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Medal is first-ever for a Utahn

A Utah resident has finally won the big one.

The excitement had locals here celebrating after Park City's own Nikki Stone flipped and twirled her way to a gold medal in the women's aerial freestyle Tuesday night.The psychology major at the University of Utah became the first Utah resident to win a medal in a winter Olympic event.

"It's incredible," said Park City's Craig Weaver, 29. "We're proud of her up here. She's the first local to win a medal. It's awesome."

Stone, 27, moved to Park City about four years ago to train at the Utah Winter Sports Park and to go to the U. Stone lived in Westborough, Mass., before heading West.

Her victory was especially sweet to Park City resident Kevin Halleran, 31, who knows Stone. The two work out at the same gym and share mutual friends.

"I was cheering the whole time," he said. "She's great. She works hard and she trains hard. She deserves the best."

Halleran watched on television at Cicero's, a bar he manages on Park City's Main Street, as Stone soared 60 feet above the ground. Locals celebrated after watching her claim the gold medal, he said. Halleran couldn't stop thinking about Stone's aerial performance hours after it ended.

"I'm gonna call my mom tomorrow to tell her I know Nikki. I'm psyched."

A Utah resident winning an Olympic medal in a Winter Games event has been long overdue, said Erin Grady, 20, a Park City resident for 15 years.

"It's pretty exciting," Grady said. "We have a lot of talented athletes up here. It's cool we got one."

Stone's gold medal proves that the Utah Winter Sports Park is one of the premier Olympic training centers in the country, said John Bower, director of facilities at the park.

"She's practiced at the sports park for about four years," Bower said. "Nikki's success is testimony to the fact that Utah has become a major winter sports training and competition area."

The only other facility with a comparable freestyle aerial jump training ramp is located in Lake Placid, New York. Bower believes the Utah Winter Sports Park has an edge over the New York facility because the weather is much better in Utah, he said.

Stone's big win should spark interest in aerial ski jumping, Bower said. "The fallout this will bring to the sport, especially locally, is going to be tremendous."

The Olympic athletes put on shows at the sports park. The skiers, including Stone, also teach jumping lessons to beginners at the facility. Bowers expects interest in those lessons to increase substantially, he said.

"I wasn't surprised when Nikki won," said Bower, who competed in five Winter Olympics as an athelete and a coach. "She's focused, determined and single-minded. She has all the mental components and talent you need to win."