Seventeen months after reaching the pinnacle of his career by winning a silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics, U.S. freestyle skier Jeret "Speedy" Peterson was found dead in a remote canyon in Utah in what police are calling a suicide.
Peterson, known for his difficult "Hurricane" move, a three-flip, five-twist trick he first landed in 2004, had called emergency services before shooting himself, police said. Peterson, 29, had been cited for drunken driving Friday in Idaho and pleaded not guilty. Officers said they found Peterson late Monday between Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, in Lambs Canyon.
On Feb. 26, 2010, Peterson walked off the Olympic mountain after winning the silver medal with tears streaming down his face.
"I know that a lot of people go through a lot of things in their life, and I just want them to realize they can overcome anything," Peterson said at the time. "There's light at the end of the tunnel and mine was silver, and I love it."
Peterson had been to two other Winter Games, but even with the Hurricane, considered the most-difficult trick in the sport, the skier from Boise had been disappointing. He finished ninth in Salt Lake City in 2002 and seventh in Torino in 2006.
He had been in third place in 2006 with with one jump to go. He tried a Hurricane, but his hand touched the snow, a violation that ended his medal chances.
Peterson also had problems with alcohol and depression and had admitted to thoughts of suicide, stemming from a childhood in which he was sexually abused and lost his 18-year-old half-sister in an accident involving a drunk driver.
"The entire Olympic family is heartbrokento hear the news of Jeret "Speedy" Peterson's untimely passing," U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said in a statement. "I know Speedy's friends and family were incredibly proud of his effort in Vancouver, and his achievements were an inspiration to people all over the world. "The personal challenges Speedy has battled are familiar to all of us."
Billy Demong, an Olympic gold medalist in Nordic combined who had trained with Peterson in Lake Placid, N.Y. and Steamboat Springs, Colo., said, "He's a really nice guy; he's been a good friend. I know that he's had a roller coaster of a journey."
Aerials skier Emily Cook was a teammate and friend of Peterson's, competing alongside him at the last two Olympics.
"Speedy was an amazing athlete," she said Tuesday night through a U.S. Ski Team spokesman. "I will always remember jumping alongside him as he pushed the sport, himself and his teammates to be the best. In addition to being the incredible athlete that we all knew, Speedy was a true friend. His loyalty and commitment to each of his teammates was unwavering and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him."
U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt, called Peterson "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."