Ski community rocked by the loss of Jeret ‘Speedy’ Peterson
Ryan Summerlin July 29, 2011
Olympic aerials daredevil and innovator Jeret "Speedy" Peterson is dead at the age of 29.
According to Lt. Justin Hoyal, spokesman for the Salt Lake Unified Police Department, Peterson, the creator of the famous "Hurricane" signature move that earned him a silver medal in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, was found dead at about 9:30 p.m. Monday in Lambs Canyon from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Hoyal said Peterson called 911 at 8:34 p.m. Monday informing authorities he was going to end his own life and notifying them of his location.
"Officers responded in Lambs Canyon and found his body outside the vehicle," he said.
Hoyal also said Peterson left a suicide note behind.
Peterson, a native of Boise, Idaho, spent a majority of his Olympic career training and living in Park City. A three-time Olympian, Peterson was famous for his fearlessness in the air but also for his off-the-hill troubles. He suffered from bouts of depression and alcoholism.
Most recently, Peterson was arrested on drunken-driving charges Friday in Hailey, Idaho. Police said he was driving three times the legal speed limit, according to a report from The Associated Press.
"It’s a big blow to all of us," said Tom Kelly, vice president of communications for the United States Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA). "He was not only a great athlete, but a great friend; someone who was a great supporter of the organization."
Kelly said many USSA athletes gathered at the Utah Olympic Park Wednesday morning to honor Peterson.
Many freestyle veterans were reluctant to participate in the scheduled Wednesday morning training session, Kelly said; it was Hans Gardner, a rookie freestyler with USSA from Buffalo, N.Y., who was the first to decide to suit up.
Gardner was one of 42 USSA rookie athletes who listened to Peterson address the annual USSA Rookie Camp on June 24 at the Center of Excellence in Park City.
In that speech, Peterson urged the rookies to take advantage of everything they had in front of them, and emphasized the added responsibility of being in the limelight.
"When you’re wearing that USSA jacket," Peterson said, "you’re not just another kid at the party."
According to Kelly, Peterson had just finished his freshman year of college at Westminster College in Salt Lake City. He said Peterson was in the process of forming a company to manufacture and sell performance eyewear.
"In many ways, he was at a very good place right now," Kelly said.
Kelly said Jan. 11, 2007, the evening Peterson landed the "Hurricane," a five-twist, three-flip acrobatic feat in a World Cup event at Deer Valley Resort, was his banner night as a pro athlete.
"That is the night I will remember most," Kelly said.
Amy Donaldson, a columnist with The Deseret News, began covering freestyle skiing in 2001. That’s when she first met and interviewed Peterson.
She recalled the "effusive and candid" Peterson later opening up to her about his troubled past at a training session prior to the Vancouver Games.
"He was so honest," she said. "I talked to him about being extremely hard on himself. He was cognizant of the fact, and knew it wasn’t normal thinking. What we would see as a success, he would see as a failure."
Donaldson recalls one of her last conversations with Peterson when she asked him why he felt the need to be so revolutionary in the air. She told him if he simply focused on consistent jumps, he could add more awards to his silver medal.
"He said, ‘That’s not me. I want to be known for pushing the envelope,’" she said. "In aerials, it’s go big or go home."
Donaldson said she cried when she heard news of Peterson’s death.
"I know people who struggle with depression," she said. "I see them winning one day, and the next day, they’re losing. Now, Speedy is a cautionary tale."
Donaldson recalled Peterson’s silver-medal evening in February 2010. The same amicable and engaging athlete she’d interviewed over the course of a decade did what he was born to do, she said.
"The snow is soft, wet, wind constantly blowing," she said. "Absolutely the opposite of what you need to jump aerials, and then, he lands it. It was one of those things where I needed to thank God for what I do for a living. I don’t know when we’ll see the ‘Hurricane’ landed again."
Services for Peterson are scheduled to be held in Boise, Idaho, on Aug. 6 at 3 p.m. at the Boise State University Student Union Ballroom. Today, at the Utah Olympic Park, the Festival of Flight will include a tribute to Peterson. The event runs from noon to 3 p.m. Admission is free.