Grishin wins, Peterson lands Hurricane for silver 

Jeret "Speedy" Peterson always insisted the moment was as important as the medal.

This time, he gets both.

Peterson took his high-risk, high-reward career and life to a satisfying new level Thursday night, throwing his one-of-a-kind "Hurricane" jump at the Olympics and walking away with the silver medal.

A victory for a man and athlete who has faced a life of addiction and pain, triumph and tragedy, and stayed in his sport so he might have a moment like this.

"I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything," Peterson said, tears streaming down his face. "There's light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver and I love it."

He took a chance nobody else in this dangerous sport will take — wrapping five twists into three somersaults as he vaults off the ramp and 50 feet in the air. He stuck his landing and was rewarded by the judges.

Peterson's score — 128.62 — was the highest awarded for any of the 24 jumps on a clear, cold night at Cypress Mountain. But his total — 247.21 — was 1.2 short of Belarussian Alexei Grishin, who was judged to be a bit more technically precise, if not quite as daring.

Grishin added the gold to the bronze he won in 2002. Liu Zhongqing of China took bronze.

Peterson took the silver and got to prove, finally, that you can do both — put on the best show and have something show for it at the Olympics.

After landing his patented jump, American coach Matt Christensen shouted from the top, "You did it! You did it!" Peterson started pumping his fists in celebration and skied over to an American cheering section that included U.S. teammate Emily Cook, whose injury in 2002 gave Peterson the first of his three Olympic spots.

Peterson was an also-ran in 2002.

His trip to Turin four years later will be remembered mostly for what happened after he threw the Hurricane and finished seventh. He celebrated that night, saying, "I came to throw the Hurricane, and I threw the Hurricane." A nice story that was overshadowed, however, when he was sent home early after a minor scuffle with a buddy in the street.

Only later did the depths of his personal problems really come to light. He was still reeling from the suicide of a friend, who shot himself in front of Peterson only months before.

There were problems with alcohol and depression, his own thoughts of suicide.

The feel-good story about Peterson winning $550,000 playing blackjack one night took a bad turn; he gave some of it to friends, lost the rest in the tanking real estate market. He declared bankruptcy and decided to start over and get into the construction business, where he could leave after a day of work and see the actual progress, not have to analyze it on video.

But he never lost his main passion — the adrenaline rush he got from aerials. To stay in the sport, he insisted he had to go all-out.

Thus, the "Hurricane" — which was the only way he could describe how it felt when his body started twirling, his sight lines blurred, the snow whirling around him during that magical three seconds in the air.

Win or lose, he insisted, this was the only way to fly. And maybe the only way to try to nudge a sport that has grown increasingly stagnant — still beautiful and athletic, but not being pushed the way it once was, say, back in 2002, when Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic won the Olympics with a five-twist jump that was even more difficult than Peterson's.

Valenta is gone and Peterson is now among the very few who will take these kind of chances anymore. Only one other jumper, Thomas Lambert of Switzerland, did a version of the five-twisting jump Thursday night, and he finished in last place.

Peterson's teammate, Ryan St. Onge, lost the bronze to Liu by 2.5 points and a promising night for Canada, which qualified three jumpers into the final, turned into a bust.

Kyle Nissen held a 6-point lead after his first jump, but on his second, with a gold medal on the line, his landing was rough — his right ski came all the way off the ground. He dropped to fifth place.

One jump earlier, Grishin put down the second of two arrow-straight jumps — winners on most nights when Peterson isn't on his game, and some nights when he is. It brought the first gold of the Olympics to Belarus, which has topnotch aerials programs on both the men's and women's side.

Hard, though, to call Peterson a loser.

A man who knows all about victory and defeat, he has long insisted he didn't need a medal to prove himself as a person. Doubtful his attitude will change now.

Not a bad prize to take home from the Olympics, though.

"I'm so happy," Peterson said. "This is the best day of my life. It's my reward for fighting through everything."

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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