FILE UNDER -- Freestyle

TORINO: Freestyle: Peterson's aerials forecast is first or last

TORINO: Freestyle: Peterson’s aerials forecast is “first or last”{mosimage}TORINO, Italy – Jeret “Speedy” Peterson is his country’s last shot at an Olympic medal in freestyle aerials, but the 24-year-old sure isn’t planning on playing it safe Thursday night in the final round.

“The only thing that will change my game plan as of right now is the weather. If there’s too much wind or too much snow, then I’ll have to back down my degree of difficulty,” Peterson said Tuesday at USA House during an off-day from training. “Right now I plan on doing the ‘Hurricane’ for my second jump. I’m excited.

“I will tell you right now I’m going to end up either first or last, there is no in-between. I’m either going to land on my feet or my head.”

The Hurricane is Peterson’s patented three-flip, five-twist jump that only he and a few other aerialists in the world have landed in competition. And two who have – defending Olympic gold medalist Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic and Canada’s Steve Omischl – failed to advance out of Monday’s qualifying.

Peterson finished eighth in qualifying, meaning he will be the fifth skier to jump in Thursday night’s 12-skier final as the start order runs from worst to first.

“That sets me up exactly where I want to be, it gives me the start order I want,” he said. “I want to be running around 25 to 40 percent as far as the number of people competing. I want to be (jumping after) about 25 percent of the field, and I ended up fifth of 12.

“I’m very happy with how things ended up, and I’m looking forward to going into competition Thursday with a clean slate. And I have that.”

He also carries the weight of a U.S. aerials team that has struggled mightily so far in Torino. The women were shut out of the medals, and defending Olympic silver medalist Joe Pack, 1998 gold medalist Eric Bergoust and Ryan St. Onge all failed to qualify for the finals, leaving Peterson to represent a team widely viewed as the strongest and deepest in the world.

“It is somewhat of a shock that I’ll be the only guy competing for the guys in the U.S., but that’s kind of how it goes, unfortunately, in our sport. It’s a bummer,” he said. “It’s going to be weird being the only one up there, but I’m still going to give it my all and do my best and have a great time while I’m there.”

Despite any pressure he may be feeling, Speedy was anything but stressed out Tuesday at USA House. He slowly made the rounds, accepting hugs from well-wishers throughout the house, flashing his megawatt smile, chatting with Olympic combined gold medalist Ted Ligety in the lounge and later that night taking in the U.S. men’s hockey game against Russia from the first row of the stands.

“There definitely is some pressure from an exterior source, with the media and the expectation people have on me because they know I have what it takes to win,” Peterson said. “That directly reflects onto my interior pressure because I expect the best from myself in everything I do, not just skiing.”

Peterson is the reigning World Cup overall champion, and he said it has been difficult not backing up that title with a better campaign in 2006.

St. Onge had been the country’s most consistent performer of late, but Peterson has a ninth-place result from the 2002 Games on his resume and plenty of maturity gained over the past four seasons.

“The Olympics this time around have been a lot more business for me than the past Olympics were, for sure,” he said. “The last Olympics I was 20 years old, I was young. I was physically, emotionally and mentally not even close to as advanced as I am now. I have matured so much since the 2002 Games.”

A group of Peterson’s high school friends from Boise, Idaho, have traveled to Torino to support him, making good on a promise made six years ago before Peterson even competed in Salt Lake City

“We were saying if I make it to Torino that they’re all going to cheer me on. Now six years later, they’re here and I’m here and we’re just having a grand old time,” he said.

Bottom line, Peterson said Thursday is going to be a “huge day in my life.”

“As far as competition and stress, I’m sure [it] will be through the roof,” Peterson said. “But I’m going to walk away having fun. That’s why I came here. Yes, I came here for a reason, but I’m also here to have fun. That’s mostly the reason I came here.”

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