
"My knee is getting worse all the time with the jumping and physical training. I do not want to have a bad knee for the rest of my life," Alborn wrote in an e-mail to the Anchorage Daily News. "I have had the time of my life and a great career, so I am happy with ending here."
His last competition was last weekend at a World Cup event in Slovenia.
Alborn began ski jumping since he was 9 years old. By the time he was 15, he was well into his career with the U.S. Ski Team. He spent much of his time competing in Europe or training in the Lower 48.
Alborn jumped in pain at last year's Olympics in Salt Lake City and was still in pain when training for this season started. He had arthroscopic knee surgery in October, but the pain persisted, said his mother, Mary Alborn.
"When the surgeon went in, he said, 'Alan, you have the knees of a 70-year-old man. You need to quit what you are doing.' I just cried," Mary Alborn said. "I said, Alan, we love you and support you, but I just feel bad that the thing you've chosen to do has destroyed your knees.
"The doctor told him he needs to quit running, quit jumping, quit doing anything that pounds those knees. Basically, his life will have to change dramatically."
Alborn retires as one of the best jumpers in U.S. history, a man who last season collected three top-10 World Cup results - including one top-five result - and an 11th-place finish at the Olympics that was the best by an American since 1984. He became the first American to soar more than 200 meters in competition and holds the U.S. distance record of 221.5 meters, set a year ago in Slovenia.
He is a role model for younger jumpers like Clint Jones, who just completed a breakthrough season in which he vaulted past the aching Alborn in the World Cup standings. When Alborn toyed with the idea of retirement last year at the Olympics, his teammates rooted for him to stay.
"For a long time, we haven't had any idols to look up to," jumper Brian Welch said at the time. "Alan gives us someone to look up to."
At the time, Alborn's retirement talk was fueled by disappointment and frustration. He'd had fabulous results in the 2001 Grand Prix summer season and entered the Olympic season on a high. He had dreams of a medal.
But by the time the Olympics began in February, the knee was hurting. He placed 11th in the small-hill competition, a result that might have pleased numerous other Americans, but not Alborn. A couple days later, he failed to qualify for a second jump in the big-hill competition.