Bergoust bounces back for aerials gold

Picture by Getty

Most top athletes have to deal with injuries and then attempt to come back to their best. There were plenty of competitors in Nagano who faced this challenge, including some who were still recovering in hospital just a few weeks before the Games. But few had to deal with adversity on the scale faced by the USA’s Eric Bergoust.

Bergoust had taken part in the aerials competition four years earlier when freestyle skiing made its Olympic debut. He had finished seventh in Lillehammer, but had clearly improved even further since then and was now a frontrunner for a medal. The favourite was Canada's Nicolas Fontaine, but he only qualified in eighth position for the final and didn't seem to be in great form. That said, Bergoust was himself only fourth in qualifying. The medals looked up for grabs.

Bergoust was preparing on the morning of the final when he suffered a bad crash. He landed on his chest and found he couldn't breathe properly. It was clear that he had been injured – but it was also clear that the biggest sporting challenge of his life was just a few hours away.

Ever since he had been a child, Bergoust had wanted to be either a skier or a pilot, and in the aerials he found a way of combining both those ambitions. A fall, even one as bad as this, was not going to stop him. In fact, it seemed to inspire him to greater things.

In his opening run, the American produced a twisting backflip, followed by a double twisting backflip, followed by another twisting backflip. It looked magnificent, and it earned him a huge score of 133.05pts, putting him well in the lead ahead of France's Sébastien Foucras and Fontaine in third.

He could have played it conservatively in the second run, but instead he produced another grandstand performance to produce a world record total of 255.64 points, guaranteeing the gold medal. What better way could there be to soothe the bruises of his morning fall?

Fontaine fell on his second run, but Foucras held on to take silver.