No holding back for Peterson
SAUZE D'OULX, Italy -- Jeret "Speedy" Peterson is a gambler in every sense of the word, and the Olympics didn't change his thrill-seeking attitude one bit.
Last summer, he turned $5,000 in savings from his job at Home Depot into a $200,000 windfall on the blackjack tables of Las Vegas. On Tuesday night in Sauze d'Oulx, he took the ultimate gamble, throwing a trick with a 4.9 degree of difficulty -- the highest in aerials skiing and a full quarter-point more difficult than any trick thrown by any other competitor -- in the men's aerials finals.
The trick, dubbed "The Hurricane," is technically known as a full triple-full full, and consists of three flips and five twists: one twist in the first flip, three in the second and one in the last, all done 55 feet in the air in about 3.2 seconds. Peterson first debuted the trick at the 2005 World Championships, where he crashed into the snow and walked away, dazed, with a concussion and a shoulder injury. He landed the trick in Lake Placid in January, but upon landing, one of his skis became dislodged from his boot. He balanced on one ski and held on to the landing, but he finished third after the judges deducted a few tenths of a point. Heading into Tuesday, he had landed the trick six of nine times overall, one of two in competition.
"I came here to go for it," Peterson said. "I said from the start, I'd either end up first or last."
During a pre-final practice, Peterson stuck the Hurricane. In competition, the trick was perfect in the air, but on the landing, he dragged his right hand behind him.
"I came really close," Peterson said. "I just went a little too big. I had a little more speed than I thought I was going to have. I had a little more adrenaline pumping than I did in training, and I got a hold of my takeoff a little more than usual."
Peterson, the reigning World Cup champion, didn't finish first or last, but seventh overall.
"I don't care where I would have ended up, if I had done a different trick, I would have walked away disappointed with myself," Peterson said. "That's what the Olympics are about. They're about going for it and being your best, not about ending up No. 1. The one thing I can say is I went for it."
Coach Jeff Wintersteen said that Peterson, who was third overall after the first jump, needed at least 130 points to win -- by the nature of the scores from the first jumps -- something a jump with a double flip just wouldn't accomplish.
"I was on the right side of the knoll, so I saw the hand drag and I knew it was sealed from that point," he said. "I knew we needed a buck thirty and that wasn't going to get us there. We were hoping to win the thing. We weren't really looking at anything else."
Peterson, whose life has been nothing short of a hurricane, was looking to win with the one hurricane he could control.
As a child growing up in Boise, Idaho, Peterson was sexually abused by a person he will not name. Like many abused children, Peterson thought he was at fault and kept the abuse a secret until 2003. In 1987, when he was 5 years old, his sister, Kim, was killed by a drunk driver. And last June, Peterson's roommate, Trevor "Trey" Fernald put a gun to his temple and pulled the trigger as Peterson walked through Fernald's bedroom door.
Peterson insists that the events in his life don't affect his skiing, but he was an angry kid. He threw tantrums. He got into trouble. He vented his rage by trying to dig holes to China in his backyard until a counselor helped him channel his energy in a more positive way. Since Peterson found skiing at the age of 7, when he earned his nickname by cutting lift lines to get to the top of the mountain as quickly as possible, he has lived for adrenaline. He gambles. He flies planes and sky dives. He ropes cattle at home in Boise. But mostly, he skis.
"Doing the 'Hurricane' is like hitting on 20," he said. "I went for it, and unfortunately, I busted."
But for Peterson, the outcome isn't really the point. It's the rush that comes from trying that matters.
Lindsay Berra is a writer for ESPN The Magazine.