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Bergoust bids fond farewell to freestyle

Paul Robbins, Special to the Record

High-flying Eric Bergoust is done. Adios, g’bye, arrivederci to the former Olympics, World Championships, World Cup, NorAm and U.S. – have we missed anything? – aerials king.

Bergoust, who was pre-eminent among aerials skiers at the end of the Nineties and the start of this decade, sent his retirement notice to Polly-Jo Clark, U.S. freestyle program director. He’s done with major international competitions. And probably non-major, he said Monday in a phone interview.

Nicks, dings, tweaks, paper-cuts and the simple wear-and-tear of nearly two decades of jumping slowed him visibly over the last few years, so no real need to take any more jumps. He’ll still take an occasional double-twisting, double-flip flight (two twists, two somersaults) "because it feels good" but, otherwise, no more jumping.

Bergoust, 36 – and one of the first freestyle athletes after Trace Worthington to set-up housekeeping in Park City more than a decade ago, and longtime gal-pal Sally Jo Beck, whom he’ll marry July 22, have their Park City place for $ale; they’ve bought a home in Missoula, Mont., where they both grew up. He’s looking to learn about coaching from his best friend, Missoula Freestyle chief Joe Chalmers; at some point, he and "SJ" may move to Bend, Ore., which reminds the two of them of Montana – except it’s closer to the ocean.

"The people in Oregon are a lot like the people in Montana, pretty much down to earth. And, of course, there’s one big city, Portland, which we don’t have in Montana. But, we’ve looked around California and Colorado and other mountain towns, and Bend is very appealing," Bergoust said.

His early days as a freestyle skier – "The Ballad of Air Bergy," perhaps? – have all the ingredients of legend. He and his brothers, Dan and Arlen, were in love with the trampoline as kids, but in 1985 Bergoust saw a World Cup aerials contest on ESPN and was reeled into his new sport; in 1988, he threaded his way through the crowd and was the first person through the gate as aerials was an exhibition event at the Calgary Olympics.

That summer, he moved to Lake Placid for a couple of months of splash pool training – this was before Bear Hollow’s Utah Olympic Park opened. Bergoust was all but adopted by the U.S. coaching staff as he – still not a member of the U.S. Ski Team – jumped, jumped and jumped some more, sometimes more than a hundred training jumps into the Kodak Sports Park pool. That winter, 1988-89, Bergoust won the NorAm aerials title and earned a ticket to the C Team.

He would go on to win 15 World Cup events, not to mention the 1997 World Championships silver in aerials, 1998 Olympic gold, 1999 Worlds gold and the aerials World Cup crown in 2001 and again in ’02. He also was the "overall" World Cup champion in ’02.

Bergoust, a near-miss for the Olympic Team in 1992, began to listen to his body after the Games of Salt Lake City. He pulled back midway through the 2003 season because of continual aches and pains, and skipped the ’04 season before returning in ’05, only to skip the World Championships, although he had qualified for those season-ending tests in Ruka, Finland.

Last September, as the World Cup season for the Olympic winter opened as usual at Mount Buller, Australia, Bergoust traveled Down Under. He all but clinched an Olympic berth when he finished second (to teammate Ryan St. Onge) on the second day, and when no other U.S. skier out-jumped him into mid-January, Bergy was headed to his fourth Olympics.

"I thought Bergy had some of his best jumps last season," Head Coach Jeff Wintersteen said. "That podium at Buller was pretty cool; that set-up the Olympic Team. He’s done everything he could do in aerials. He’s won everywhere."

Matt Christensen, the current aerials head coach who competed against Bergoust in his career with the Canadian national squad, said Bergoust "set the bar for attention to detail and the way he approached training. He showed everyone how you become a champion – by doing your homework. His parents raised the Bergoust kids to work hard, and it’s a lesson he never forgot."

The upcoming nuptials don’t scare him – not any more than going head to head around the globe with the best aerialists in the world for a decade and a half. "Neither of us is very nervous now but maybe that’ll come," Bergoust said

And retirement doesn’t unhinge him, either. "I’ve been kinda looking forward to it for the last six months to a year. It’ll be nice, once I get set with the new life. Right now, the transition period is pretty busy.

"I’ve got a long list of things to do, but I’m trying to keep working toward minimizing that list so I can start living and enjoying this retirement," he chuckled.

Reflecting on his glittering – in many ways, storybook – career, Bergoust has special memories of a handful of things, including his first Olympics in 1994 at Lillehammer, Norway, and his gold-medal Games in Nagano, Japan, four years later. "And Torino this past season – I knew it was going to be my last," he said, "and I wanted to enjoy it." He finished 17th.

In 2002 Bergoust led the Olympic qualifying round at Deer Valley but finished 12th when he crashed three days later on his final jump. "I was going for gold, or I’d crash and finish last" among the 12 qualifiers, he said; he crashed and said he had no regrets "because I was giving my best."

Meiringen, Switzerland, is one of his favorite venues, although he only competed there three times – winning aerials at the 1999 Worlds and capturing the two World Cups he competed in at the Swiss resort town. Meiringen also is known because it’s where Professor Moriarty reputedly wrestled Sherlock Holmes to his death at Reichenbach Falls, outside of town, only to see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had tired of writing about the master sleuth, resurrect Holmes in 1903 because of public outcry – and a gentle financial nudge from his publisher – over his absence.

"I won every time I competed in Meiringen," Bergoust noted. "I usually felt pretty good when we were there."

But, apart from the wins and the medals, he enjoyed competing with his teammates, according to Bergoust. "I think back on the years I spent on tour with Mariano [Ferrario] and Brian Currutt – yeah, now ‘Coach Currutt – and Britt Swartley and Joe [Pack] and Jerry Grossi and Matt Chojnacki…fun times, a good team. We had some good times…

"And, of course, I was really jumping well then."

But, he added, not training and not competing will have their pluses, too. "It’s gonna be nice not to travel and, instead, to have spare time to be creative and enjoy life a little more. I’m ready for it."

At some point, he said, whether it’s Missoula or Bend or elsewhere, he hopes to erect a splash pool in his backyard and he also would like to build a super tramp "so we can bounce higher than anyone else." You can take the boy out of the sport, but you can’t take the sport out of the boy.


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