PARK CITY — Jeret "Speedy" Peterson couldn't quit smiling last February when he found himself smack-dab, in the middle of his Olympic dream.
He worked hard, finishing ninth, and played hard, trying to soak up as much of the International atmosphere as possible. And when it was all over he walked into the locker room to change his clothes and passed out.
"I was just burned out," he said after qualifying in fifth place for the finals of the men's aerials at the 2003 World Championship at Deer Valley. "It was so much stress. I didn't even realize it. I take things 100 percent . . . I needed to back off a little."
So Peterson took a break. He went to school and did whatever it is a 22-year-old man wants.
"I just wanted to be a kid again," he said grinning, "go to school, just hang out."
Whatever he did worked wonders because Peterson was on the podium in the first World Cup of the season. And just a few months later, he's competing in World Championships with a lot of the same people that came to Utah last season for the Games. He expected Thursday's competition to feel like "just another World Cup."
"We pulled up and wow," he said. "I thought, 'I better get my head in the game.' It's honestly like the Olympics again. I feed off all of the people yelling."
And those who showed up to watch Thursday's event had a lot to yell about. Three of the four U.S. ski team's male aerialists qualified for finals in great position. Eric Bergoust, the 1998 Gold medalist, finished in third with a score of 244.16; Peterson is in fifth with 238.36; and Ryan St. Onge is in 10th with 232.56. Last year's silver medalist, Park City's Joe Pack, fell on his second jump and didn't qualify, finishing 15th. It's the first time Pack failed to get to the podium in an event at Deer Valley, where he is heralded as the Ambassador of Air.
The women's side was a bit more disappointing with only Kate Reed finishing in the top 12. Reed finished eighth in a women's competition that was unbelievably competitive. Evelyne Leu, Switzerland, leads all aerialist with a new world record score of 206.34. Leu is one of the older jumpers and she is one of the first women to compete with triple tricks. She threw two triples Thursday to wow the crowd and the judges.
In second place for Saturday night's final is Alisa Camplin, Australia, the reigning Olympic gold medalist. She scored a 191.57, and holds a slight lead over Nina Li of China, who is currently ranked no. 1 in the world.
Like Peterson, Bergoust was a little depleted after the Games, but even more bothersome is a recurring neck injury that kept him flat on his back for three days last week. He said he may follow the lead of his younger teammate this spring and summer and just take some time off.
One of the most decorated aerialists, Bergoust said finishing 12th in last year's Games, "took a lot of motivation out of it for me."
He said he has a hard time psyching himself up for every competition when he knows there are three years until another Olympics.
"It's not like it makes me sad or bummed out, it's just I think, 'Why am I working so hard this week?' (World Cups) are just less important after 15 years on tour."
Last year's Olympic Gold medalist on the men's side hinted he might thrill the audience with the trick that won him last year's gold - a triple flip with five twists in it. The U.S. skiers know they have their work cut out for them as they head into Saturday's night competition which starts at 6 p.m.
"If we're getting out DDed (other skiers using a higher degree of difficulty)," said U.S. head freestyle coach Jeff Wintersteen, "that means we have to be perfect. But we're prepared to do that."
Despite some injuries and some burnout, the U.S. skiers expect to be in the hunt for Saturday's championship.
"We're not just looking for a World Cup experience," Peterson said. "We're looking for medals."