Czech skier Ales Valenta has won his country's first gold medal in the Salt Lake City Games, in the men's aerials competition at Deer Valley, Utah. Mr. Valenta used a rarely-tried twisting back-flip to capture the Olympic championship.
Mr. Valenta was in sixth place after this first round of jumps. But in the final round, he used a quintuple, twisting, triple back-flip on his final effort to score a total of 257.02.
Valenta, the fourth-placed finisher four years ago, beat out local hero Joe Pack, who took the silver medal 5.38 points back. The bronze medal went to World champion Alexei Grichin of Belarus. Valenta said he was not thinking about winning the gold or beating his competition, just about doing the best jumps he could do. "Most of the time, everyone is just thinking about the jump itself," he said. "You do not have any other thoughts about the crowd, or something like that. You are just totally focused on the jump you are doing. I think that if, once you start thinking about something else, it is not good."
Silver medalist Joe Pack said he had the utmost respect for Valenta, who, he said, has taken the sport to a new level of excellence. "The level of difficulty that probably is not seen to the common eye is up there. I do not know how much you see the ground until the very end. And he saw the ground. He slammed it. It is good to see," said Pack.
Defending Olympic champion Eric Bergoust of the United States fell on the landing of his final jump, and finished 12th in the standings. He said he knew he could not afford to be conservative on his final effort. "I felt like I had to do a really nice jump. So I really had to risk it. And sometimes when you risk it, it does not work."
It is only the third time in over three years Bergoust had finished out of the top 10. Pack's silver medal took the U.S. team to 19 medals, one short of the total it had hoped to win in the Winter Games. Three of those medals have come from freestyle skiers: Pack and Moguls skiers Travis Mayer and Shannon Bahrke.