by Paul Maraschiello
The US Olympic Freestyle Team won three out of four gold medals in the Winter Olympic Games in Japan. Jonny Moseley, Nikki Stone and Eric Bergoust all won gold medals because of their incredible aerial performances. These "hotdogs" have been on a roll ever since the US Freestyle Team won six medals in the World Cup Freestyle Competition held at the Breckenridge Ski Resort in Colorado.
Jonny Moseley won the first gold medal for the US Olympic team with a stupendous display of speed, turning technique and aerial ability in the Men's Olympic Mogul Event at Nagano. He thrilled onlookers with a second jump that brought loud cheers from the Japanese fans as he soared into the air and executed an iron cross helicopter (360 degree rotation) with a grab, after speeding through the moguls, making turn after perfect turn. This was the same jump that drove the fans wild and gained first place honors at the World Cup Freestyle Competition at Breckenridge's steep Mach I bump run, just ten days before this triumphant Olympic win. Moseley told me that he was planning to use this snowboard-style jump he invented at the Olympics and it worked as well in Nagano as it had worked in Breckenridge. Janne Lahtela of Finland won a silver medal and his teammate Sami Mustonen edged out Jean-Luc Brassard from Canada for the bronze medal in an exciting battle of the bumps at the Winter Olympics.
Beautiful Nikki Stone won the second gold medal for the US Freestyle Team in the Women's Aerial Event with an excellent first jump, followed by the completion of a second jump which was the most difficult jump attempted in the Women's Aerials at the Winter Olympics. She is ranked #1 in Women's Aerials and #1 Overall in FIS World Cup Competition. Nikki is a real trooper who has been competing in spite of a serious back injury she sustained two years ago. The silver medal at Nagano was won by China's Nannan Xu and third place honors went to Collette Brand of Switzerland.
The third Olympic gold medal won by the US Freestyle Team went to Eric Bergoust. His near perfect first jump was given the highest score of any jump under the current scoring system. He flawlessly completed three flips and four twists 60 feet above the heads of the wowed spectators, ensuring his place in the annals of freestyle aerials. The silver medal went to France's Sebastien Foucras and the bronze medal was won by Dmitri Dashinski of Belarus.
American aerialists currently dominate World Cup competition. I had the opportunity to witness just how good they are at their last World Cup competition at Breckenridge, when a gold medal was awarded America's Kip Griffin when he zoomed down a the ramp, twisting and turning in the air above the heads of the awed spectators. Nikki Stone completed a difficult jump at Breckenridge but her landing was not clean, so she was edged out of first place at that event by Jacqui Cooper of Australia.
There are a lot of other top skiers on the US Aerial team that includes: Britt Swartly (ranked 2nd in FIS competition), Matt Chojnacki (7th), Brian Currutt (13th), Mariano Ferrario (14th) and Jerry Grossi (23rd). Female high flyers on the US team include: Stacy Blumer (14th), Brenda Petzold (20th), Emily Cook (23rd) and Tracy Evans (24th).
At the Olympics, the gold medal for the Woman's Moguls went to surprise winner Tae Satoya from Japan, a skier who had never won a major championship. The silver medal was won by Tatjana Mittermayer of Germany and the bronze medal went to Norway's Kari Traa, dashing the hopes of a second Olympic medal for Donna Weinbrecht of Killington, Vermont.
A week and a half before at Breckenridge, Donna also placed fourth. Donna was on her mark, capturing second place in the qualifying round of the Olympics but another Olympic medal was not in the cards for this beautiful blond. "When I started, I push the sport," she told me as we rode up the chair at Breckenridge. "Now the sport is pushing me," she revealed as we talked about mutual friends and the old days at Killington. The "Big D" has won a few medals in her career that include: an Olympic gold medal ('92), World Freestyle Championship silver medal ('97), World Championship silver medal ('89), five World Cup titles, 46 World Cup victories and seven US Championships that began with a Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge victory at Killington.
The US is a power to be reckoned with in the moguls. Olympic gold medalist, Jonny Moseley is ranked #1 in FIS World Cup standings. This mogul maniac is a top competitor who combines speed, technical ability and airborne grace in every mogul run. His teammate, Evan Dybvig of Turnbridge, Vt. is also coming into his own. He secured his ticket to Japan by winning a silver medal at Breckenridge but unfortunately, got back on his skis after the first jump in the qualifying round at Nagano and did not make the finals. Evan has been on the World Cup Team since 1995 and is the only World Cup athlete able to execute a double helicopter (720 degrees) and is ranked 7th in World Cup standings. In women's moguls Ann Battelle is ranked 2nd and Donna Weinbrecht is ranked 6th.
Freestyle skiing is the most exciting of all the Olympic skiing events and consists of moguls and aerial events. In the mogul competition, individual skiers are pitted against the clock, racing down a short steep run covered with bumps. There are two mandatory jumps and racers are judged on speed, turning technique and the difficulty of the aerial maneuvers. The aerial events are the most death-defying events that you can watch at the Winter Olympic Games. Competitors speed down long man-made ramps that curve up at the end, rocketing them 60 feet above the heads of the spectators where they repeatedly twist and turn up-side-down before landing on a 70 degree snow bank that gradually brings them to level ground.
There is an affinity between the freestyle bump competitor and every skier who has ever been intimidated by a mogul field. Skiing moguls is the most difficult part of downhill skiing and every skier knows how hard it is to get through them, much less zoom through with knees pumping like pistons. To make it more interesting, the competitors perform aerial tricks with names like: Daffies, Dual Exhausts, Back Scratchers, Iron Crosses, Helicopters, Spread Eagles, and more, sometimes doing doubles and combinations that always excite the crowd. The freestyle bump skier is the envy of every recreational.
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