Friday, February 24, 2006

American Takes Gold in Enthusiast Freestyle Ballet

Helping to ease the taint of Bode Miller, the U.S. Winter Olympic team has won another gold medal. Competing in the debut of Enthusiast Freestyle Ballet in Torino, Mark Jefferson, 52, came out ahead of a talented international field. Herbert Nordstruck of Liechtenstein took silver, followed by Miguel Raton of Spain.

The sport of Enthusiast Freestyle Ballet combines a breathtaking mix of stamina, athletic skill, and artistry. In this event, coaster enthusiasts do a wide variety of difficult artistic maneuvers on kiddie coasters that have trouble getting up the lift hill. For instance, the "row the boat" maneuver is a required short program element. Although it is unusual among Winter Olympic competitions in that it does not involve snow or ice, and would seem a more natural fit with the Summer Games, organizers placed it during the Winter Olympics to avoid scheduling conflicts with the major operating season of the majority of the world's kiddie coasters.

Although the artistic marks of the three medal-winners were comparable, it was the incredible physical prowess of Jefferson that helped him edge out his competitors for the top position, as he executed the first competitive landing of the extremely difficult "quad lasso imitation/double inverted butt-spank to the back of the vehicle" move during an international competition.

"I've been landing it in practice pretty consistently the past couple years," said the victor. "But I always seemed to mess it up in major events on the World Cup circuit, so I was planning to play it conservative here. Then, when I saw Herbert's score go up on the board, I knew being conservative wouldn't get me the gold. I decided to pull out all the stops, and either get the gold or fall and probably lose any spot on the podium. I'm glad the risk paid off."

"This event used to be primarily about beauty and artistry," said commentator Dick Button. "The reality in recent years is that the competitors who don't attempt the major combination elements while riding kiddie coasters, such as the thing where you pretend to crack a whip over the ride to encourage it to go faster, are getting left behind. It's an evolution to a more athletic side of the sport. I'm definitely curious to see how many competitors will be prepared with that new move at the next Games in Vancouver."