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American Joe Pack Looking to Twist, Spin and Fly to Olympic Gold

U.S. Olympic gold medal hopes in men's freestyle aerial skiing at the upcoming Turin Games may well rest on the flight of Joe Pack. Joe Pack is a very successful athlete who is hoping to add another medal to his impressive collection.

Before he was a teenager, Joe Pack decided ski jumping was not exciting enough for him. So he turned to the higher-flying thrill of aerial competition, soaring 18 meters into the air while flipping and twirling to hopefully a soft landing. His move proved to be good. Pack captured a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, adding to gold medals at the 1996 Junior Worlds, 1999 and 2001 U.S. Freestyle Championships. Pack also won a pair of bronze medals at the 1999 and 2001 World Championships.

The 27-year-old Pack says his experience in the 2002 Winter Games at a popular ski resort in the U.S. state of Utah will be difficult to top in Italy.

"Being at Deer Valley, for us, is the Super Bowl of our ski event," he said. "The biggest thing was having my family and friends there. Being able to show off in front of them and do well. And getting people on this excited train that I was on was phenomenal. Having that support and the roar of the [home] crowd was something I will treasure forever."

Joe Pack's success is part of a tight-knit team effort that includes a lot of technical support from the U.S. Ski team. He is coming off a season of nagging injuries, but that's nothing new for him. He had to overcome a serious knee injury that forced him to miss the 1998 Nagano Olympics. But Pack says the medical training and attention has kept him and his fellow athletes relatively healthy in the physically demanding sport.

"It is pretty intense," he said. "We have such a great support staff on the U.S. Ski team. They surround us with the right people to get us back to where we need to be. If you can keep your body healthy enough, then hopefully 10 or 15 years down the road it will not be too bad."

Joe Pack says the U.S. Ski team also helps to groom the special aerial skiing jumps to precise specifications.

"The kickers, or the jumps, we launch ourselves off of are about four meters tall," he said. "We manicure them pretty, pretty accurately. We go in half-meter increments. The top half meter is about 71 degrees. And it goes down about a degree and a half all the way to the smooth curve of the tail. Snow conditions are a really big factor. Sometimes you have to take out the middle of the track, mix up a nice batch of snow of a consistency of good snow and water. [And] put it back in there, let it freeze overnight. And then you get the nice launch angle."

Aerial skier Joe Pack and his teammates will be looking for the right angles in Turin to launch them to the winner's podium.