Schedule of Events
It has been nearly two and a half years since Jeret “Speedy” Peterson was found dead, a self-inflicted gunshot wound ending his life at age 29. After making a comeback to compete at his third Olympics in Vancouver, and then winning a silver medal after a decade of dreaming, the man who unleashed the “Hurricane” to the aerials world had not merely retired from his sport, but from this world. His saga, one rife with past demons and unattractive for corporations looking for their next all-American athlete to sponsor products, is one of trials and tribulations, strife and setbacks.
And while the specifics of his story are unique, the underlying parable is not. As I wrote in my book on the Vancouver Games:
“[T]hat moment was as fleeting as most Olympic success stories are. Without the spotlight shining on him any further, Peterson drifted further back into the dark troubles of his life. Arrested for driving under the influence in Idaho three days before he took his own life, his 30th birthday creeping up on him and the end of his athletic career yielding no clarity for the rest of his life, Peterson was tossed back into the shadows of his troubled past.”
Olympic athletes that compete in solo disciplines, whether freestyle skiers or biathletes or figure skaters, are engaged in a struggle with themselves. And when the lights go off, and that struggle has ended with an Olympic medal that yields nothing beyond its heft, and the support crew that comes with representing one’s nation fades into memory, the only thing left is to find a new outlet for the competitive drive that leads an Olympic athlete to put in so many hours alone toward actualizing a four-year plan and attempting to distill it into one shot at glory. Not everyone can find that outlet that easily.
As you watch Americans such as Patrick Dineen (moguls), David Wise (halfpipe), Tom Wallisch and Nick Goepper (slopestyle) competing against the rest of the world in Sochi, remember the memory of Speedy Peterson. Once every four years, the American sports-viewing public suddenly bestow accolades on athletes in sports they hardly knew existed outside the Olympiad’s quadrennial reminder. But we cannot put these athletes into styrofoam and pack them away like so many Christmas bulbs to be brought out again when they’re needed again. These are real human beings, with real problems, and while an Olympic medal is not a guarantor of a fiscal windfall it should at least bestow a certain dignity that far too often is lacking in our short memories.
So how will these Americans fare against the world in the various freestyle disciplines? Wallisch and Goepper are contenders in the first-ever Olympic appearance of slopestyle, a longtime staple of Winter X Games competition. Likewise, Wise is among the favorites for the inaugural gold in the Olympic halfpipe; his greatest competition will come from former world champions Mike Riddle of Canada and France’s Kevin Rolland. As for Dineen, he will need a miracle on the moguls if he is to knock off the top Canadian tandem of Mikaël Kingsbury and defending gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau.
On the aerial ramps, the Chinese — long the standard-bearers in similar summer sports like platform diving and the trampoline — will be the most likely to give defending gold medalist Aleksei Grishin difficulty in repeating as Olympic champion. The most dangerous of the Chinese contingent would have to be Qi Guangpu and Liu Zhongqing.
MEN’S UPDATE: Defending slopestyle world champion Tom Wallisch did not qualify for selection to the U.S. Olympic team. Originally viewed as the favorite for the gold medal in the event’s inaugural appearance at the Winter Games in Sochi, Wallisch’s absence has resulted in an adjustment to the medal predictions. (If you’ve already placed your bets, the bookie was salivating at the guaranteed money. The saliva should’ve been a trigger that something was awry. We take no responsibility for any money wagered by our loyal readers.)
Men's Freestyle Skiing Medal Favorites
Hannah Kearney will be back in Sochi to defend her gold medal in the moguls, leading a strong field that also includes fellow American Heather McPhie. Kearney’s greatest competition could be 19-year-old Quebecois skier Justine Dufour-Lapointe, who took bronze at last year’s world championships. Or it could be either of the Japanese trio of moguls specialists — 2009 world champion Aiko Uemura, 2013 world championship silver medalist Miki Ito, or Vancouver finalist Arisa Murata.Or it could very well be herself. Having won the most recent FIS World Cup event in Deer Valley, Kearney has proven that she is on form and ready to defend her position as queen of the mountain. Unless snow conditions lead to some unforeseen mishap — and with temperatures remaining above freezing, the “snow” at Rosa Khutor could be the biggest factor in determining Olympic champions in the freestyle events — Kearney should repeat as Olympic champion on the moguls.
Just as with the men, the women’s aerials competition should be owned by the Chinese. Xu Mengtao is the defending world champion, Li Nina has taken silver at the past two Olympics, and one or the other has a great chance of dethroning defending Olympic champion Lydia Lassila of Australia.
34-year-old Emily Cook will be the feel-good story for Americans to watch. As a 22-year-old in 2002, she was forced to sit on the sideline when the Winter Olympics came to her hometown of Salt Lake City; she had broken both her ankles in a training accident — on the Olympic ramps, no less — two weeks before the Games were to commence. Four years later in Torino, she managed only 19th and looked finished with the sport. In Vancouver, 30 and looking like she was dancing to her swan song, she instead placed fifth. While she is unlikely to win, she is also the best American longshot at a podium placing.
In the two new disciplines for 2014, the Americans should have the upper hand in the halfpipe while the Canadians have the clear favorites for gold in slopestyle. Maddie Smith, the defending Winter X Games superpipe champion, Devin Logan (gunning for spots in both halfpipe and slopestyle), and Brita Sigourney could potentially sweep the inaugural Olympic halfpipe podium, though they will face resistance from defending FIS world champion Virginie Faivre of Switzerland and runner-up Anais Caradeux of France. In slopestyle, Logan will likely be joined by 2013 world championship bronze medalist Grete Eliassen and Keri Herman in taking on defending world champion Kaya Turski and her fellow Canuck Dara Howell in what is likely a bipartite battle for gold.