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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published February 16 2014

Did you know that: Olympic history lays with Bismarck Capitol building

A person whose accomplishments are observable both on the inside and outside of the state Capitol in Bismarck is America’s first great ski jumper.

As a skilled mason, Casper Øimoen “worked as a bricklayer on North Dakota’s new Capitol construction project during the summer of 1933.”

Also, because of his remarkable achievements in ski jumping, he was the recipient of the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award in 1973. His portrait and a short biography are on display on the ground floor of the Capitol.

During Øimoen’s ski-jumping career, he won more than 400 medals, set six ski-jumping records and was a three-time national champion. He qualified for three Olympics, participated in two, and was chosen as team captain both times. Øimoen is also “credited with initiating the forward lean to ski jumping in America.”

Casper Aslaksen Øimoen was born May 8, 1906, near Etnedal, in south-central Norway, to Aslak and Inger (Berg) Øimoen. As a young boy, he made his first skis from wooden barrel staves. By age 11, Øimoen began ski jumping and soon started to compete in tournaments.

He may have been inspired by stories of the legendary Sondre Norheim, the Norwegian “inventor of modern skiing.” In the 1860s, Norheim set the distance record in ski jumping, a record that “stood for three decades.”

In 1923, Inger’s sister, Marit, paid a surprise visit to the Øimoen farm. Marit was married to Ole Nustad, a brick mason and vice president of a lumber company in Minot, N.D.

Upon learning that Casper was an accomplished young ski jumper, Nustad told him that Norheim had become a farmer 40 miles east of Minot after he was done with competitive skiing in Norway. Nustad also told Casper that Minot was a rapidly growing city, doubling in population in the past dozen years, and needed carpenters and mason workers. He said he would teach the youngster the art of brick laying if he immigrated to America and lived in Minot.

Later that year, Øimoen sailed to America, arriving in New York on Aug. 26. There was an error on the ship’s manifest that listed his name as “Kasper Simoen.” Hoping to get through customs quickly, Øimoen affirmed that was his name on his immigration papers. It would later have consequences. He then took trains to Minot, where he was greeted by the Nustads.

Øimoen spent a lot of time during the winter months practicing his ski-jumping techniques and competing in nearby events. He was soon referred to as “the boy wonder.”

Before the arrival of Øimoen, the only North Dakotan to achieve national recognition as a ski jumper was Norwegian immigrant Peder Falstad from Devils Lake. The two became friends, but were fierce competitors on the ski slopes.

Øimoen entered his first sanctioned ski competition in America in Fargo in January 1925 and won. It was written, this “catapulted (Øimoen) into the limelight of American ski-jumping circles.” Later that month, he competed in a tournament in Canton, S.D., and set a Class A record with a jump of 183 feet, shattering the previous record by 27 feet. The record would stand until 1935.

Over the next decade, Øimoen “entered over 200 tournaments and won over 95 per cent of them.”

Øimoen moved to Minneapolis in 1926 to be closer to where a majority of tournaments were held. He learned in February 1928 that “the first true Winter Olympics” would be in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and he wanted to be trained and ready for it. There had been skiing and skating events in the 1924 Olympics, but they were a part of the summer games.

Øimoen won the Central United States Championship in 1925, 1926 and 1927 and was informed he would be on the Olympic team in 1928. He traveled to Europe before the Olympics to work out with the U.S. ski-jumping team when he received a cable saying, “Sorry, you cannot compete.” Because of the error in the spelling of his name on his immigration papers, he would not become an American citizen until after the Olympics, thereby nullifying his participation.

After viewing the Olympics in St. Moritz as a spectator, Øimoen spent some time in Norway with his parents and younger brother Anders. In April 1928, Casper and Anders boarded the S.S. Stavangerfjord in Oslo and traveled to the U.S.

In late 1928 and early 1929, Casper’s temporary home was mainly in Chicago. After getting married Dec. 30, 1929, Øimoen moved back to Minot. On Feb. 3, 1930, he won the National Ski Association Tournament in Canton, and was widely acclaimed as the best ski jumper in America.

(We will conclude the story of Casper Øimoen next week.)