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Lillehammer disappointment inspired Stone to improve

Disappointed by her poor showing in the 1984 Games in Lillehammer, Nikki Stone pledged to herself that she would do better.

She moved to Park City to be near the new training facility at the Winter Sports Park and intensified her training program.The next year she came back to win the world title and the World Cup in women's aerials.

Plagued by a back injury in 1996, which led to some poor showings in 1997, she once again promised herself that she would turn it around and perhaps win Olympic gold in the process.

Stone captured the gold medal Wednesday in women's aerials in Nagano.

Which didn't surprise John Bower, director of the ski jump complex at the Winter Sports Park.

"She's been training (at the Sports Park) since Lillehammer for just this day. When the Australians fell out of the running the title was her's to lose," Bower said. "But she nailed it."

Stone started as a gymnast, but grew too large for the sport as a teenager. After seeing a documentary on freestyle at age 16, she enrolled in a freestyle program in Waterville Valley, N.H.

In her first World Cup event in 1992, her coaches opted to have her compete for the experience and not as an official competitor. She finished third but could not medal.

In Lillehammer, she finished a disappointing 13th. This prompted her to move to Utah and undertake a new training program.

"During the summer she is constantly here training," said Bower. "While some of the athletes split their time between Park City and Lake Placid (N.Y.), Nikki spent most of her time here.

"When she wasn't training, she has been working with the younger kids. Occasionally, she's even announced one of our freestyle shows. The park has been a big part of Nikki's life for the past four years. I have no doubt that it played a big part in her success in the Olympics."

Under the original plans drawn up for the park, the freestyle facilities and day lodge were not included. When the Games were given to Nagano in 1989, planners were concerned that there would not be enough of a draw with just ski jumping, so the freestyle jumping pool, ramps and day lodge were added at a cost of $2.5 million.

"They saw the success the Lake Placid facility was having at drawing spectators to watch the freestyle aerialists and they felt they could do the same thing here. Now, aren't we glad they did?" added Bower.

The Sports Park jumping pool is considered one of the finest in the world. Four ramps of various pitches sit on the edge of a large swimming pool. At the bottom of the pool is a web of pipes that shoot air bubbles up to ripple the surface.

This makes it possible for the aerialists to see and judge their jumps to the surface of the pool. Next to the pool are a series of trampolines with safety harnesses that are used in training to perfect routines.

Athletes from all over the world have visited the park to train. For the past two years the Australian team, coached by former world-class aerialists and Utah resident Frank Bare, have been living near and training at the Sports Park. Many felt that the Australians would prove to be Stone's toughest competitors.

Stone and her teammates, along with the Australians were, in fact, training at the Park City complex while the opening ceremonies were being held in Japan.

Which, said Bower, no doubt was a definite benefit to Stone.

"She jumped well and she knew it," he said. "It was simply a question of whether or not could keep her composure . . . and she did."



The Stone file

Born: Feb. 4, 1971

Nickname: Slick

Hometown: Westborough, Mass.

Residence: Park City

Vitals: 5-foot-8, 128 pounds

Education: University of Utah, Union College (graduated magna cum laude in psychology in 1997)

Honors: Currently ranked No. 1 in 1997-98 World Cup aerials; has won 29 World Cup medals, including four gold this season; captured 1995 World Cup overall title.

Previous Olympics experience: 13th in aerials at Lillehammer, 1994.