Freestyle aerialists are just `full' of terms, acrobatics

Surprise leader Leu hopes `lay-full-full' stays true

Winter Olympics Salt Lake City 2002

February 18, 2002|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

PARK CITY, Utah - Listening to freestyle aerial skiers talk shop is like eavesdropping on two latte makers at Starbucks.

Their chatter is sprinkled with "half-half" and "full-double-full," but they're not talking about caffeine and steamed skim milk. Aerialists are the trick ponies of skiing, and those halves and fulls are types of somersaults, their stock in trade.

The freestyle event became part of the Olympics in 1994, two years after the other discipline, moguls, did.

Skiers reach speeds of 35 mph on takeoff from the ramp, known as a kicker, and perform acrobatics while three stories in the air before the ground rushes up to meet them at the bottom of the hill.

Unfortunately, these Winter Games won't see one of the top women perform at today's finals.

Jacqui Cooper, Australia's best hope for a medal, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during a training run last Monday.

The two-time Olympian and three-time World Cup champion was ranked No. 2 in the world this season.

Cooper said the accident "isn't just about my leg. ... I've got a broken heart." Nevertheless, she expects to be in the grandstand at the finals to cheer teammates Alisa Camplin, who finished second in Saturday's qualifying round, and Lydia Ierodiaconou, who finished 10th.

Now, the spotlight falls on Evelyne Leu of Switzerland, who came from nowhere to set a world record in the qualifier, with a score of 203.16, nearly three points better than the previous mark set in World Cup competition four years ago.

Leu loves the course at Deer Valley Mountain Resort, winning the World Cup event last year and taking fourth place in 2000.

She said she'll stick with the jumps that got her to the finals, a lay-full-full, which is two full somersaults with twists, both arms outstretched and skis parallel.

"I know I can jump," she said. "It's just getting the timing right."

Stalking Leu is Alla Tsuper of Belarus, the top aerialist in the world. But Tsuper downplayed her chances at a gold medal and may be suffering from a case of nerves.

"I will do doubles in the final," she said. "I am scared to do a triple here. This hill, it scares me. Maybe I can win with doubles, but I don't know."

The finals will not include any American women, a disappointment in a sport that has its roots in this country, which had the 1998 gold medalist, Nikki Stone.

The best jumper, Emily Cook, had to withdraw from competition just before the start of the Winter Games with an ankle injury. Brenda Petzold and Tracy Evans, ranked eighth and ninth in the world, couldn't perform two consistent jumps in the qualifier. Evans finished 14th and Petzold, who will have her 11th knee surgery after the games, finished 17th.

The seven judges will award 20 percent of the score on takeoff, 50 percent on the form in air and 30 percent for the landing. The score is multiplied by the degree of difficulty for the final score.

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