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Monday, February 4, 2002
American is face of his sport

Associated Press


PARK CITY, Utah -- Freestyle skier Jonny Moseley is part trendsetter, part ambassador to his sport.

What he will never be, however, is content with his routine.

So he's come up with a new moguls trick, the Dinner Roll, that is the talk of freestyle skiing heading into the Olympics.

At a Glance
EVENTS
Men's and women's aerials; Men's and women's moguls

CONTENDERS
Eric Bergoust, who holds the top three scores in aerials history, will be the man to beat with stiff challenges coming from the top Canadians and possibly Alexei Grichin of Belarus, who finished second to Bergoust on the World Cup tour this year. Australian Jacqui Cooper has been the best female aerialist in the world for some time. She is the only woman to have completed a full full full. Cooper learned to ski in Colorado.

In moguls, defending gold medalist Jonny Moseley of the United States took more than two years off the World Cup circuit after Nagano, returned to rigid training in late 2000 and barely made the Olympic team by winning the next-to-last World Cup event of the season. The two Finns who finished behind him in Nagano might be in better position to catch him in Salt Lake. On the women's side, Ann Battelle of Steamboat Springs is fighting back from injury and surgery last season but should be among the medal contenders. Battelle was 10th in Nagano and only got better, winning gold at the 1999 World Championships and taking the World Cup title twice. Hannah Hardaway of Boulder goes in as the top American with three second-place finishes in five World Cup events this season.

Norway's Kari Traa, who won bronze at Nagano, is the hands-down gold-medal favorite.

PREDICTIONS
Bergoust, the defending Olympic and World Cup champion, could end up in a head-to-head battle with his younger teammate, Joe Pack, a hometown favorite from Park City who has won the bronze in the past two world championships. Both could end up on the podium, although Pack has struggled this winter. The American women are going through a rebuilding period and aren't legitimate medal contenders. Emily Cook was a possible medal contender before suffering a dislocated ankle in Lake Placid last month. Cooper, the Australian, does well on the World Cup circuit but tends to fall on her face in major events like the World Championships and Olympics. She was the favorite in Nagano, but suffered a horrible crash on her second jump and finished 23rd. Keep an eye on Belarus' Alla Tsuper, this season's World Cup leader.

Moseley was on the cutting edge when he won the gold in Nagano with his mute grab -- a 360-degree spin, crossing his skis behind his back and grabbing them with one hand on the last jump. He is hoping his new move -- if he does it -- will wow the judges. It's called a dinner roll -- a semi-inverted 720-degree spin. World Cup judges weren't too keen on the move this winter, but the pro-American crowd might push the judges into giving it the high scores it deserves. In Moseley's absence, Nagano silver medalist Janne Lahtela of Finland has been the dominant mogulist the past four years. U.S. darkhorse Jeremy Bloom, a rookie shocker on the World Cup circuit this season, could pull off another surprise in Salt Lake. On the women's side, it could come down to a head-to-head battle between Hardaway and Traa. Hardaway's teammate, Shannon Bahrke, also could push into the podium fight.

-- Scripps Howard News Service

When he does his Dinner Roll, Moseley flies off the mogul, then rotates twice, with his body parallel to the ground.

It's a dangerous, whirling trick that's so risky, so difficult and so seemingly misunderstood by judges that nobody else in the world has any interest in trying it at the men's moguls, Feb. 12 in Park City.

"It's a great jump, the fans love it," American teammate Jeremy Bloom says. "The problem is, I've seen him throw it three times, and he's not been scored well on it. It's going to be very difficult to win the Olympics with it."

But the Olympics are about more than just medals for Moseley, who won the gold four years ago in Nagano. The 26-year-old star came back to freestyle in June 2000 after a two-year retirement not only to compete, but to try new tricks in what he views as a stagnating sport.

"I want to win, but I want to try to win in the same fashion I won the last one -- with something unique, exciting and new," Moseley said.

At the 1998 Olympics, Moseley was the only skier to try a 360 Mute Grab -- a full spin with the back of his skis crossed, while reaching back to grab the inside edge of his ski. That jump helped take moguls to a new level and win him the gold.

Now, the 360 Mute Grab is old news, and Moseley knows it's time to move on.

"There's a lot to this for Jonny," says Moseley's longtime personal coach, Cooper Schell. "He's going to live with himself much better if he does it, win or lose."

Three days before Moseley hits the slopes, the American women will go for gold on the moguls. Shannon Bahrke and Hannah Hardaway are considered medal contenders in a sport in which the United States has an overload of talent.

Ann Battelle made the American team and will compete in her fourth Olympics. The 36-year-old Donna Weinbrecht, the most decorated moguls skier in the history of the sport, didn't make the team.

Weinbrecht used to be the name most associated with moguls skiing. But now, it's Moseley.

Because Moseley's body is parallel to the ground, the Dinner Roll is an "off-axis" jump, the kind that had been off limits in World Cup moguls skiing.

Off limits, that is, until Moseley petitioned to have this one allowed.

This was no easy process. After months of waging a public-relations campaign of sorts, Moseley and U.S. coach Jeff Wintersteen had to submit a CD-ROM with four videotaped angles of the jump to a panel of judges. Then Moseley had to perform the trick in a World Cup competition, which he did soon after he clinched his Olympic spot earlier this month.

He got approval, and now Moseley hopes it's just the first step of a freestyle revolution.

"There's a lot of ignorance and fear out there," Moseley said. "That's also because the Olympics are close. But once this year ends, they're not going to have a choice. It's going to happen. It's from kids coming up."

Moseley figures off-axis tricks, and eventually inverted jumps -- where a jumper's feet go above his head -- will take this sport to the next level.

As things stand now, almost all the moguls jumps are on a perpendicular plane, in which a jumper's feet stay below his head.

Most young skiers watch the old-school jumps, then compare it with the new forms of freeskiing they see in the X-Games and know where they want to spend their futures.

"The kids come to summer camps, and they don't get psyched about triple twisters," Schell said. "They want to learn the off-axis tricks."

Not everyone agrees with Moseley, and they'll all have plenty of support at the Deer Valley Ski Resort.

For five days in February, when freestyle skiing gets its big splash of mainstream publicity -- fans will also see American Eric Bergoust defend his Olympic championship in aerials -- packed crowds will watch the twists and turns, and the sport may not seem as passe as Moseley says it is.

"The sport is progressing," Wintersteen said. "I think the X-Games and the Olympics may be going down the same path, just not at the same speed."

That Moseley is taking the role of trendsetter is no surprise. He's the first person to make himself a star in a sport that's been in the Olympics only since 1992.

His 1998 gold medal got him on David Letterman's show and in with Hollywood, the X-Games crowd and the ever-expanding ski-movie industry.

He retired from competition because he was burned out, then came back, risking the resentment from younger skiers who didn't want their Olympic dreams dashed by a rich star who might try to get by on reputation more than skill.

But Moseley proved he can still compete with the best.

He earned his Olympic spot by winning a World Cup event in France on Jan. 11, breaking a four-year string without a major victory. He won using many of the same tricks he used to win gold in 1998. The Dinner Roll wasn't part of that routine. He said he just gave the judges what they wanted to see that day.

That brings up the prospect that he could try for another gold medal without the Dinner Roll. It is, after all, a dangerous maneuver that he lands only 50 to 60 percent of the time.

And even when he lands it, judges don't always reward him. The jump is so new, and looks so unlike any of the "normal" jumps, that judges don't always know what they're seeing, or how to respond.

Another factor: The Dinner Roll will make up only 12.5 percent of Moseley's score. The rest will come from the first jump on the course (12.5 percent), speed (25 percent) and the smoothness with which the racer negotiates the turns between moguls (50 percent).

"The spectators love the Dinner Roll," Bloom said. "I've been there when he's gotten a bad score where his whole run stunk and the Roll was great. All the fans booed."

So, why waste time and risk his neck for a trick that might not be appreciated by the very people who sanction and judge the sport?

"I'm trying to get in there and do something unique," Moseley said. "I'm not as much in it to change the whole sport as I'm in it for myself. I'm in it to personally keep it interesting for me, to do what exhilarates me, and gives me a challenge."

And that, Moseley says, is what he always thought the Olympics were all about, anyway.