Final upset in Men's aerials

Posted: Wednesday, February 20, 2002

PARK CITY, Utah -- Eric Bergoust knew from the time he hit the ramp that the gold medal was out of his reach.

The defending gold medalist in the men's aerials, Bergoust had just watched Ales Valenta of the Czech Republic nail a jump that had never been tried in the Olympics, a five-twist maneuver that put him into the lead with just one jumper left.

Bergoust, whose 130.38 score from the first of two jumps led the field and gave him the right to go last in the finals, quickly did the math. He needed 127 points out of a possible 133 to overtake Valenta and add a second gold medal to his collection.

It was no time to be meek or timid, and Bergoust hit the 70-degree takeoff ramp hot. Too hot.

"I knew right then I probably couldn't land the jump no matter what I did,'' he said.

He was right. Bergoust missed the landing and saw Valenta ski away with a well-deserved victory Tuesday at Deer Valley.

"I knew I had to put down a big score; I wasn't going for silver,'' Bergoust said. "I just had too much speed on the takeoff, and that gave me too much lift. But I felt I had to risk it, and sometimes it doesn't work.''

But there was consolation for an American team that had hoped to send two members to the awards podium.

Park City native Joe Pack, jokingly claiming to know half the people in the crowd of more than 13,000, scored a crowd-pleasing 129.49 on his first jump. He ended with a combined score of 251.64, way back of Valenta's 257.02.

Bergoust, with his 88 score on the final busted jump, finished 12th.

"It's tough to spend this much time preparing for something and not come through,'' said Bergoust, whose accomplishments and innovations have made him a favorite with young fans of the sport. "But I'm glad I went for it. I'm glad I didn't go conservative and finish fourth.

"I'm glad for Joe, too, especially here in his hometown. He missed the last Olympics with a knee injury, and I was lucky enough to get a gold medal then. I'm happy he's got a medal now.''

Not as happy as the people of Park City, where Pack has made his home since his freshman year in high school.

"The real winner today was Joe,'' Valenta said in tribute to the runnerup. "He's the one who had all the pressure on him.''

And Pack responded well, even if it wasn't enough to overtake the five-twist move Valenta decided to use Tuesday only after seeing that a calm wind would allow him to complete it.

"It was my plan to do two quadruple twists with back flips, and I'm so pumped that I hit them on my feet,'' Pack said. "But I'm definitely second after what Ales did.''

But in the seconds before Bergoust's ill-fated final try, Pack wasn't even thinking about second.

"I'm thinking bronze, man,'' he said. "Eric's the man, my mentor, someone who'll always be a friend. Normally he's got the skill and know-how to land on his feet, but he was just too big today.''

But no one was bigger than Valenta after hitting a jump that makes even the irrepressible Pack nervous.

"He's a psycho,'' Pack said with genuine respect. "I've tried that jump; you can't even see the landing! But he made it looked easy. When I try it, I end up in the hospital.''

The U.S. team saw all four of its aerialists make the 12-man finals. Brian Currett finished sisth and Jeret Peterson was ninth.

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