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You Don't Have to Look Before You Leap Part IV

By Nikki Stone
Sports Motivation
Updated: June 30, 2008
The 1997 season saw me in events across Europe and Japan. I entered the World Championships on the future Olympic hill of Iizuna Kogan outside Nagano. All the best aerialists were there, like me, trying to rehearse for the Olympics one year away. I finished twelfth. Even though I wasn't fully recovered, I was shocked to realize that I would not have been able to win the event, even jumping at my best!

Aerials are scored by adding the judges' scores and multiplying the total by the degree of the jump's difficulty ("d.d."). It dawned on me that I would have to increase my difficulty as well as my proficiency, if I was going to get scores high enough to win gold.

I returned to Park City and began training with a renewed sense of urgency. I accelerated my workout schedule, adding more strength training, running and biking, more water ramping (more than 30 jumps per day), added flips and twists, honing my skills and enhancing my precision. During bad weather, when the rest of the team decided to take a day or two off, or do easier tricks, I trained my toughest jumps in swirling wind and falling snow, thinking, the Olympics Games might occur on a day like this. I should be ready, just in case.

By the time the Olympic Winter Games began in Nagano, I had added a triple somersault and a "Full-Double Full" to my repertoire (raising my total degree of difficulty from 6.05 to 7.05), and overheard someone say that, "Nikki Stone is going to win this one." I recalled the lesson I learned in Lillehammer.

My first jump in the semis was the layout full twisting somersault followed by a double twisting somersault. Sadly, that jump was less than stellar. My hands touched down on the landing (a big deduction), and I finished the first rotation in twelfth place. Eric Bergoust (America's other aerial champion) refuses to wear gloves in competition as an added incentive to never touch the snow.
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My second jump (the triple) was much better, and this time I landed well and my score moved me into fourth place. I had qualified to compete for the medal!

On the morning of the finals, the winds became strong and unpredictable. I was fourth-to-last in the order, followed by the favorites, including the top qualifier, Xu Nannan from China. Her jumps were as difficult as mine, and she always did them well.

In my sport, skiers have the option to "ski out" (refuse the jump) at the bottom of the in-run, if they feel their speed isn't right for whatever reason. The two skiers in line before me both "skied out" on their way to the jump. They wanted to wait for better conditions.

My turn. By breathing quickly to calm my nerves, I relaxed a bit and looked down the ramp to the kicker at the midpoint of the hill and the capacity crowd just beyond. I couldn't see the landing area, but I'd worry about the landing after executing the jump. The winds were howling, but I was focused on Coach Wayne, standing alongside the jump sending me the "all clear" signal.

By taking each challenge one at a time, I was ready. With the wind swirling all around, I was confident in my ability under these conditions, rewarded for my decision to train hard in inclement weather.

I felt no pain, heard no sound, aware only of my form. I wrapped my arms around my body, twisting like the gymnast I had once been

I decided to take a small side-step down the mountain. Remember, this was the jump I missed in the semis with too much rotation. I felt it would be easier to pull my knees into a tuck if needed, than to slow the rotation more than my second somersault might allow. Once again I took that leap of faith.

Gathering speed down the in-run, I hit the flat going 39 m.p.h. and quickly locked my body into position, barreling toward the wall. I hit the kicker and was catapulted into the air. I felt no pain, heard no sound, aware only of my form and motion. My legs went up and over, and at the top of the arc, I wrapped my arms around my body, twisting like the gymnast I had once been.

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