Mike Glasder has spent years working to move his ski-jumping technique toward perfection.
Making that happen, though, requires a delicate balancing act – one in which any slight movement can throw the aerial attempt off kilter.
So when the 24-year-old Cary native, who has just missed out on making the past two U.S. Olympic ski jumping teams, was approached about filming a fast-food commercial where he would take a bite of chicken i while in mid-air, Glasder wasn't sure it was possible.
Turns out, it's a trick Glasder now has in his repertoire.
Glasder spent the better part of 10 hours filming a commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken's #HowDoYouKFC campaign last week at Norge Ski Jump in Fox River Grove. The 40-second spot, which has been airing exclusively online since this past Saturday, involved no scripted lines. That allowed Glasder to focus on pulling the trick off.
"I was kind of skeptical at first," said Glasder, who will complete in an international ski jumping competition this weekend in Vermont after competing Wednesday in Lake Placid, N.Y. "I told them, 'I don't know if that's going to be possible or not.
"But pretty much the first try, it went pretty well."
The commercial was shot by Chicago-based advertising agency Draftfcb, which drilled a camera-holding rig into Glasder's helmet to give viewers an aerial look into Glasder's world. The camera was located about two feet in front of Glasder during the jump, with several other stationary cameras located around Norge.
As of Thursday evening, the YouTube video had drawn more than 143,000 views. Glasder said he was informed Wednesday night that the commercial could be shifted to broadcast TV to help highlight the sport during the Sochi Winter Games.
Filming the commercial, however, wasn't as easy as it appears.
The commercial, which includes a standard, "Professional – do not attempt" disclaimer, required several test jumps to allow Glasder to get the feel for making the jump with the added equipment affixed to his helmet. On Glasder's first test jump, the camera rig ripped off Glasder's helmet, causing the camera to land before Glasder did and causing severe damage to the rig itself.
After rethinking their technical approach and using the unbroken part of the camera rig, producers told Glasder to make another test jump, this time while taking a bite of the chicken after he left the jump. Glasder had filmed several takes eating the chicken while traveling down the jump as producers were unsure whether he could pull the aerial trick off.
"He made it look easy," said Ben Flaherty, the commercial's director. "He looked like he does this all the time."
Glasder's jumping coach, Scott Smith, who coached the 1998 Olympic ski jumping team, filmed Glasder's attempts from the ground. Like Glasder discovered, throwing any new movements into a jump can made what an otherwise routine jump into a new adventure.
"To be able to do that in mid-air is really difficult – we didn't know if he was going to be able to do it or not," Smith said. "When you start moving your arms around in the air, that's the part we thought could be a little challenging, because it's a balance situation with your arms.
"But he did a great job."
Flaherty said the camera rig was "painted out" in post-production, giving the appearance that Glasder was wearing just his normal jumping gear, not a camera rig.
Glasder was paid a couple hundred dollars for his day of work. If the commercial does reach broadcast TV, Glasder would be paid more – money he said that will come in handy toward a travel and training budget that Glasder said can push $25,000 per year.
Glasder will leave for Europe on Tuesday for a competition in Austria before he competes in the world championships in Italy. His constant competition and travel schedule has kept him from watching any of the Olympic Games, keeping his focus on the future rather than on the disappointment of not making the Olympic team for the second time since 2010.
He finished fourth while the top three finishers made the U.S. team both years.
Glasder said Thursday his goal will be to make the Olympic team in 2018.
"It (stinks) to be so close again, but I still have a long winter ahead of me with some pretty big competitions coming up," he said. "I'm still young and so I'll probably try to go for another four years."
In the meantime, Glasder will keep his commercial options open. He was previously approached about filming a commercial for United Airlines before that opportunity fell through. The KFC commercial involved a bit of good timing and took place only because he happened to be in Cary when the production company called Norge looking for a ski jumper.
Because of his training schedule, Glasder said he isn't able to make a lot of appearances for fundraising events. Smith said, because ski jumping hasn't yet reached the popularity of other Winter Olympic sports, athletes like Glasder are often on their own when it comes to raising money to keep their Olympic hopes alive. Exposure through commercials like Glasder's KFC add, Smith said, can only help the sport's visibility.
Glasder, for one, said he's open to endorsement deals to help him as he begins his third push for the U.S. team.
"It's difficult because (fundraising) isn't really something you've got a lot of time to do because you're always traveling and training pretty much year-round" Glasder said. "But I had a lot of fun (with the commercial) – you're basically getting paid to do what I love.
"So that's pretty cool."