DEER VALLEY, Utah (Feb. 19) -- In a day in which the outcome twisted just as much as the athletes, Joe Pack (Park City, Ut.) won the silver medal in men's freestyle aerials Tuesday at Deer Valley. Returning gold medalist Eric Bergoust (Missoula, Mont.) was in first place heading into his second jump, but too much speed on his takeoff caused him to over-rotate and land on his back, pushing him to a disappointing 12th place.
Pack performed a full double-full-full on his first jump, landing solidly and celebrating with a round of air guitar on one of his skis. His second jump showcased a double-full full-full, putting him approximately five points behind gold medal winner Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic, and less than one above bronze medalist Alexei Grichin of Belarus.
"I had a plan today -- come out and do two quadruple twisted-triple-back flips," Pack said. "The field was pretty strong for sure. I'm second behind Ales (Valenta) and I'm really pumped that I ended up second."
Valenta took the gold after an amazing second jump, a double-full double-full-full -- which translates to five twists and three flips -- the hardest jump ever performed in an Olympic Winter Games. His landing was a bit rocky, but the jump's degree of difficulty was more than enough to win him the gold, and he collapsed in happiness after realizing he had landed it.
Jumping last, Bergoust was faced with the dilemma of sticking a solid jump after Valenta's feat -- he needed to score a 126.65 to win. Though this necessitates a strong jump, he did stick a 130.38 on his first. Because of the score he needed, he said he decided to put more speed and energy into his jump in order to keep his form straight. That extra energy was the downfall of his landing.
"Normally under these conditions I would have taken a step down and counted on breaking form a little bit, but I didn't want to break form," Bergoust said. "I was trying to get a gold and Ales put down a huge score. I really had to go for it so I took a lot of speed and I really had a lot of energy on takeoff, but it was just a little too much. I could tell as soon as I left the jump that there was no way I was going to be able to land it. I wanted to get gold or last. And I got last."
Sitting in second before Bergoust took his final jump, Pack said he was expecting to get the bronze. Bergoust has been a mentor and role model to him, even through a rocky past season.
"He shows me the way to go," Pack said of his older teammate. "It's easy to train behind him because he's such a great friend. It was a nerve-racking year (for me). The U.S. Ski Team gave me support and put me on the team -- I came out here because they believed in me. I started training out here and started putting jumps on my feet and my coach yells down on the radio and says, 'Welcome back, Pack. It's nice to see you.' And I'm like, 'Well, alright. Cool!'"
Two younger U.S. athletes performed well off the kickers as well in the finals. Brian Currutt (Park City, Utah) took sixth place and Jeret Peterson (Boise, Idaho) finished in ninth. It was the first Olympic Games for both of them.
"It's a good day overall," Currutt said. "I'm bummed for Eric and I'm really psyched for Joe. I'm pretty happy with myself. I landed two jumps in the Olympic finals. It's kind of a dream come true."
Peterson was just as pleased: "I had a lot of fun, ended in ninth place, and I'm happy. I came out here and had a blast. I jumped well. I got ninth in the Olympics, I'm not going to complain!"
Freestyle aerials marked the final Olympic event for freestyle skiing. The U.S. team came away with three silvers: Pack in aerials, along with Shannon Bahrke (Tahoe City, Calif.) and Travis Mayer (Steamboat Springs, Colo.) in moguls. These younger U.S. athletes stepped it up to bring home the medals.
"We won three silvers at this Olympics, which I think is darn good," head coach Jeff Wintersteen said. "But, we had a lot of opportunities and we just didn't take advantage of all them. We still had some great results. We have a really deep team and sometimes when our best athletes didn't quite get it done we got it done with others."
2002 OLYMPIC WINTER GAMES
February 19, 2002
Deer Valley, Utah
1. Ales Valenta, Czech Republic (257.02)
2. Joe Pack, Park City, Ut. (251.64)
3. Alexi Grichin, Belarus (251.19)
6. Brian Currutt, Park City, Ut. (245.19)
9. Jeret Peterson, Boise, Id. (238.05)
12. Eric Bergoust, Missoula, Mont. (218.49)