US champion skier Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson found dead.

posted 2011-07-27 07:23:02 by jeffjones

US skier Jeret "Speedy" Peterson has been found dead in a remote canyon in Utah. Police believe that he killed himself.

The Olympic silver medallist known as one of the world's most innovative freestyle skiers and the creator of The Hurricane manoeuvre, called the emergency dispatcher before shooting himself, police said. The 29-year-old had been cited for drunken driving last Friday in Hailey, Idaho and pleaded not guilty.

Officers found Peterson late Monday night in an area between Salt Lake City and Park City in Lambs Canyon. Police said a suicide note was found near Peterson's car; they declined to reveal what it said.

"Regardless of the amazing stuff he did skiing, it was the stuff he did for other people that was incredible to me," said Peterson's longtime coach and friend, Matt Christensen. "A lot of people saw his story and said he must be a wild jackass and a cowboy. He was just the opposite."

He was one of the most colourful athletes, and wore his heart on his sleeve – never more so than on February 25 2010, when he walked off the mountain with tears streaming down his face after taking the Olympic silver medal at the Vancouver Games.

"I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realise they can overcome anything," Peterson said that night. "There's light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver and I love it."

It was a poignant chapter to a career that, until then, had been filled with success on the smaller stages of his fringe sport. In the mainstream, however, it was defined by his moment at the Turin Olympics where, after finishing seventh, he was sent home early after a minor scuffle with a friend in the street.

Over the next months and years, he began filling in the details of a life story replete with incredible highlights and crushing disappointments.

While in Italy, he was still reeling from the death of a friend, who shot himself in front of Peterson months before.

Peterson also had problems with alcohol and depression. He admitted having thought about killing himself, stemming from a childhood in which he was sexually abused and lost his five-year-old sister to a drunk driver.

He gained his nickname as a young boy because the big helmet he wore reminded his coaches of the cartoon character Speed Racer.

As his career progressed, he became better known for his signature jump, The Hurricane – five twists packed into three somersaults while vaulting off the ramp and flying 50 feet (15mtres) in the air.

It was high-risk, high-reward, and once Peterson started working on it in 2004, he insisted he'd have it no other way. The manoeuvre was a sight to behold, and the judges rewarded him for taking the chance. Helped by the huge difficulty marks for the jump, he still holds the two-jump scoring record of 268.70, set at Deer Valley in January 2007.

"I've worked with amazing athletes who have taken a lot of calculated risks," Christensen said. "One thing I admired about Speedy is he never gave up on me. From the time I first started talking to him about five twists, he never gave up on it. He just kept doing it."

Peterson had seven wins on the World Cup circuit, including the World Cup championship, and was a three-times American champion. But the stats and medals were only a fraction of the story.

He took his passion for gambling to Las Vegas and won $550,000 playing blackjack in the pre-Turin days. But within years, he was virtually broke after giving some of it away and losing even more in the real estate market.

Trying to decide whether he wanted to stay in the sport after Turin, he took time off and started working in the construction business – a place, he said, where he could see the effort of a hard day's work without having to walk into the video room and break it down on the screen.

He also got sober and said last year that he had stopped drinking. It was all a precursor to his return to skiing. He came in second in Vancouver, but hardly felt like a runner-up. "I do it because I want to be the person I know I can be," he said at the time. "I've really changed things around in the last three and a half years. This is my medal for everything I've overcome and I'm ecstatic."

US Ski Team CEO Bill Marolt called Tuesday "a sad day in our sport".

"Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson was a great champion who will be missed and remembered as a positive, innovative force on not only his sport of freestyle aerials, but on the entire US Freestyle Ski Team family and everyone he touched," he added.

This year, Peterson was enrolled at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, working on a degree while he took some time off and decided if he wanted to enter for 2014. He had signed a deal as a spokesman for the onion industry and was featured in a YouTube video cooking up a "Hurricane Burger."

"He [Peterson] only has two speeds," it says at the start of the video. "Stop and go."

Peterson's message to almost anyone he talked to was to take chances and never settle for ordinary. In a sport known for its risk-takers and daredevils, Peterson still stood out. Perhaps the most fitting tribute is that seven years after he first started trying to push his sport forward with The Hurricane, there are only a handful of skiers who will try anything that risky.

"Over the course of your career, you hope you get an athlete or maybe two athletes like him," Christensen said, "He was one of those guys."