Olympic trio visits Norge, where ski jump dreams began
Even with his "USA" backpack, 21-year-old Wauconda native Kevin Bickner looks like just another person getting off the train Saturday in Fox River Grove and trudging his way through the cold, wet wind. That changes the moment Bickner walks into the Norge Ski Club, where the Olympic ski jumper is hailed as a hero, signs autographs and poses for photographs with his 2018 Olympic teammates Casey Larson, 19, of Barrington, and Michael Glasder, 29, of Cary.
The three ski jumpers greeted fans at the ski club where they started their jumping careers. Larson, who was 6 years old when he conquered the 5-meter beginner's jump at Norge, tuned up on Norge's 70-meter hill in October before competing in jumps off the 90-meter normal hill and 120-meter large hill in February at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. "It's a little superstition for me. I've got to take a few jumps on the home hill," Larson said.
"It's really cool that people recognize you," said Glasder, who still lives in Cary when he isn't competing in Europe.
"Ski jumping in the middle of nowhere, but I thought we'd eventually have somebody in the Olympics," said Gary Lynn, vice president and trustee of the Norge Ski Club. Having three jumpers from their club make the 2018 Olympic team has resulted in more spectators at events and more kids signing up to learn the art of ski jumping, Lynn said.
"I would like all of you to sign that," 12-year-old Max Glyvka said as he approached the athletes' table clutching a photograph of the Olympic trio. "Nice."
The boy, who lives within walking distance of the ski jump, had a smile on his face and an Olympic dream in his heart.
"They definitely motivated us to jump harder and do better," Max said of his three idols. "It's amazing."
His father, Oleg Glyvka, coached all three Olympic jumpers when they were young, so Max, who's already landed a 71-meter jump in practice, says he can follow the same path to the Olympics.
While the Olympics are huge, World Cup ski jump events run through every winter across Europe.
"My two best results came after the Olympics," said Bickner, who finished 20th in Pyeongchang. He whips out his phone to show his U.S.-record 244½-meter jump in March of 2017 in Norway, where he flies through the air for 10 seconds. Then he shows a nearly identical jump off the 200-meter ski jump where he crashes on the landing and is carted off in a stretcher. Avoiding serious injury, he jumped a few days later.
"You have to love the thrill more than you fear," Bickner says, noting that his career started at age 9 off the 5-meter hill at Norge. He and his teammates threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field this week and will be in Washington, D.C., for honors this month. But they appreciate the coaching and support they got at Norge.
"That's what today is all about," Bickner says. "Giving back to Norge."