Peterson teammates share tears at Olympic park

John Miller and Lynn DeBruin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
FILE- In this Feb. 25, 2010 file photo, Jeret Peterson of the United States, celebrates his Olympic silver medal in the men's freestyle aerials final at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Utah police say Peterson has killed himself in an isolated canyon. The Unified Police of Greater Salt Lake said Peterson called 911 before shooting and killing himself on Monday evening, July 25, 2011. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

PARK CITY, Utah – Hans Gardner shouted as he headed down the steep ramp and slapped his thigh the way Olympic silver medalist Jeret “Speedy” Peterson often did.

“I wanted to go out there and be as strong as I could … while letting him motivate me,” the rookie said Wednesday, a day after learning that police said one of the world’s most innovative freestyle skiers had killed himself just miles down the road in Lambs Canyon.

“It definitely was hard. I cried up on the ramp,” Gardner said. “We’re all going to miss him a lot. I want to let his legacy influence me in a positive way.”

Though the 29-year-old Peterson gained fame for his moves – the one-of-a-kind Hurricane – he also had personal problems. He had been cited for drunken driving Friday in Hailey, Idaho, and had pleaded not guilty.

Monday night, Utah authorities say he called 911 before shooting himself.

Police found Peterson near his car along the canyon road between Salt Lake City and Park City. They said a suicide note was found nearby. Authorities will turn it over to Peterson’s family, but don’t plan to release it.

Before a scheduled training session, ski team members took time to remember their colleague.

“Showing up this morning I didn’t really know what to expect, how everybody would be doing,” Olympian Scotty Bahrke said. “But it was really good to see everybody and get all the hugs and get to laugh for a bit. (The news) devastated everybody.”

Bahrke eventually would do a jump in Peterson’s honor. He said he wanted to do something special, even if he could stay focused only long enough to practice two jumps.

There were plenty of stories to tell about Peterson, one of the sport’s most colorful athletes. He generally wore his heart on his sleeve – but especially on Feb. 25, 2010, when he walked off the mountain with tears streaming down his face after taking the silver in Vancouver.

Bahrke recalled standing atop the Park City ramp about to attempt his first double jump as a teenager.

“I was just absolutely terrified but Speedy went before me and told me I was going to be all right,” he said. “I ended up going down and just landing right on my stomach. I couldn’t breathe, my helmet went flying off and Speedy jumped in, swam me to the edge and told me it was all right, that everybody crashes. I went back up and did another jump and landed it.”

He still practices with bindings given to him by Peterson more than a decade ago.

Bahrke couldn’t say what might have driven Peterson to take his own life.

“But it must have been pretty tough for him,” Bahrke said. “Hopefully he’s in a better spot, catching big air up in heaven.”

Freestyle coach Todd Schirman said athletes were given the option to train Wednesday, if they wanted. Some simply could not, but cheered as Gardner and Bahrke performed jumps.

Peterson will be officially remembered during an aerials competition and exhibition Saturday at the Utah Olympic Park. A formal memorial service is set for 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at the Boise State student union ballroom in Boise, Idaho, where Peterson grew up.

Idaho authorities said an intoxicated Peterson was cited last Friday after an incident with Sun Valley Resort employees. Just before 3 a.m., a resort security officer reported that Peterson drove off in his truck and he was eventually spotted speeding through Hailey, about 12 miles to the south.

He was weaving, crossing over the yellow line and driving so fast police didn’t catch him for five miles, they said. Police said Peterson failed three field sobriety tests though he told an officer he had only one drink.

During the 2006 Turin Olympics, where he finished seventh, Peterson was sent home early after a minor street scuffle with a buddy. While in Italy, he was still reeling from the suicide of a friend, who shot himself in Peterson’s presence only months before.

Peterson had problems with alcohol and depression and acknowledged he had his own thoughts of suicide, all stemming from a childhood during which, he said, he was sexually abused and lost his 5-year-old sister to a drunken driver.

He picked up his nickname as a youngster because the big helmet he wore reminded his coaches of Speed Racer of cartoon fame.

As his career progressed, he became better known for his signature Hurricane jump – five twists packed into three somersaults as he vaulted off the snowy ramp and flew 50 feet in the air.

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.

He had seven wins on the World Cup circuit, was the 2005 World Cup champion and a three-time American champion.