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Early Olympian made home here

As Medford's Sonja Stalions sits in front of her television and watches the Winter Olympics unfold, she can't help feeling a little nostalgic and a tad heavy-hearted.

This is the first Winter Games in her lifetime that she has been without her father, Casper Oimoen, who passed away in 1995 at age 89.

Oimoen would be glued to the TV set, too, and when the skiing events came on his eyes would sparkle like freshly fallen snow under a morning sun.

A native of Valdres, Norway who moved to the United States in 1923 at age 17, Oimoen took fifth place in ski jumping at the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and 13th at the 1936 Games in Hamburg, Germany.

He was a three-time national champion for the U.S. and was elected to the U.S. Skiing Hall of Fame in 1963.

Oimoen spent the last 30 years of his life in Ashland, marveling at the mountains and rugged terrain on its doorstep that reminded him so much of his old country.

My father was a very modest man who avoided publicity, Stalions, 60, says. My memory of him is of a very generous, genuine man who had every reason to go around boasting but never did.

Stalions, who taught at Helman Elementary School in Ashland for 25 years, is not the only one who values her father's feats. At a city park in Minot, N.D., where he spent his early years in America, Oimoen is depicted in a life-sized statue. Many of his more than 400 medals, trophies and pins are displayed in a Minot museum.

At the 1932 Olympics, Oimoen had high hopes of winning a medal. At age 26, he was in his prime and had enjoyed a terrific showing at tryouts. However, a bad fall at Canton, S.D., just a few days before the Games began left him with a wrenched shoulder and a sprained ankle, neither of which responded well to treatment.

Oimoen's coach, Julius P. Blegen, would later write in his Olympic report: Under the circumstances we really had very little hope of using Oimoen, but game to the core that he is, he insisted on jumping. And it was very well that he did. As it turned out Oimoen saved us from being shut out in the scoring.

Using 8-foot-long wooden skis and leather straps that seem archaic compared with today's aerodynamic skis and high-tech bindings, Oimoen reached a distance of 63 meters on his first jump, then soared to a personal-record 67 meters (221 feet) on his second and final jump.

Wrote Blegen: I would consider this (the latter jump) one of the outstanding performances in the Third Winter Olympics, giving due regard to his crippled condition.

Blegen was convinced that Oimoen's jumps would earn him no worse than third place. But ski jumping is judged on style as well as distance, and, in part because of a particularly low score from a French judge, Oimoen had to settle for fifth.

Declared Blegen: I do not agree with this decision, but judging a ski jump is like judging fancy skating. It is left entirely to the judgment of individuals who are selected for this particular job, and we will have to accept the decision.

In those days, the third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishers were awarded medals at the Olympics, so at least Oimoen did not come away empty-handed.

Oimoen did not fare as well at the 1936 Olympics in Germany, settling for 13th place. Nonetheless, it was an experience he must have treasured, as 130,000 spectators lined the jump.

If not for a bureaucratic snafu, Oimoen also would have participated in the 1928 Winter Olympiad at Saint Moritz, Switzerland. He was in the midst of gaining his U.S. citizenship, but when Olympic officials attempted to gather his immigration papers they were confused by the signature he affixed to the documents.

Oimoen had signed his name using a Norwegian diacritical mark through the first o, making the letter appear to U.S. officials like an s. Thus, his name was mistaken for Simoen, and his real name was nowhere to be found in the citizenship process.

Oimoen was working out with the U.S. ski jumping team in Europe when he learned of the immigration blunder. The 1928 Winter Olympics were to begin in just four days.

It was the worst news I ever got in my life, Oimoen told a newspaper reporter from his Ashland home in 1984. I got a cable saying, `Sorry, you cannot compete.'

Oimoen could have cleared up the snafu had he been able to come to New York within four days. But he was on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and in those days commercial air travel didn't exist. Charles Lindberg had made his historic transatlantic flight only a year earlier.

Oimoen, who earned his living as a bricklayer, stopped skiing competitively in the late 1930s after suffering a badly broken leg at an amateur tournament. Not before one more mammoth leap, however. At a sports carnival in California in February 1935, before 20,000 spectators, he reached an American record of 255 feet.

Oimoen moved to Ashland in 1965 and remained there until his death on July 27, 1995.

Stalions says her father hit the slopes a few times at Mount Ashland and did some cross country skiing in the area, but took up golf during his retirement and often could be found at Oak Knoll Golf Course.

Few of his golfing buddies knew of his eminent identity, but then, that was what the humble Norwegian wanted.