From broken bones to shattered dreams, Eric Bergoust and Nikki Stone had more than their share of adversity to overcome before their twisting backward somersaults won them Olympic gold.
Bergoust, 28, of Missoula, and Stone, 26, of Westborough, Mass., flipped to victory Tuesday in the aerials events to give the United States three gold medals in freestyle skiing.
Bergoust won the men’s event with a world-record score of 255.64 points, while Stone nailed both her somersaults to top the women’s field with 193.00 points.
Their gold medals followed Jonny Moseley’s victory in men’s moguls last week.
“It helped me a lot to go out there and see Jonny win,” Stone said.
“We kind of live off each other.”
Bergoust nearly missed the final after suffering a spectacular crash in training just moments before the medal competition.
“It’s the worst crash I’ve had in two years,” he said. “I landed on my chest. As I rolled to the bottom of the hill, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to jump.”
Bergoust’s ribs were so sore he couldn’t take a deep breath. But that wasn’t about to stop him after putting in 13 years of his life for this moment.
“I jump for fun but I wasn’t competing for fun today,” he said. “I wanted to get first or crash. So I went big.”
On his first jump, Bergoust nailed a near perfect “quad” - a full double full, or quadruple-twisting back somersault.
The judges awarded him 133.05 points - the highest total for any single jump in the sport.
“I was in shock,” Bergoust said. “I couldn’t believe I could jump like that after having the worst crash in two years. I didn’t feel right physically.”
With a commanding first-round lead, he nailed a double full for 122.59 points on his second jump. His two-jump total surpassed Canadian Nicolas Fontaine’s previous world record of 254.98 points.
France’s Sebastien Foucras won the silver with 248.79 points and Dmitri Dashchinsky of Belarus took bronze with 240.79. Britt Swartley, 26, of Blue Bell, Pa., was fifth with 231.64.
Bergoust got hooked on the sport when he saw an aerials event on television in 1985. He practiced by diving off the chimney of his parents’ farmhouse.
“It took me three years to raise enough money to buy a $400 used car and a tent and drive to Lake Placid when I was 18,” he said. “I just took more jumps than anybody else.
I just trained harder than anybody for 10 years.”
Success came slowly.
“I didn’t land (a jump) for three years,” he said. “But I just loved to jump. I had faith and determination I would figure it out someday.”
He did, finishing seventh in Lillehammer in 1994 and winning a number of World Cup events. But he suffered a back injury which sidelined him for the 1995 season and broke his collarbone last year.
It’s also been a long journey for Stone. She almost quit the sport after failing to qualify for the final in Lillehammer.
Then she suffered a series of injuries, including a debilitating disc ailment in her back.
“A year and a half ago, I was the most miserable person you’ve ever met,” she said. “Doctors were telling me I’d never jump again and I was believing them.”
She said she gave everything she had to training last summer “and it paid off. This is the best feeling ever.”
Stone had the highest score of the women on the first jump, earning 98.15 points for a back full double full - a triple-twisting double somersault.
She was just as clean on her second jump, a lay tuck full, or single-twisting triple somersault, that earned 94.85 points.
China’s Xu Nannan took the women’s silver with 186.97 points and Colette Brand of Switzerland got the bronze with 171.83.