Peterson, St. Onge win freestyle openers Down Under{mosimage}Reigning World Cup aerials champion Jeret ‘Speedy’ Peterson picked up Saturday where he left off in March, winning the opening event of the Olympic season with Joe Pack, the 2002 Olympic silver medalist in aerials, finishing third. Ryan St. Onge added to the hardware for the United States by winning the Mount Buller, Australia, nightcap with massive jumps.

Chinese and Belarussian women swept the top five places in the second of two World Cup freestyle aerial events. Defending Cup champion Nina Li of China claimed both wins by huge margins, dropping perfect landing marks on her first jump of the finale.

Li holds a commanding 60-point lead on the field on what is – at this early stage – a perfect season. She can also enjoy having teammates Nannan Xu in third and Shuang Cheng in fifth in the standings. Belarussians Alla Tsuper and Oly Slivets hold second and fourth, respectively.

In the opener, Jana Lindsey led three U.S. women into the top 10, finishing fifth after landing her first triple-twisting double (three twists, two flips) in competition. Kelly Hillman was seventh with Emily Cook 10th.

‘The train rolls on’ said U.S. head coach Jeff Wintersteen, referring to the resurgence of both the men’s and women’s programs. ‘Speedy started it last year and he’s kept it going. He really went huge on both jumps … and Joe on the podium, and the women jumping so well, it’s certainly a good start for the season.’

Peterson landed two quad-twisting triples – a double-full, full, full and a full, double-full, full – while Pack connected on a full, double-full-full and double-full, full (three twists, two flips).

‘I came here with the attitude that I’m gonna win’ Peterson said. ‘I started that last season when I got the yellow [World Cup leader’s] bib and I’m keeping it going. I want to carry it all the way through again.’

Each of the four American men attending earned a podium place at Mount Buller. After 2005 champ Peterson took the opener, St. Onge won the night event. Eric Bergoust claimed second, his first podium since 2002. Alexi Grishin was third for Belarus. The calculators set the men’s standing with three U.S. guys among the top four, led by Peterson in first, Canadian Kyle Nissen second, St. Onge third and Bergoust fourth.

As happy as Peterson and St. Onge were to win, Bergoust was ecstatic to have regained competitive form. The 1998 Olympic gold medalist, with 14 aerial World Cup wins and a World Championship to his credit, had suffered a podium drought that dated back to 2002. It had taken an emotional toll.

‘Oh man, I’ve never been so happy to be second’ Bergoust said. ‘I’m really focusing on making the Olympic team, so this helps take the pressure off.’

Having a guy with that much history able to come in and contribute to the team effort didn’t hurt Wintersteen’s mood. ‘Quite a bench on the men’s team’ he said. ‘Two days, two wins, a second and a third. We’ll take it.’

He also said the women’s group was jumping well and making improvement. But with the next World Cup aerials event slated in mid-December in China, it could be a while before the group gets a chance to reel in Li, Tsuper, Xu, Slivets and Cheng.

The first of two competitions on the weekend was staged after midweek storms blew away parts of building roofs, interrupted training and forced reconstruction of the kickers, which launch skiers more than 50 feet. ‘The coaches made a great decision getting us down here early’ a jubilant Peterson said, ‘so we could get some extra training.

‘I don’t know how many times the coaches built and rebuilt the jumps after the snow and rain earlier in the week. But they got it done and we got it done today. I’m so pumped right now’ the winner said. ‘We got down here and jumped and then the winds came in and were blowing the roofs off hotels and buildings … but when it stopped, Mother Nature cooperated and we got a couple of more days of training, which was great.

‘This was beautiful. We had stable conditions, a little overcast but not windy’ Peterson said. ‘I came in with confidence and this gives me even more confidence as we start the Olympic season … and I’m psyched that Joe’s up on the podium with me. It’s such a good feeling for us. We’re pumped, definitely pleased.’

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