|Tuesday, November 20
Updated: January 8, 12:30 PM ET
Pack will hear cheers from hometown crowd
PARK CITY, Utah -- Park City really flips for favorite son Joe Pack, just the way he does for his hometown.
A strong contender for an Olympic medal in the gymnastics-on-snow sport of aerials skiing, Pack expects to get a big boost from a supportive crowd at Deer Valley Resort when he goes for gold in February.
"It's going to be a huge cool show, right here in Park City," Pack said, waving his hands in circles as his voice rises.
Among the many spectators are certain to be some who cheered for Pack back in high school, when he played defensive back and once scored a touchdown on a 102-yard kickoff return for the Park City Miners.
"If I would have been 30 pounds heavier I could have played linebacker," Pack recalled. "I was a real hothead."
Pack, 23, has lived in Park City since he was 12.
He dabbled in ski jumping as a youth in New Hampshire but his family moved to Utah so he could pursue aerials, where skiers speed down an in-run then soar into the air to perform daring twists and flips.
"I remember the first time I tried a flip," Pack said. "I landed right on my head. It was a new sensation, but you figure it out eventually."
Pack, in his sixth season on the U.S. Ski Team, has won the bronze medal at the past two world championships.
He finished second overall last season on the World Cup circuit behind teammate and good buddy Eric Bergoust, the reigning world champion and gold medalist at the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
"I can't think of anything less than two of us on the podium at the Olympics," Pack said. "So many guys on our team have a shot. Bergy, he's a competitor. He's not going to be satisfied with anything less than gold."
It should be quite a scene at Deer Valley, the venue for freestyle skiing next February. When Pack won a World Cup event there in 2000, the place was pandemonium as his friends and fans yelled before his jumps.
"Some guys like it quiet so they can concentrate, but not me," Pack said. "I really feed off that energy. It's fun to have a cheering section."
Around Park City, Pack is just a plain old local Joe.
He hangs out with friends at pubs in the historic downtown area. During the summer, he loops his bag around the municipal golf course. He also rides dirtbikes with teammates Jerry Grossi, Brian Currutt and Britt Swartley.
"We had to put the motocross bikes away for a while," Pack said. "I guess you can't risk the injury right now, but I really miss it. It's the same adrenaline rush as aerials."
The atmosphere should be electric when Pack competes, and the same goes for other Olympians from Utah such as skeleton racer Lincoln DeWitt of Park City or bobsled pusher Jen Davidson of Layton.
Several American athletes, including skiers Picabo Street and Erik Schlopy, call Park City home. Bergoust lives in Park City, too, though he's originally from Missoula, Mont.
"It's going to be fun. I can't wait," said chief Olympic organizer Mitt Romney, another Park City resident. "Not only are Joe and his family personal friends, I think the whole community in Utah will rally around local athletes.
"There are some who have great chances at medaling and it's going to bring an extra special feeling to it," Romney said.