Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Aerials star Bergoust calls it a career

Four-time Missoula Olympian plans another jump

Former Olympic, World Championships and World Cup aerials champion Eric Bergoust, 36, of Missoula, Mt. has retired from competition after the most successful aerials career in international history.

That meant 16 years on the World Cup, four Olympics, four World Championships and 15 World Cup victories, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Team reported in a Monday release.

The emphasis, he said Monday, has shifted from planning big jumps to a different kind of jump: he's planning to marry Sally Jo Beck July 22 in Missoula. They were childhood friends and have been together for six years. "Neither of us is very nervous now," Bergoust said, "but maybe that'll come."

Bergoust was an ardent trampoline fan as a youngster, but when he saw aerials footage on ESPN in 1985, he found a new sport.

He was the first person through the gate at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary where aerials was a demonstration event; that summer he moved to Lake Placid on his own and was all but adopted by the U.S. coaching staff. He won the NorAm aerials title that season and was on his way.

He said at the time, "I used to build jumps out of bounds at my ski area and I've never been so scared as when I was out jumping on my own. I was taking what I thought was huge air and didn't know what I was doing. I knew I could get hurt but I wanted to learn.

"Nothing since then has come that close to scaring me."

One of the most intense competitors, he collected the silver medal at the 1997 World Championships in Nagano, Japan, then came back a year later to win the 1998 Olympic aerials gold medal in Nagano.

He also was aerials gold medalist at the 1999 World Championships, and was a three-time World Cup champion—2001 and 2002 in aerials plus the overall title in 2002.

At one point, indicative of his dominance in his event, Bergoust owned the three highest scores for an aerials event in history.

"He did it all," said U.S. Freestyle Team Head Coach Jeff Wintersteen. "It's been fun being around him because he was such a professional, such a hard worker...always looking to do more than the coaches wanted him to do. They'd be looking for him to pull back and 'Bergy' would want to do more. And he was a good teammate, which is so important. His record, of course, speaks for itself. We certainly wish him the best."

Bergoust said he had no immediate plans beyond working with coach Joe Chalmers and local freestyle skiers in the Missoula freestyle program at the Snowbowl.

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