Another gold for Belarus in aerials at Olympics

Monday, February 17, 2014
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Anton Kushnir of Belarus jumps during men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
Anton Kushnir of Belarus jumps during men's freestyle skiing aerials qualifying at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 17, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

— When it comes to going big when the stakes are large on the Olympic aerials course, nobody's better than Belarus.

Anton Kushnir stuck a near-perfect landing on his five-twisting jump in the finals Monday night to make it 2 for 2 at the Sochi Games for his country, winning the gold medal three nights after Alla Tsuper won gold for Belarus in the women's contest.

Kushnir did it with the biggest trick going in the game right now — the "back double full-full-double full," which is five twists packed into three head-over-heels flips while he soars 50 feet (15 meters) off the ramp and into the night sky.

He earned a score of 134.5 for the trick to beat David Morris of Australia by more than 24 points.

A pair of Chinese jumpers, Qi Guangpu and Jia Zongyang, had a chance to better those scores but both fell on their landings.

Jia wound up with the bronze, but this was another disappointment for a country that regularly brings a handful of top athletes to the contest, yet has walked away only with a pair of bronze medals since Han Xiaopeng took gold in 2006.

Belarus, meanwhile, just keeps on delivering. This is the second straight men's gold for the country. In 2010, Alexei Grishin won the title and got his picture on a postage stamp back home. On Monday, he didn't make it through qualifying, though Kushnir might replace him on the stamp.

"It was the best jump I've ever witnessed in person," said 18-year-old American Mac Bohonnon, whose Olympic debut ended with a heartening fifth-place finish. "To see Anton go out and do it that well is special."

Canada's Travis Gerrits, who finished seventh, agreed.

"I haven't seen a jump that amazing in a long time," he said.

No one has.

Though the Olympics have been won with five twists before — Ales Valenta back in 2002 — it was the late Jeret "Speedy" Peterson who set the bar with his "Hurricane" trick, a more difficult five-twister, in which three of the twists come during the middle flip.

He won silver with that in 2010, and it inspired more skiers to move to some version of a five-twister for this Olympic cycle. Three of the four men in last round of jumps tried it. The only one who didn't, Morris, executed his four-flip jump cleanly and his score of 110.41 held up for the silver medal.

It was quite a victory for men's aerials in a country that focuses on the women in this sport. Lydia Lassila took bronze for Australia's fourth Olympic aerials medal.

"I'm the only guy doing it in the country. I'm the men's team," Morris said. "But hopefully, people will come up and say, 'Hey I want to do that. It looks stupid.'"

The sport has a bigger following in Belarus and Kushnir is the new top man.

He knew something good had happened as soon as he landed. He delivered an uppercut to the air and covered his mouth with his hands. At the top of the hill, his coach picked up snow and flung it into the air.

It marked the fifth gold of the Sochi Games for Belarus, lifting the country with population around 9.5 million into a tie for second place in the gold medal standings late Monday, behind only Germany.

 

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