Police: US Olympic Medalist Takes Own Life
The Salt Lake Tribune via YellowBrix
July 27, 2011
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, the high-flying freestyle skier whose silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics represented a triumph over the demons of his past, has died.
Officials said the 29-year-old Park City resident shot himself in the head in Lambs Canyon, east of Salt Lake City.
His body was discovered outside his car just off Interstate 80 at about 9:30 on Monday night, police in Salt Lake County said, after Peterson left a suicide note and called police to tell them his location.
“He called 911 and said he was going to kill himself,” said Lt. Justin Hoyal, a spokesman for the Unified Police Department.
Peterson had been arrested in Idaho last week on alcohol-related charges, and had endured a troubled childhood as well as a well-documented battle with depression, gambling and alcoholism.
The three-time Olympian was famously sent home from the 2006 Turin Games in Italy because of a drunken street fight with a friend that followed his disappointing seventh-place finish in the aerials as the gold-medal favorite armed with a dizzying signature maneuver — the Hurricane.
“Things have been going wrong for me since the day I was born,” he once told Men’s Journal magazine.
Peterson was charged with burglary and stealing weapons in 2005. He pleaded guilty after felony charges were reduced. He also was cited in Boise for public urination in 2009.
Peterson had been arrested Friday in Hailey, Idaho, for speeding and driving while intoxicated. Police said they clocked Peterson driving three times the speed limit. His attorney filed paperwork on his behalf Tuesday, pleading not guilty to both crimes.
A native of Boise, Peterson had moved to Park City and taken classes at the University of Utah. He made his Olympic debut at the 2002 Salt Lake Games, and blossomed into one of the best aerialists in the world because of the Hurricane — a mind-blowing move that included three flips and five twists.
No other skier dared to even attempt it.
“In complete shock over this sad news,” fellow former freestyle skier Jeremy Bloom wrote on Twitter.
“Today is a sad day in our sport,” said Bill Marolt, the head of the U.S. Ski Team. Peterson “was a great champion who will be missed and remembered as a positive, innovative force on not only his sport of freestyle aerials, but on the entire U.S. Freestyle Ski Team family and everyone he touched.”
Peterson finished ninth at the Salt Lake Games, then had his seventh-place finish in Turin.
He entered the Vancouver Games vowing to land on top of the podium to make up for all of his struggles and disappointments.
His parents had divorced, his young sister was killed by a drunken driver, and a close friend had shot himself in front of him in his Park City home just months before the Turin Games.
Peterson also acknowledged being sexually abused as a boy and entertaining thoughts of suicide — he said he once rigged a hose into his truck from its tailpipe, planning to kill himself before a police officer stopped him — while also enduring financial problems that forced him into bankruptcy.
But on the slopes of Cypress Mountain near Vancouver last year, all of that seemed so far away.
Peterson was in fifth place after the first of two jumps and knew he needed to land the Hurricane if he was going to win. He had not landed one in competition in about three years, though he later figured he would have landed all but two of the dozens he practiced into the pool at the Utah Olympic Park during the offseason.
Though his score was later eclipsed by Alexei Grishin of Belarus for the gold medal, Peterson nailed his jump and skied into a swarm of wildly cheering teammates while pumping his fists in celebration.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said later, tears starting to trickle down his cheeks. “I couldn’t ask for anything more than this. I’ve done so many things in my life that I’ve thrown myself down for. And it feels good to finally do something that I can lift myself and my country and everybody up for. I couldn’t have done this without a lot of people.”