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Mayer savors last run at moguls Skier full of gratitude and joy despite missing Olympic gold

SAUZE d'OULX, Italy -- Travis Mayer took the starting line knowing he had one run in competitive moguls remaining in his career. He couldn't imagine a better place than the 2006 Winter Olympics, the world's biggest stage.

Now that's over, and he can quietly walk into the next stage in his life.

It might explain why Mayer was so relaxed as he stood atop the moguls course along the Italian Alps. The Orchard Park native realized that he'd had a terrific career, appreciated how skiing took him around the world, understood no matter what happened he had already exceeded his expectations.

Mayer was looking for a medal and hoping it was gold Wednesday night before finishing in seventh place. He put himself in position and had a solid run before a strong field eventually caught up with him. He finished third among Americans with a score of 24.91, well behind Australian Dale Begg-Smith, who won the gold medal with a 26.77.

"Obviously, I would have liked to have done really well here," Mayer said. "You can't always control everything in life. I'm content with how I skied. In a competition like this, it's all you can control. I'm definitely pleased with how it's ended. It's definitely not the ideal result, but it's a good way to go out."

There was a point earlier this year that Mayer considered quitting the sport he started with his family at Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville. He was involved in a fatal car accident June 21 while driving in the Town of Wales. Diane Hamblin, 44, a mother of two from Arcade, died hours after the accident.

Mayer poured himself into making another bid for the Olympics. He compiled enough points during World Cup competition to make the U.S. Freestyle team with the idea he would win another medal. He was a surprise silver medalist four years ago in Salt Lake City. "I was really relaxed, which was a nice thing," he said. "I think I skied really well because of it. When you know it's the last one, you go hell-bent for leather. It's either going to be great or it's going to be bad."

The world of moguls skiing revolves around skiing the bumps before jumping off two ramps and performing tricks. Skiers are judged by how they turn, their speed and their ability to soar through the air. Mayer completed an off-axis jump while spinning two full revolutions on his first jump and a double helicopter on his second.

Mayer waved to his friends and family from Western New York who cheered for him and chanted his name from Mayer's Office, a section at the bottom of the hill. Mayer was in third place with six skiers remaining, but American Toby Dawson pushed him out of medal contention on the next run down the hill. Dawson finished with the bronze medal. Finland's Mikko Ronkainen won the silver.

"The level was so high tonight," Mayer said. "There was so much good skiing. I'm proud to be part of that group."

Mayer left home when he was 15 and moved to Steamboat Springs, Colo., where he had lived and trained for nearly nine years. At one point last year, he was the top-ranked moguls skier in the world after winning a World Cup event in Lake Placid. He entered the Olympics ranked 11th. And then he bid the sport farewell.

Mayer, who turns 24 on Saturday, was working on his bachelors' degree from Cornell University, where he's majoring in economics. He's considering going to law school. He's also considering the family business. He's a fifth-generation of Mayer Bros., the cider and water company based in West Seneca.

He wants to get on with his life, find a good job and ski for leisure. He's been competing on the World Cup circuit for most of the past five years. He avoided serious injury, which is an accomplishment in a sport where broken bones and torn-up knees are the norm. He added up everything long before his final run and knew he was fortunate.

Finally, it was time to celebrate.

"I'm going to hang around," Mayer said. "It's going to be a big party tonight."

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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