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Drive for five

U.S.' Peterson has no regrets after quintuple twist

Posted: Friday February 24, 2006 11:52AM; Updated: Friday February 24, 2006 3:57PM
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Jeret "Speedy" Peterson wasn't interested in taking the safe route to a medal.
Carl Yarbrough/SI

When Jeret "Speedy" Peterson alit Thursday night, after a brief, 3.2-second flight during which he soared 55 feet into the air and performed three backflips and five twists, he immediately thrust his left fist into the air. He was celebrating the fact that he had safely landed the Hurricane -- the most difficult jump in freestyle skiing -- but he also had another reason for the fist pump. "I dragged my right hand and threw my left one up hoping the judges wouldn't see it," Peterson said. "But they got me."

They got him good. Each of the two landing judges gave him a score of 1.6 (a nice landing will get you something approaching a 3.0), which relegated Peterson, 24, to a seventh-place finish. He didn't have to try the jump -- he was the only skier in the 28-man field to attempt any quintuple twist combo, let alone the most difficult full-triple full-full variety. But Peterson actually means it when he offers up platitudes about giving it one's all, or about how it's not whether you win or lose, yadda, yadda. "That's what the Olympics are about, going for it and being [your] best, not ending up Number 1," he said.

Peterson was in third place with 124.78 points after his first jump, a quad combo with a degree of difficulty of 4.425. Had he chosen a similar jump with the same DD and performed it as well as he did the first time, he would have finished with around 249 points. Gold medalist Han Xiaopeng of China had 250.77; Dmitri Dashinki of Belarus took the silver with 248.68. But Peterson came to Turin to do the Hurricane, as he put it, whether he was 50 points ahead or 50 points behind. He felt good about his chances; U.S. freestyle coach Jeff Wintersteen said Peterson had been landing it at around an 80 percent clip, including three straight times in practice on Thursday.

After the competition, Peterson was asked where he thought he would have ended up had he done a safer second jump. His one-word response: "disappointed."

That go-for-it attitude didn't bowl over the judges, though. While no one was suggesting that Peterson's jump was worthy of a gold, it was interesting to note that Han won the competition by nailing an easy second jump, a layout-double full-full (meaning he did three backflips: the first, a layout with no twist; the second, with a double twist; the third, with a single twist). Han edged out Dashinski, who closed with a very solid double full-full-full -- four twists to Han's three. Dashinski's scores were a little lower, and the higher degree of difficulty of his jump (4.425 to 4.175 for Han's) wasn't enough to compensate.

When Dashinski's scores were posted, giving Han the gold, Anton Kushnir, Dashinski's compatriot and the eighth-place finisher, assumed, for a good 45 seconds, the international pose for "we wuz robbed": hands on head, mouth agape. American Ryan St. Onge, who is ranked No. 4 in the world but missed out on qualifying for the 12-man Turin final, was among those who felt that Dashinski might have been better rewarded for the risk he took.

"I'm very disappointed that the bigger tricks, even if they weren't done as well as the smaller tricks, weren't rewarded better," St. Onge said. "Double full-full-full [Dashinski's second jump] is the hardest trick besides five twists to do. There's nothing easy about that trick. The judges are judging it based on certain criteria, which is understandable, but maybe they should be altered to have a 'wow' factor."

Even though he didn't quite land it, Peterson's jump made more than a few spectators and competitors say "wow." "He's advanced the sport, definitely," said Wintersteen. St. Onge was gushing, calling the Hurricane "the coolest jump ever performed in any competition." St. Onge has never done five twists on snow, but the 23-year-old knows that, thanks to his teammate, it's definitely going to be the move of the future. "People have a little better realization of how hard it's going to be [to do a quintuple] and which ways they need to train," said St. Onge. "I think we're going to see a lot of five-twists at the next Olympics."

As for Peterson, he wasn't at all bitter about the way the competition turned out. He did what he came to do, even if he didn't quite stick the landing. He was happy with himself, and genuinely happy for Han, Dashinski and bronze medalist Vladimir Ledbedev of Russia.

"My competitors are not my enemies," Peterson said. "I'll go to the bar tonight and hang out with everybody and have a good time."