We hear a lot about downhill racers and other alpine Olympic hopefuls. We even hear some about snowboarders, cross country racers and freestyle skiers. Maine Olympians have competed in all of those events. But what about ski jumping? Did you know that Maine had a jumper in the 2002 Olympics? Or that he’s working to make it again?

The reason you probably haven’t heard of Brian Welch and his quest is that jumping has fallen off the radar since the NCAA eliminated the event from ski championships 25 years ago. I remember talking with then-Bates College ski coach Bob Flynn about it. Various reasons were given from the necessity of recruiting Scandinavians to be competitive to high insurance costs. It was unfortunate because jumping was the one spectator event in collegiate skiing. The decision also meant jumpers could not pursue their sport in college, meaning no scholarships.

Since that decision, jumping has gone straight down in this country. The current U.S. Ski Team lists only two athletes, Alan Alborn and Clint Jones. There are five slots for jumpers in the Torino games, and Welch is currently ranked sixth. A check of the records shows that Welch finished fourth in last season’s U.S. Ski Jumping Championships in Steamboat Springs, Colo., and fifth in the final standings of the seasonlong Supertour.

More recently, he was in Lake Placid where European teams joined the competition for summer season-ending events. He finished 10th overall and second among Americans in the 90-meter jump on Oct. 7. He followed that on the ninth with a 17th overall, good for fourth among the U.S. jumpers. These late-season results made him the 2005 summer Supertour Champion, a major step in his quest to make the Olympic team.

Where does he go from here? That’s the tough part. To make the team, he has to get results that will raise his international points into the top five of U.S. jumpers. The competitions are there. He will travel to Finland, hoping to qualify for events that could furnish the necessary points Dec. 3 and 4 and 10-11. The Olympic trials are set for Lake Placid Jan. 4 and 5 and Park City, Utah, Jan. 7-8. The National Championships are set for Steamboat on Jan. 19 to 22.

Welch feels confident that even though he is currently ranked sixth, he can make the team. But there is a problem. Only the pair on the team get any support. Welch and the others are on their own, meaning he must find a way to finance his travel for training and competition. When he and I met in Scarborough three weeks ago, he was getting ready to leave for Park City. He had been home dividing his time between working out and trying to raise money. He said his expenses between now and the games was $40,000. He raised about $10,000.

Unlike the other skiing competitions, he can’t train while living at home. Alpine skiers will be able to train on snow right here in Maine from this weekend on. But there are no jumps in this state. And certainly nothing to compare with the 70- and 90-meter hills at Lake Placid. That means Welch must live away from home to train as well as compete.

Although he was in the last Olympics and has consistently placed among our tip jumpers, he said, “I’ve never been named to the U.S. Team. The jumping budget has been cut every year.”

“In the U.S., jumpers’ peak years are 15-24, over there 15-34. They have everything paid for, get salaries. Some get new cars every year,” said Welch. “There are no juniors coming up. Kids 18 and graduating, look at me, and wonder where they can go. There’s no help.”

When I asked how a kid in Scarborough, far from any jumping hills got started, he told me his father had been a jumper and introduced him to the sport at age five in Rumford. He then switched to Gunstock and the Lebanon Outing Club in New Hampshire while he was in his freshman and sophomore years at Scarborough High. Next came the National Training Center at Lake Placid. In his first year in their development program, he made the World Junior Team. In the 2002 Junior Worlds, his seventh-place finish was only five points out of the top five.

Obviously, expenses have taken their toll on Welch. He credits his mother, Linda, with getting him everywhere he needed to be.

“She can’t do that at this level on her nurse’s pay,” said Welch. “It’s not easy trying to raise money while traveling to jumps, but I have an 85 percent chance to move up that one spot. I deserve to be there, and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get there.

“If you retire before you’re 21, you’re a quitter.”

But Brian Welch is no quitter. Let’s hope he can find the support he needs. Anyone who wants to help Welch out can contact me, and I will put them in touch with Brian, or check his blog page at http://brianwelch.blogspot.com//.

With his hard work and some support, Welch might just get to jump in his second Olympics.

Dave Irons is a freelance writer who lives in Westbrook.