Commentary

High-risk 'Hurricane' still draws awe

Updated: January 16, 2010, 11:31 AM ET
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

PARK CITY, Utah -- Michael Jordan may have embodied the phrase "hang time" in his prime, but Jeret "Speedy" Peterson is trying to redefine it.

With his slot on the U.S. Olympic aerials team already secure thanks to a win at last month's U.S. trials, Peterson uncorked the high-risk, high-reward quintuple-twisting triple flip he calls the "Hurricane" at the Visa International Freestyle World Cup at Deer Valley on Friday.

[+] EnlargeJeret Peterson
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesJeret Peterson went for it again Friday night, throwing his signature "Hurricane" move under the lights in Park City, Utah.

Darryl Dawkins -- a pre-Jordan NBA star fond of memorializing his above-the-rim moves with free-association poetry -- might dub Peterson's trademark trick the "high-flying, skying, death-defying, mystifying, no-faking, shake-and-baking spin-o-rama drama." But it's no slam dunk.

Peterson maneuvered in the air like a stunt pilot without a plane, doing loop-de-loops for what seemed a very long few seconds high above the awestruck crowd, but couldn't quite hold onto the landing. He lost his traction and his skis, skidded to the bottom of the run, got up and hurled his helmet across the finish area. The fall relegated him to last in the 12-man field.

Anton Kushnir of Belarus, who has reached the podium in every event he has entered on the World Cup circuit this season, logged his second win of 2009-10. China's Guangpu Qi took second and two-time Olympic medalist Dmitry Dashinsky finished third. Dylan Ferguson placed sixth, his best career result in a World Cup and the best showing for the U.S. team.

Donna Weinbrecht, the pioneering moguls skier who won a gold medal when the event debuted in the Olympics in 1992, watched Peterson's jump raptly and applauded with gloved hands. "He's got to do it," she said softly, referring to the upcoming Olympics. "He needs the degree of difficulty."

Quintuple twisting moves of any kind are still rare birds in aerials; the very edge of the physical envelope. Lightning struck at the 2002 Olympics, when Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic successfully landed one slightly different than Peterson's to win the gold medal. Valenta said he'd only done it three times before.

Peterson, 28, won the Deer Valley event when he landed the Hurricane in 2007, but that remains the biggest competition in which he's been able to stick the landing. His attempt at the Torino Games four years ago was flawless until one hand brushed the snow on the touchdown, dropping him to seventh place. He said Friday he had done the jump just a half-dozen times in training this season.

Nonetheless, Peterson aims to try it again at his third Olympics in Vancouver.

"That's the plan," he said.

"Felt great, I nailed my takeoff, saw everything on my landing, and I have no clue why … maybe I need to get new bindings, possibly," Peterson said. "I feel really confident. Everything went exactly as we had planned other than my skis falling off. But I'm happy with the way things have gone. My mental game is exactly where I want it to be."

The U.S. aerialists were shut out of medals four years ago. Peterson's placement was the highest of anyone on the U.S. team, male or female, and it looks as if he's headed to another Olympics as the country's best podium prospect.

On the women's side, Australia's Lydia Lassila broke up a Chinese monopoly with a gold-medal run. Five women from China -- aptly called the "air force" by the public-address announcer -- finished in second through sixth place, including 2006 Olympic silver medalist Nina Li.

The two U.S. finals qualifiers, Lacy Schnoor and Ashley Caldwell, came in ninth and 10th, respectively. "Everyone said I'd feel like a rock star, and I did," said Caldwell of competing in her first World Cup.

Olympic veteran Emily Cook sat out the event with a bruised heel, but her absence shouldn't hurt her chances of making the team that will compete in Vancouver.

Schnoor earned a berth at the U.S. trials, and at least two other slots are available. Cook has two top-10 World Cup finishes thus far this season. With only one more event remaining before the roster is finalized -- next week in Lake Placid, N.Y. -- no other U.S. woman is in a position to bump her out of contention.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford

Enterprise and Olympic Sports
Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.