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Peterson Hopes 'Hurricane' Will Bring Him Aerials Gold in Turin

He is one of the top freestyle aerial skiers in the world and holds the World Cup overall title. And his new jump - called "The Hurricane" - features a quintuple twisting triple back flip. American Jeret Peterson has also overcome personal obstacles to vie for Olympic gold in Turin.

Aerials freestyle skiing features athletes taking off a large ramp and then twisting, turning, flipping and landing lower on the hill. It's a sport lived at high speed, and features athletes with a devil-may-care attitude.

But aerialist Jeret Peterson told VOA Sports that the few seconds he spends in the air seem longer than awe-struck spectators might imagine.

"You know, people think that it is going to go by so fast, but actually it is pretty peaceful up there after you have done enough [jumps] and gotten comfortable with it," said Jeret Peterson. "I can hear the crowd yelling. I can hear people going 'oh, my gosh!' You know, that kind of stuff. And I also hear my coach. My coach will be on the side yelling at me, telling me what to do."

Peterson said he first got involved in the sport as a child on ski slopes near his home in Idaho. He was performing freestyle skiing by age 11, and by 14 decided to focus on aerials. He attended a ski camp with 1995 aerials champion Trace Worthington and wanted to make the Olympic team after watching American Eric Bergoust win the gold at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

But skiing was more than recreation for Peterson. A survivor of sexual abuse as a child, Peterson said skiing was an outlet for the anger he felt inside.

"I was really upset," he said. "I blamed myself for a lot of the things that happened. And it is something that has slowly - it has taken a lot of time to overcome. That is kind of where skiing came into my life - it was my release. It was something that I was good at - luckily - and it was something that I loved to do because it kept my mind off everything that has happened in the past."

But the ski slopes have not insulated him from tragedy. Last June, when Peterson walked into his room in Park City, Utah, he saw his roommate commit suicide. Peterson says the loss was devastating, but he found solace in one of his other interests - country music, particularly Tim McGraw's song "Live Like You Were Dying."

"It puts life into perspective, you know, having to deal with what really is important to me," he explained. "And learning the things that are valuable and the things that are really petty that I used to think were important. So that song, actually I was listening to that quite a bit. And it just helped me realize that everything was going to be okay, and you have to find the good in everything that is out there."

Jeret Peterson says he does not want people to think of him only as a skier, because he is a full human being. But his accomplishments on the slopes cannot be glossed over.

The American has completed a trick with three flips and five twists, all in 3.5 seconds, nearly 20 meters in the air. His signature jump, called "The Hurricane," is a quintuple twisting triple back flip.

It is worth more points than the jump Czech skier Ales Valenta used to win Olympic gold in Salt Lake City four years ago.

At the Turin Games, Peterson says that fans can look for several top athletes to put on an exciting show.

"If I had to say three guys who will be major competition for me, I would have to say my teammate, Ryan St. Onge. He has won a couple of World Cups this year already," he said. "Kyle Nissen, who is Canadian, who is number one right now, he has been on fire. And also Steve Omischl from Canada, he will be doing three flips and five twists as well."

Jeret Peterson hopes to capture the Olympic title, but knows that win or lose, his life is more than skiing. He says he loves to build things and hopes to become a contractor when his skiing career is over. He also continues to be an advocate for abused children, and hopes to earn his private pilot's license. But his immediate goal is to fly to Olympic gold in Turin.