VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Once every four years, Jeret "Speedy" Peterson spends a few seconds in the air that earn him something around 15 minutes of fame. There have been times he wished it didn't last that long.
ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty ImagesJeret Peterson's mistakes in 2006 helped him prepare for the Vancouver Games.
The daring aerialist from Idaho is back for his third Olympics, armed once again with the triple-flip, quintuple-twist trick that has made his name and will make or break his medal chances. He left Torino on a sour note, but not because he brushed his hand in the snow as he righted himself after his signature jump and finished seventh. Peterson's involvement in a bar fight made headlines and the U.S. Olympic Committee asked him to leave.
That incident, rehashed around the world at the time, has been stirred up from the bottom of the soup pot again -- but this time, cited as the botched landing that helped set Peterson, 28, on a different path. He took time off the World Cup circuit, quit drinking and worked on blunting the hubris that made him think he could get away with anything, while still retaining the risk-loving edge that makes him a great competitor.
Peterson's ideal medal-winning performance will be as spectacular as possible, and he would also like to be known for something other than overcoming a résumé of tragedies: A sister's death at the hands of a drunk driver, childhood sexual abuse, witnessing the suicide of a close friend. In the last couple of years, he has talked openly about his struggle with depression. "My stance on it is, I didn't do anything to make it happen," Peterson told me during a World Cup weekend in Utah last month. "It's no different than having a broken arm. It's something you have, something you have to deal with, and if you don't, it's not going to heal."
It's irksome to have his past rifled through every so often like an open desk drawer, but he's made peace with it.
"It's been a very difficult process having everything that you do scrutinized," he said. "I made mistakes in my life and unfortunately they were magnified many, many times. Do I feel it's unfair to a certain extent? Yes. I didn't get into this sport thinking that people were going to look up to me.
"I've already been dragged through the wringer again this year. It's OK, mostly because I know and I'm comfortable with who I am now and comfortable admitting where I went wrong. If people don't want to be fans of mine, I'm OK with that."
It's hard not to look up when Peterson catapults himself off the kicker and whirls around like a stunt plane without wings, soaring as high as 54 feet in the air at his zenith. His "Hurricane" trick pushes the physical limits of what an aerialist can do under the current rules. Four flips are not allowed.
In 2002, when Peterson was named to the Olympic team at the last minute due to an injury to teammate Emily Cook, he watched Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic win the gold medal with a similarly difficult maneuver. He's worked on perfecting his own version of it ever since.
Valenta twisted twice on the first flip, twice on the second and once on the third. Peterson twists once on the first flip, an eye-popping three times on the second and once on the third. He said his sequencing improves his chances of landing cleanly. "I get to see [down] right before I do that triple twist and I get to see again at the end of it, whereas Ales didn't see until almost the end of the second flip," Peterson said. "He was blind for 66 percent of his jump."
Peterson and U.S. teammate Ryan St. Onge both qualified for Thursday's aerials finals. The 12-man field, shockingly, will not include Anton Kushnir of Belarus, who is leading the World Cup standings and had been money in the bank until he crashed in qualifying.
Another "Hurricane" attempt will be a game-day decision, depending on conditions at Cypress Mountain, Peterson said. He has used it sparingly, trying it only about eight times in competition and hitting it cleanly three times that he can recall. He has refined it in training to the point where he's microanalyzing small flaws in his landing, which he said is a good place.
"I want to progress our sport and I want everyone to try their hardest," he said. "I don't back down and I'm not going to give up, and I don't want any of my competitors to, either."
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- On this, George Washington's birthday, the American team has medal hopes in ice dance. The second week of Olympic competition also kicks off with women's hockey semifinals, where the U.S. and Canada look to continue their dominance.
Hockey: Women's Semifinals, USA vs. Sweden and Canada vs. Finland
The women's hockey tournament moves from the small arena at the University of British Columbia to the big arena at Canada Hockey Place for Monday's semifinals. The two 800-pound gorillas in this tournament, Team Canada and Team USA, have thus far outscored their opponents 41-2 and 31-1, respectively, in three games of pool play. It seems they are on a collision course, but in this short tournament, anything can happen. In Torino, Sweden conjured a semifinal shootout victory over the U.S. to earn a spot in the final against Team Canada. Tomorrow, Team USA is hoping for redemption, while Team Canada will try to earn the right to defend its gold on home soil.
Figure Skating: Ice Dance Free Dance
Russian pair Oksana Domnina and Maksim Shabalin led the competition after the compulsory dance. That was no surprise. Teams from Russia or the former Soviet Union have won seven of the nine Olympic gold medals awarded in ice dancing. But for the first time in Olympic history, a trio of North American pairs is threatening the Russian dominance of the sport. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada are in first place after Sunday's original dance competition, while U.S. pairs Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, sit in second and fourth. With the competition this close, all four teams are likely to pull out all the stops on the final night of competition. But with the competition this close, they have little room for mistakes.
Freestyle Skiing: Men's Aerials Qualification
On Monday, the U.S. team begins its attempt to redeem itself after the first medal-less performance since the event was added to the Olympic lineup in 1994. In Torino, medal hopes Ryan St. Onge and Jeret "Speedy" Peterson failed to land on the podium, but they return in hopes of reclaiming the medals they dropped in Torino. Peterson hopes to finally land his signature trick, the Hurricane, in Olympic competition. He attempted the much-talked-about trick -- a dizzying combination of five spins and three flips -- in his final run in 2006, but failed to land it and was knocked from third to seventh place. This is Peterson's third Olympics and he hopes, for the first time, he does not leave empty-handed.
Ski Jumping: Men's Team Finals
Four years ago in Torino, the Austrian team won its first gold medal in ski jumping. Now, fielding its strongest team yet, it is favored to repeat here in Vancouver. Led by Gregor Schlierenzauer, who won a record 13 World Cup events and the 2009 World Cup title, the Austrian team will be tough to out-jump. Finland, Norway and Japapn also brought strong teams here to Vancouver and could surprise the Austrians. The U.S. has won only one Olympic ski jumping medal -- a bronze in 1924 -- and is one athlete short of the four required to compete in this event.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- It's difficult to summon your inner cheerleader when you don't have a horse in the race. So when both U.S. men were knocked out in the round of 32 in the Olympic debut of ski cross, the American cheering section went mute. This was a sport made famous in the Winter X Games. Its sister sport, snowboardcross, has been dominated by American riders Seth Wescott (two-time Olympic gold medalist), Nate Holland (five-time Winter X gold medalist) and Lindsey Jacobellis (winningest SBX athlete of all time). So where were the Americans?
Early in the day, they were hoarding a majority of the prerace chatter. Both Casey Puckett and Daron Rahlves -- heavy medal favorites before Puckett dislocated his shoulder, twice, in January, and Rahlves dislocated his hip 21 days ago -- had made seemingly miraculous recoveries in order to race in the Olympics. After the time-trial qualifiers, Rahlves said his hip felt great. Puckett said he was feeling slow out of the start and still in pain, but that his shoulder was in racing shape. We're here, and we're ready to race, they said. And they were expected to contest for a medal.
"Everyone comes here to win, but there are so many variables that go in to winning a ski cross race," Puckett said after the race. "When people say, 'That's ski cross,' they mean the unpredictability." By the semifinal round, those variables had knocked out Team USA.
Coming around the final banked turn -- dubbed the toilet bowl turn -- Rahlves lost control, flew over the next jump and landed hard on his injured hip. He righted himself and finished the race, but in fourth place. Although his hip appeared to remain intact, Rahlves' day was over. Pucket had a slow start out of the gate and remained in fourth place until he crossed the finish line. "It was a really fun course, but it was hard to pass," Puckett said. "Most of the races seemed to be won by the skier who got the holeshot. And that wasn't me today."
Still, the races did not disappoint. Team Canada sent two skiers to the semifinal and Chris Delbosco, the 2010 Winter X Games champion and the sentimental favorite, raced in the final. After a rough start, Delbosco pulled into third place, but crashed going over the final jump and finished fourth. Michael Schmid of Switzerland won the gold, Andreas Matt of Austria took silver and Audun Groenvold of Norway took bronze. "Delbosco was my pick to win this thing," Puckett said. "He totally went for it and he almost had a medal. It's sad. Chris was a real mess six years ago when I started racing him, but he's really turned the corner. He has been so focused. It's heartbreaking."
But, as they say, that's ski cross.
Olympic competition is in full swing Saturday. Here's our take on the top events to watch:
Short-track speedskating: Men's 1,500 meters
American Apolo Anton Ohno, who took gold in 2002 in the 1,500 meters and gold in 2006 in the 500 meters, says he's in the best shape of his life. At 5-foot-8 and 145 lbs, he weighs 10 pounds less than he did in Torino, and 20 pounds less than in Salt Lake. In Vancouver, Ohno is hoping lighter means faster. He's racing all three individual short track events -- the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 -- and is shooting for a hat trick. He'll make his debut Saturday in the 1,500.
Freestyle skiing: Women's moguls
Canadian Jennifer Heil is the reigning Olympic moguls champ, and she's Canada's first chance for a gold medal at the Vancouver Games. It would be Canada's first-ever gold medal on home soil; they went winless at the 1976 Games in Montreal and the 1988 Games in Calgary. Heil, who has won all four World Cup races she's entered this season, is well on her way to a fifth overall title, but she'll face stiff competition from Americans Heather McPhie, Shannon Bahrke and Hannah Kearney at Cypress Mountain on Saturday night.
Long track speedskating: Men's 5,000 meters
American Shani Davis, who is competing in all four individual speedskating events in Vancouver, will make his debut at the Richmond Olympic Oval in the 5,000 meters Saturday afternoon. Dutch distance specialist Sven Kramer, the 2006 silver medalist and three-time world champion in the distance, is favored to win the race. But Davis -- who garnered as much attention in Torino for his feud with teammate Chad Hedrick as he did for winning gold in the 1,000 meters -- is hoping to draw headlines with his on-ice performance in Vancouver.
Sixteen athlete-acrobats were named to the U.S. Olympic freestyle ski team in the disciplines of moguls and aerials Tuesday. Just one of them, moguls specialist Shannon Bahrke, has previously medaled at a Winter Games (silver in 2002). She and her teammates on the bumps probably represent the country's strongest podium hopes, along with aerials veteran Jeret "Speedy" Peterson.
Led by defending World Cup champion Hannah Kearney, the women's moguls squad is "peaking at exactly the right time," U.S. coach Jeff Wintersteen said. Kearney and Bahrke finished 1-2 in the final World Cup event before the Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., last week, followed by teammates Heather McPhie and veteran Michelle Roark.
"I haven't been part of a sweep like that since junior worlds in '03," Kearney said. Although she clinched her Olympic team slot by winning the U.S. trials back in December, Kearney had been fighting what she recently called a "slump" in form and was buoyed by her win.
Kearney was a medal favorite going into Torino four years ago, but didn't make it out of qualifying. No sooner had that wound started to heal when she blew out her knee and had to take a year off from competition. The time away resulted in a new focus and new dedication to fitness.
As high as the women moguls skiers are riding, most people's pick going into Vancouver will be 2006 gold medalist Jennifer Heil of Canada, who's currently ranked first in the World Cup standings. (Kearney broke Heil's four-event streak in Lake Placid.)
"I don't envy her," said Kearney, who knows what that pressure can be like, but added, "The most impressive thing about her is that she's consistently skiing at the top of her ability level."
Defending world champion Patrick Deneen, 22, headlines the men's moguls team with another young talent, Bryon Wilson, and seasoned performers Nate Roberts and Michael Morse.
On the aerials side, the colorful, outspoken Peterson will be competing in his third Olympics and hopes his trademark "Hurricane" trick will be enough to blow away other contenders for the gold medal -- although adverse conditions could make the "will-he-or-won't-he" a game-day decision. His teammate, Ryan St. Onge, an 2006 Olympian and 2009 world champion, hopes to turn around what has been a difficult 2009-10 season thus far. Gifted young jumpers Dylan Ferguson and Matt DePeters will be headed to their first Olympics.
Aerials veteran Emily Cook, who missed the last two World Cup competitions with a bruised heel, will be joined by Olympic rookies Lacy Schnoor, who clinched her spot at the U.S. trials, Jana Lindsey and 16-year-old Ashley Caldwell. Wintersteen said Caldwell originally was tabbed as a 2016 hopeful, but progressed much more quickly than expected in training. Caldwell was part of the Elite Air program launched in response to China's successful development program.
Much-decorated alpine skiing veterans Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett were named to the team in the new sport of skicross, which resembles roller derby on snow. Both will be trying for the Olympic medal that eluded them on the traditional side of the sport. No U.S. woman qualified for the team.
• Hannah Kearney (women's moguls), on how injury and rehab taught her to be more professional: "[Leading up to '06], I trained by being a high school student. Turns out that's not the best way to win a gold medal."
• Patrick Deneen (men's moguls), on the potentially difficult conditions at Cypress Mountain: "Skiing on soft snow is really fun, and makes the course easy ... everyone's going to be skiing really well, which makes it harder to set yourself apart from the crowd."
• Lacy Schnoor (women's aerials), on learning gravity-defying tricks: "It's something you get into and work up to. It's like a ladder. You don't start at the top -- you slowly get there."
• Jeret "Speedy" Peterson (men's aerials), on his signature triple-flip, quintuple-twist trick known as the "Hurricane": "I don't feel I have to do it to be at the top of the podium. I've won more World Cups not doing it than doing it. But I'm very confident I can land it at the Olympics and very close to being where I want to be with it."
PARK CITY, Utah -- Moguls skier Heather McPhie picked the best possible time to notch the run of her life.
A rare dead heat for the gold medal at the Visa International Freestyle World Cup on Thursday put McPhie, a former gymnast from Montana, in prime position to claim one of three remaining slots likely to be available on the U.S. Olympic team in her discipline.
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesHeather McPhie won her first World Cup event on Thursday in Park City, Utah.
Judges awarded McPhie and Canada's Jennifer Heil -- the defending Olympic champion and a favorite going into the Winter Games in her home country -- exactly the same score over the bumps and jumps. Even the arcane mathematical formula used to break such deadlocks, a mind-numbing drill-down into infinitesimal differences between scores on turns and airborne tricks, didn't untangle the result.
What counted for the 25-year-old McPhie, who lives in Park City, was notching her first World Cup podium on her home course at the Deer Valley resort after a few near-misses since 2007, when she was named rookie of the year on the circuit.
"Six girls in the top 12 [qualifiers] from the U.S., to end up on top is unreal," a teary-eyed McPhie said afterward. "I've believed in myself for a long time, but there's so many things out of your control, so many variables. I really wanted to go out there and give it all I had, and I did. I left everything out there."
Olympic veteran Shannon Bahrke, the gregarious 2002 silver medalist who owns a coffee roasting company, also strengthened her case to make the team by finishing third.
The team selection is likely to come down to the final World Cup event before the Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., next weekend. Moguls is a traditionally strong event for the U.S. team as a whole, and the women's moguls race is especially competitive this year. The U.S. will almost certainly name four women and four men to compete in moguls in Vancouver, although those numbers must fit within the overall quota of 18 skiers in moguls, aerials and ski cross.
Hannah Kearney, the defending World Cup champion, punched her ticket to Vancouver by winning at the U.S. trials last month. The other skiers will be selected based on World Cup results.
"Everyone on the team is skiing so well, they're all putting down their best runs and finishing in the top 10 every week," said an out-of-breath Shelly Robertson, one of eight American women who made the final 16 on Thursday.
Freestyle coach Jeff Wintersteen said the women are dealing with the tension well as a group, but that doesn't make it any easier for him. "I'm pleased for the ones who are getting it done and broken-hearted for those who aren't," he said.
"With Heather, every World Cup result this year has improved. Bahrke started on the outside looking in, but she's been plugging away. Now she's being a bit more aggressive. The girls are really upping the ante with the jumps and she's starting to respond."
Seven U.S. men qualified for the 16-man field in the finals, but couldn't crack the top three.
Surging young talent Bryon Wilson, 21, of Butte, Mont., made a statement last month with two World Cup runner-up finishes in Finland, but he fell on his first jump Thursday and tumbled out of contention. Patrick Deneen, a Washington state native who, like Kearney, earned a trip to the Olympics at the U.S. trials last month, was bumped off the podium by the last man down the slope, France's Guilbaut Colas. On the bright side, 21-year-old Jeremy Cota of Greenville, Maine, competing in his first World Cup, finished sixth.
Australia's Dale Begg-Smith, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist, looks like a good bet to repeat as he won his third consecutive World Cup. Dmitry Reiherd of Kazakhstan finished third.
McPhie's parents, Kristie and Scott, were on hand to see their daughter's bravura performance. Heather is "a responsible daredevil," her mother said, meaning Heather takes risks only after she feels fully prepared. Her parents own a cabinetry and design business in Bozeman, Mont., where they once were ski instructors.
"From the time she was little, she was in a backpack when Scott was skiing, telling him to go faster," Kristie McPhie said.
Heil and McPhie are now ranked 1-2 in the World Cup standings. The moguls skiers have a second competition on the same course in Deer Valley scheduled for Saturday night.
Arrived in Salt Lake City last night. I haven't been here since the 2002 Winter Olympics, and as I descended the escalator to baggage claim, there was a crowd of people waiting with balloons and signs. OK, they weren't there for me -- it was a homecoming celebration for Mormon missionaries -- but it still made me feel festive.
I'm heading up to the Deer Valley ski resort near Park City for the three-day Visa International Freestyle World Cup. This is one of two events remaining for athletes in the disciplines of moguls and aerials to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team. Four of them clinched spots by winning the U.S. trials in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in late December: Hannah Kearney and Patrick Deneen in moguls and Jeret "Speedy" Peterson and Lacy Schnoor in aerials. The rest will be selected based on their results at previous World Cups, this weekend's event and the Nature Valley Freestyle Cup in Lake Placid, N.Y., next weekend.
Toby Dawson took home a bronze for the U.S. moguls crew in Torino four years ago, but the U.S. aerialists were shut out of medals. The highest finisher, male or female, was Peterson, the two-time Olympian from Boise, Idaho, with the turbulent past, who placed eighth. Peterson's signature trick, the "Hurricane," is a quintuple-twisting triple flip that could be a metaphor for his life; more on that later.
I've always loved covering these events, partly because of the gasp-inducing tricks, but mostly because they tend to attract bright, iconoclastic people who do interesting things when they're not bouncing around defying gravity. Moguls veteran Michelle Roark developed her own fragrance line (www.phinomenal.com) after a sports psychologist told her she needed to use all five senses in competition. Shannon Bahrke, who won an Olympic silver medal in moguls here in 2002, runs her own coffee roasting company (www.silverbeancoffee.com).
One skier to watch this weekend is 21-year-old Bryon Wilson of Butte, Mont., the 2009 U.S. moguls champion who has the best World Cup results of any American man thus far this season and looks poised to make the Olympic roster. Wilson also happens to be an avid outdoorsman, fisherman and accomplished wood carver (www.wilsoncarvings.com), a quiet, artistic pursuit that seems as if it would be a great counterweight to his day job.
Bad news for the U.S. team Wednesday, when Sho Kashima, the 23-year-old Texan who is one of the top moguls specialists on the men's side, ripped up his left knee in training and is out for the season.