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Freestyle skiing

'Speedy' storms to silver

His Hurricane does the trick

Jeret “Speedy’’ Peterson vaulted from fifth to second thanks to his trademark Hurricane. Jeret “Speedy’’ Peterson vaulted from fifth to second thanks to his trademark Hurricane. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / February 26, 2010

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CYPRESS MOUNTAIN, British Columbia - Jeret “Speedy’’ Peterson launched into his trademark Hurricane trick on his last jump of the men’s freestyle aerials competition. Just beyond the landing hill, a vocal, flag-waving contingent of American fans held its breath. A perfect jump would guarantee a place on the podium. A botched landing would keep Peterson from the medals.

In the air, Peterson perfectly executed the combination of back full, triple full, full. Then he nailed the landing and raised both arms. Until last night, it had been three years since Peterson had successfully completed the Hurricane, a combination of five twists and three flips with the highest degree of difficulty (4.9) on the World Cup circuit.

Peterson and the rest of the US squad figured his Hurricane would be hard to beat, despite a landing where his left leg held him up as his right ski drifted out from beneath him. But Alexei Grishin of Belarus laid down a flawless back full, full double full for the gold. Grishin scored a combined total of 248.41 points for his two jumps, beating silver-medalist Peterson by a narrow 1.2 margin. China’s Zhongqing Liu earned bronze, while US aerialist Ryan St. Onge finished fourth.

“I don’t know that I can really put it into words,’’ said Peterson. “It’s not so much about the medal. It’s not about the podium. It’s about everything that I’ve been able to overcome. It’s what it represents to me. Do I think it’s awesome? You bet.’’

When asked how the silver medal would change his life and his perspective, he said, “I don’t even know. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of cool stuff that I get to do because of it. To me, it’s dumping a lot of things from my past. It allows me to tell myself that it’s OK.’’

Aerials offered a refuge for Peterson in a life filled with adversity and tragedy. He has battled depression, dealt with the death of his sister, who was killed by a drunk driver, revealed he was sexually abused during his childhood in Idaho, watched his roommate kill himself in 2005, and declared bankruptcy in 2008 after making poor real estate investments. At the 2006 Turin Olympics, he was asked to leave the athletes’ village when he punched a friend after an argument outside a bar.

“I couldn’t ask for anything more than this,’’ said Peterson. “I’ve done so many things in my life that I’ve thrown myself down for, and it feels good to finally do something that can lift myself and my country and everybody up for. I couldn’t have done this without a lot of people. I have a whole team and family and a million friends that I need to thank. So, thank you.’’

In and out of competition, Peterson’s experience at the Vancouver Games has been almost a reversal of what happened in Turin. Entering the final jump at the 2006 Winter Games, Peterson stood in third place. But he touched his hand down on the Hurricane landing and dropped to seventh. Last night, he was fifth before the final jump, and soared to silver.

Knowing his personal and competitive history, Peterson’s teammates rejoiced in his accomplishments. St. Onge screamed when Peterson nailed the Hurricane. Then Peterson proceeded to jump into the arms of St. Onge and others.

“I knew he was going to do the Hurricane,’’ said St. Onge. “I knew he was going to go for it. If I had to guess, I would have said definitely sticking it. He came out and he did it. And it’s just so impressive. I’m so happy for him.’’

Before his second jump, Peterson said he was unusually calm. He typically watches what other competitors do, then attempts to calculate what he can do and what that will translate to in the standings. Throughout his training and the competition, Peterson kept the focus more on himself and what he could do, having fun.

That calm and focus helped him execute the Hurricane, though he didn’t want to overanalyze his medal-winning jump. He preferred to celebrate his silver and soak in the atmosphere, draping an American flag over his shoulder before the flower ceremony and enjoying sporadic chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A.’’

“I knew I could do it,’’ said Peterson. “I’ve done it a bunch of other times. I’m not going to start picking it apart because I’m a perfectionist and I’m an athlete and we can do that tomorrow. But I’m so stoked with how everything’s gone.

“The thing I’ve been having difficulty with in that jump is vision. It’s really hard to see anything when you’re doing five rotations in three seconds. For me to be able to pick up the ground on the last one takes a lot of time and a lot of repetition. It’s something I’ve put a lot of effort into this summer jumping into the pool, as well as on snow. You’ve just got to believe in yourself that you can do it.’’

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.