Grishin wins one for Belarus, Peterson lands a Hurricane and takes silver

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Peterson lands a Hurricane, wins a silver

WEST VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Jeret “Speedy” Peterson has spent much of his adult life searching for a glimmer of hope wrapped inside a Hurricane.

Soaring 50 feet in the air on a clear, cold night at the Olympics — a night he called the best of his life — he found it.

Peterson took his high-risk, high-reward story to extraordinary new heights on the aerials course Thursday, throwing his one-of-a-kind “Hurricane” jump and walking away with the silver medal.

A defining moment for a man who has faced a life of addiction and pain, triumph and tragedy, and who stayed in his sport so he might have a celebration like this.

“I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything,” Peterson said, tears streaming down his face. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver and I love it.”

The 28-year-old from Boise, Idaho took a chance nobody else in this dangerous sport will take — wrapping five twists into three somersaults as he vaults off the ramp and five stories into the air. He stuck his landing and was rewarded by the judges.

Peterson’s score — 128.62 — was the highest awarded for any of the 24 jumps over the sugary, wet snow at Cypress. But his total — 247.21 — was 1.2 short of Belarussian Alexei Grishin, who was judged to be a bit more technically precise, if not quite as daring.

Grishin added the gold to the bronze he won in 2002 and became the first to bring winter gold to the member of the former Soviet republic.

“That’s why I was in the sport so long,” Grishin said. “This was my dream for me and for Belarus.”

Liu Zhongqing of China took bronze.

Peterson won the silver on a night he said was “more than redemption, it’s the best day of my life.”

“I’ve done a lot of things in my life I regret. I’ve been through a lot of things that have been extremely hard to overcome,” he said. “I’m working hard lately to be the person I want to be and the person I really know I am.”

His trip to the Turin Olympics four years ago began innocently enough. He finished seventh there, but celebrated anyway, saying, “I came to throw the Hurricane, and I threw the Hurricane.” A nice story that was overshadowed, however, when he was sent home early after a minor scuffle with a buddy in the street.

Only later did the depths of his personal problems really come to light in the general public. In Italy, he was still reeling from the suicide of a friend, who shot himself in front of Peterson only months before.

There were problems with alcohol and depression, his own thoughts of suicide, all stemming from a childhood in which he was sexually abused and lost his 5-year-old sister to a drunken driver.

Even the feel-good story about Peterson winning $550,000 playing blackjack one night, pre-Turin took a bad turn; he gave some of it to friends, lost the rest in the tanking real estate market. In the past two years, he declared bankruptcy and decided to start over.

He took a break from skiing, asked friends to teach him about trades in the construction business. He wanted to get away from competition and skiing, walk into an honest day’s work and leave that night able to see the actual progress, not have to analyze it on video.

He found himself during that break and came back stronger. He never lost his main passion — the adrenaline rush he got from aerials.

“I do it because I want to be the person I know I can be,” he said. “I’ve really changed things around in the last 3½ years. This is my medal for everything I’ve overcome, and I’m ecstatic.”

But to get it, he had to do it his way. With the “Hurricane” — which was the best way he could describe how it felt when his body started twirling, his sight lines blurred, the snow whirling around him during that magical three seconds in the air.

Win or lose, he insisted, this was the only way to fly. And maybe the only way to try to nudge a sport that has grown increasingly stagnant — still beautiful and athletic, but not being pushed the way it once was, say, back in 2002, when Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic won the Olympics with a five-twist jump that was even more difficult than Peterson’s.

Valenta is gone and Peterson is now among the very few who will take these kind of chances anymore. Only one other jumper, Thomas Lambert of Switzerland, did a version of the five-twisting jump Thursday night, and he finished in last place.

Peterson, who has struggled with the Hurricane for a while now, and especially in training this week, says he may retire it with this silver medal.

“It might not be the last jump, but I’m pretty sure it’ll be the last Hurricane I do,” he said. “It’s something that I wanted to prove to myself that I could come out and do it, that I had the ability to overcome odds.”

After landing his patented jump, American aerials coach Matt Christensen shouted from the top, “You did it! You did it!” Peterson started pumping his fists in celebration and skied over to an American cheering section that included U.S. teammate Emily Cook, whose injury in 2002 gave Speedy the first of his three Olympic spots.

“I gave him a hug at the bottom, and we both started crying,” U.S. freestyle team coach Jeff Wintersteen said. “I’m just happy for him. It’s a sense of relief. He came back and did it, and it was a fantastic jump.”

Peterson’s teammate, Ryan St. Onge, lost the bronze to Liu by 2.5 points and a promising night for Canada, which qualified three jumpers into the final, turned into a bust.

Kyle Nissen held a 6-point lead after his first jump, but on his second, with a gold medal on the line, his landing was rough — his right ski came all the way off the ground. He dropped to fifth place.

One jump earlier, Grishin put down the second of two arrow-straight jumps — winners on most nights when Peterson isn’t on his game, and some nights when he is. It brought the first gold to Belarus, which has top-notch aerials programs on both the men’s and women’s side.

Hard, though, to call Peterson a loser.

A man who knows all about victory and defeat, he has long insisted he didn’t need a medal to prove himself as a person. Doubtful his attitude will change now.

Not a bad prize to take home from the Olympics, though.

“I’m so happy,” Peterson said. “This is the best day of my life. It’s my reward for fighting through everything.”

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