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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published February 23 2014

Eriksmoen: North Dakota ski jumper’s dreams of gold dashed

Four days before the start of the 1928 Olympics, Casper Oimoen of Minot, N.D., was notified that he could not participate because of a mistake on his citizenship papers.

Undeterred, he began to prepare for the 1932 Olympics. Oimoen had established the American ski jump record in 1925 with a leap of 183 feet and had won the Central U.S. Championship every year since 1925.

In 1930, Oimoen won the National Ski Association Tournament in Canton, S.D., and was widely acclaimed as “the best ski jumper in America.”

Besides his achievements on the snow slopes, Oimoen was also a skilled mason and kept busy during the warm months laying bricks in Minot.

Beginning in 1930, Oimoen spent the winters training at the Sioux Valley Ski Club in Canton. After winning the National Ski Association Tournament again in 1931, he was not only named to the Olympic ski team, but was made captain.

The 1932 Winter Olympics was held at Lake Placid, N.Y., the first time this event would take place in the U.S.

Just days before the Olympics, Oimoen had a bad fall at Canton that left him with a sprained ankle and wrenched shoulder. Neither injury responded well to treatment.

Once again, it appeared his hopes of participation would be dashed. However, the determined skier from Minot would not be denied a second time, and he claimed he could compete despite the pain.

The ski jump event was held Feb. 12, and 34 participants qualified for the event. On his first jump, Oimoen registered a respectable mark of 206 feet, but he knew he could do better. Despite the pain, he pushed off on his second and final approach to the jump, and soared a remarkable 220 feet. With this jump, Oimoen believed he was now in contention for a medal.

Distance is not the only criteria in Olympic ski jumping – judges also award points for style. When the scores came in, Oimoen looked on in disbelief. The French judge gave Oimoen an incredibly low score, which dropped him to fifth place.

Birger Ruud won the gold, and the next two top finishers were also from Norway. Oimoen’s close friend and fellow trainer at Canton, Peder Falstad of Devils Lake, N.D., was the next highest American scorer, finishing in 13th place.

After the Olympics, Blegen wrote about Oimoen’s second jump, stating, “I would consider this one of the outstanding performances in the Third Winter Olympics.”

Despite his personal disappointment, Oimoen was considered an American hero. He was now a popular attraction at exhibitions all over the country. In February 1933, Oimoen “was the featured jumper at the Chicago World’s Fair.”

Needing to earn money, he returned home to resume his work as a mason. However, America was experiencing the Great Depression, and North Dakota was especially hit hard. The average per capita income in the country was down to $375; for North Dakotans, it was $145. People could not afford to build, and projects were scarce in the Minot area.

Fortunately for Oimoen, the state had accumulated enough money to build a new Capitol building after the old one burned down.

Since the exterior of the building was brick, stone masons were in great demand, and Oimoen was hired. “Stone masons earned the highest wage of $1.10.” On the other hand, unskilled workers earned 30 cents per hour.

On May 16, the unskilled workers went on strike and stationed men at the Capitol entrances, preventing workers from entering the Capitol grounds. Because of the uncertainty of future employment, in 1934, Oimoen agreed to move to Montana after he was promised work at the Anaconda Copper Mining Co.

Oimoen not only worked as a mason for the copper company, but he was also in charge of building two large ski jumping facilities, one in Anaconda and another south of Butte, Mont. His work also allowed him to continue to jump in competitions.

In 1934, Oimoen won his third National Ski Association Tournament. On Feb. 3, 1935, he entered a tournament in Big Pine, Calif., and regained the national distance record with a jump of 255 feet. Because Oimoen continued to pile up wins in competitions, he was named captain of a team that would represent the U.S. in the 1936 Olympics to be held in Partenkirchen, Germany.

As time drew near for the Olympics, there were discussions that the U.S. should boycott the games as a protest of Nazi persecution of Jews and other minorities.

The Americans did decide to participate, and Oimoen assembled his team for the ski jump event held on Feb. 16. 220,000 spectators, mainly Germans, watched the ski jump, and this large number of people may have been a distraction for Oimoen, who finished 13th.

Following the 1936 Olympics, Oimoen began to look for innovations to popularize ski jumping. One of his new ideas was night ski jumping.

On March 5, 1939, he gave a demonstration at Anaconda, where he skied down a dangerous slope holding a flare to illuminate the approach as he prepared to jump. However, he missed his mark and slammed into the ground below, breaking his leg and suffering internal injuries.

This marked the end of Oimoen’s career as a ski jumper.

Oimoen moved back to Minot in 1945 and established a masonry contracting business. In 1963, he was inducted into the U.S. Skiing Hall of Fame.

The next year, Oimoen retired from his business and moved to Ashland, Ore., where his sport of choice became golf. He was given North Dakota’s highest honor in 1973 when he received the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.

Casper Oimoen died July 27, 1995.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.